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By Thomas Baekdal - October 2019

The interesting world of unit economics, the thing about Facebook News Tab, and more.

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to another edition of the newsletter. Here are today's topics.

Podcast: The interesting world of unit economics

My latest podcast episode is out. It's about unit economics and unit analytics, which is very important for publishers to use.

Unit economics is about identifying the real value of a specific thing, and usually this would be each specific article you publish, each video you make, or each podcast episode you create.

And notice that I said "value". It's not about measuring pageviews, and it's not about just dumping all your analytics about each article into a dashboard. Instead, it's about really figuring out what makes your articles valuable to you, and then using that as a tool to help plan and define your journalistic focus and editorial strategy.

But I will explain all of this in my latest podcast episode, which you can also choose to read as an article (it's a hybrid).

So listen to: Episode 13 - Let's talk about unit economics

The Publisher Podcast awards

If you haven't heard about this already, the Publisher Podcast Awards is currently accepting entries, so if you are a publisher and you have a podcast, consider submitting it.

I'm one of the many judges (there are 27 in total), and we will be selecting a winner for each of the 10 categories, which will then be presented in London on March 4, 2020.

So, what are we looking for? Well, different judges will look for different things. In fact, the Media Voice Podcast (the ones organizing this whole thing), asked a few of the other judges what they were looking for.

For me, I'm looking for three things. I'm looking for drive, originality, and an interesting business model that isn't just outsourcing to one of the many new ad tech podcast startups.

In other words, I don't care about how much revenue a podcast is making right now. I'm thinking about the future potential and how this model fits into those trends.

Also, I don't know if this will be relevant, but I'm also very interested in podcast models that aren't just about creating an MP3 file and then distributing that via an RSS feed to Apple or Spotify. I would like to see podcasts that think beyond that, or have elements that go beyond just MP3 files that you can listen to.

So, if you have a podcast, and you are doing something interesting with it, enter it into the Publisher Podcast Awards.

The thing about the Facebook News Tab

As you have probably heard, the new Facebook News Tab has launched in the US, and everyone is commenting and critiquing on it.

I'm not really focusing that much on it at the moment. Partly because I find the whole thing really boring, and partly because I don't see it as a solution or even a future path for publishers.

But let me just very quickly share a few observations.

First of all, we as publishers keep making the same mistake over and over again, in some twisted form of self-torture.

The mistake we make is that we keep thinking we can win the future in a race to the bottom, where every publisher tries to do the same thing as everyone else.

We have seen this repeatedly over the past 20 years. When Apple came out with the iPad, every publisher just flocked in with the same mindset of "let's just make an app and put our content into that", and when Facebook first emerged, we saw every publisher optimizing for the same type of social referral traffic.

If there is one thing that we have learned (or should have learned) it's that this doesn't work. In a world of abundance, everyone trying to put more random things in the same way is the single most effective way to become irrelevant.

So what is Facebook News Tab? Well, it's a place where publishers can have their content published in the same way as everyone else, where your stories will be just one of many, and where you cannot do anything unique.

Yeah... that doesn't really sound that exciting.

I had a discussion about this a few months ago with someone at Facebook, and I asked them to consider the difference between the New York Times and NYT Cooking.

See the problem? You could never make NYT Cooking work in a Facebook News Tab (not that it would be defined as news either, but the point is the inflexibility of the format).

What all the tech companies are doing is looking at publishing as just random articles to fill their feeds, but as publishers, we need to consider the role, the use, and utility of what we publish.

Another example (my favorite), consider a fitness publisher. A site like Facebook News Tab would kind of work for random health related fitness articles, but if you are fitness publishers, those are your least valuable types of articles. Instead you need to help people actually 'do' fitness and be healthy, and sites like Facebook News Tab don't support that mindset at all.

So, I'm really bored with the whole Facebook News Tab idea. It's the same old out-dated mindset that we have seen hundreds of times before. I don't think it has any relevance to future publishing trends.

And, as a media analyst, I'm actively encouraging my readers and contacts to think about publishing in a different way. You don't want to be one of the hundreds of random publishers pushing random content into a news tab. That's the lowest form of publishing you can create.

Instead, find a way to make your content stand out, to be unique, and to be useful in a more defined way.

Apart from this, there are many other problems that people talk about. Like how Facebook is only going to pay a few publishers, which leads to the problem of the rich getting richer. Because the publishers that Facebook pays are also the ones who already make the most money, while the publishers who won't get paid are all the smaller or niche publishers who really need help to grow.

Then we have the curation problem, which is similar to the problem we see with Apple News. It's great for the publishers that get picked and featured, but for smaller publishers it's completely useless.

Then we have a problem with who Facebook has included as trusted quality sources, like Breitbart News... I mean... really? Really Facebook?

And mind you, the problem here isn't that it's political or leaning to one side or the other. It's about the definition of trust ... where Facebook is using the game of "diverse sources" excuse.

This is a mistake that many make, not just Facebook. Having diverse sources doesn't mean bringing in someone who cannot be trusted to act as balance against those who can. To even think this way is insane!

Then we have the monetization model, which is based on advertising.

I have talked about this many times before. The main reason why publishers have lost most of their ad income is because the digital world has enabled brands to advertise in more relevant ways.

A simple example. Imagine you are a company that sells mountain bikes. When will it make the most sense to advertise?

This is not rocket science. It's much better for brands to advertise outside and away from the world of news. And it's because of this that the future of news publishers is now defined by other revenue models ... mostly subscriptions.

So for Facebook to launch the Facebook News Tab, where publishers can monetize by advertising, that's just ... idiotic. Even if you get 100% of the revenue, it's the worst model that you can create today.

So, when I look at Facebook News Tab, I'm just bored. I don't see any new model. I don't see any real solution, I don't see anything that really supports the future of media.

The only good thing about it is that it's in a separate tab, away from the main newsfeed. That gives the news a higher focus and intent. But, as Mark Zuckerberg said himself, this also severely limits its use to only about 20-30 million people "in a few years".

So... yeah.

I don't plan to spend much time thinking about the Facebook News Tab. As a media analyst, I will keep an eye on it, but this is not what we are looking for.

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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