Welcome back to the newsletter. In this edition, we are going to talk about the problems with monetizing premium podcasts, and how to fix that ... and then we are going to talk about the Guardian.
Before we talk about the Guardian, I want to mention that my latest Plus article is out, and it's about the problems that we face trying to monetize premium podcasts.
As we all know, the trends around podcasting and audio are looking really interesting, but we are also making exactly the same mistake that we have made 100 times before in how we approach this new market.
Instead of finding ways to do amazing things in this market ourselves, we leave it to startups and the tech world to basically take this market away from us.
So, in my latest Plus article, I go into what this is all about, and how we should approach this market instead.
Take a look at: "Premium Podcast Monetization Strategies Explained"
As you may have heard, the Guardian has launched a new ad campaign, and its message is "Change is possible. Hope is power."
From an ad perspective, these are certainly very strong words. And as a 'purpose' they are wonderful. I think this is a great focus for the Guardian (or any newspaper).
If we in the news industry don't provide people with change or hope, we have basically failed. So, this message is wonderful.
However, I want to do two things. First I want to take you through the thought process that I went through when I first saw this, because this message creates a number of highly problematic associations. And secondly, we need to have a talk about what is required for the Guardian to actually deliver on this promise.
So... when I first saw this ad campaign, I got really confused about what they were trying to say. At first, I just looked at the words, and they didn't really define what this change or hope was targeting.
I mean... Change, but into what? Hope, but for what?
This is especially the case since right now we have this overwhelming mess of Brexit in the UK (and also a similar mess in the US, where the Guardian is also quite big). So, are they talking about a political change? Are they trying to support the UK to change their political focus from leaving the EU to remaining?
It was their choice of words that made me think it could be political. As you probably remember, Change and Hope were some of the keywords used by the Obama campaign.
And if you think about the political climate in the UK with Boris Johnson and the US with Donald Trump, they both represent the opposite of this.
So, I find it curious that the Guardian would choose this exact moment to launch this campaign with these exact words. I mean, we already have a massive problem with politically biased media, with several newspapers openly engaging in political propaganda and campaigning.
Mind you, I don't think the Guardian is thinking about this politically. In fact, I know that they aren't. As Brendan O'Grady, the Communications Director of the Guardian Media Group points out, this campaign is based on the vision that Katharine Viner, Guardian's Editor in Chief, laid out back in 2017. It's an article well worth reading.
But while this may be the case, you can see how easy it would be for many people to draw this conclusion.
I was then even more confused when I saw the ad.
In this ad we see a butterfly that is desperately trying to get out of a very moody looking home, but is blocked by a window. And after a while of frustratedly flying against the window, it eventually smashes it to get free.
Again, as an ad, it's a very powerful message, but I also found it to be very un-journalistic in its focus.
In journalism we have a saying. The pen (intelligence) is mightier than the sword (brute force). But this ad seems to advocate for the opposite. It seems to encourage people to violently act to change things.
The butterfly does not act with clarity or intelligence. It's not trying to understand why it is being blocked. It's not trying to find another way out. It just smashes its way through.
So while the ad is powerful, I don't understand it. Surely, this is not what the Guardian is about?
I started to look into this some more, and I came across this page where we can see a deeper explanation of what this hope and change means.
I love this text. This makes it much clearer. And the message itself is one of value and usefulness for the reader (which are both vital for any newspaper today).
But again, you can see why I don't understand the video from before. The Guardian says that they will "uncover vital alternatives", but the butterfly never does that. They say they will bring "clarity to the world's most complex issues", but the butterfly's situation is neither complex nor has it any clarity about its situation.
The video just doesn't work.
But let's forget about the video and just focus on the text, because I do really love this message. And if we look 1-2 years ahead, I believe this could be a really strong purpose which the public will recognize the Guardian for in the future.
However, it's one thing to just say this, and an entirely different thing to actually do it. And so the key for the Guardian is to deliver on this promise.
But think about what this actually means for the newsroom. For the Guardian to drive hope and change, they also need to dramatically change the journalistic culture.
Here is why.
Let's start with hope. The definition of hope is this (from Dictionary.com):
A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.
In other words, in order for any newspaper to deliver hope to its readers, you need to do three things.
First, you need to be future-focused, because hope itself is about something that hopefully will happen in the future. So, journalistically, you need to change your editorial strategy from just reporting about the present drama, and instead report about the future of it.
Secondly, hope is a positive feeling, which means that journalistically you need to focus far more on reporting about where in the future we can find positive results.
And finally, this hope needs to be focused. It's a 'particular thing'. And, as they say, they want to 'uncover alternatives', and fight for a better future together.
It's the same with the part about clarity. This too requires a very different editorial focus.
One example is an article I came across (on Twitter) from Crikey in Australia. It said: "It's time to ban climate denialism in the media. Climate denialists continue to hijack media platforms to erode belief in scientific consensus. The media has a responsibility to stop them."
I completely agree with this, because in the media industry there is this incredibly destructive idea that unbiased journalism means you need to have a view from nowhere.
The result is that even though we have a very clear scientific consensus, even though we have very clear data that climate change is happening, and even though we can see with our own eyes how the climate is becoming more and more unstable ... in the media, you keep interviewing people who are climate sceptics for their views whenever you report about this.
This is utterly insane, because instead of helping people understand the topic and provide clarity, you are confusing the topic and creating doubts.
As journalists, this is really important, because our job is to keep the public informed, and we can't do that without providing clarity. But so many times we see publishers not do that in a mistaken belief that they will appear biased if they deny climate science deniers a voice.
So, I'm really excited about the Guardian's new focus, because to create clarity they will have to abandon the traditional journalistic model of "he said, she said" and instead define their editorial focus around factfulness.
The change part is interesting as well, because in order to change something you need to stick with the story until that change has happened.
This is another problem that we often see in the media industry. Think about how US newspapers cover the problems of mass shootings and gun legislation.
This follows an all too familiar pattern of reporting.
This pattern repeats itself after every single mass shooting, and it's a total journalistic failure. We are not actually changing anything. We are not helping create clarity, and we are not even holding anyone to account. We try, but our style and focus completely fail to deliver any actual results.
So, I'm really excited if the Guardian says they are going to help change the future together, because what that really means is that they won't follow this pattern. They will stick with the story, not give attention to all the distractions, and continue to push on the key focus until a result has been achieved.
Specifically, the way Katharine Viner defined it back in 2017 was like this:
If people long to understand the world, then news organisations must provide them with clarity: facts they can trust, information that they need, reported and written and edited with care and precision.
If people long to create a better world, then we must use our platform to nurture imagination - hopeful ideas, fresh alternatives, belief that the way things are isn't the way things need to be. We cannot merely criticise the status quo; we must also explore the new ideas that might displace it. We must build hope.
To do this, the Guardian will embrace as wide a range of progressive perspectives as possible.
It will be interesting to see how far the Guardian will go with this. I hope they take it all the way. And I hope that every other newspaper will learn from this as well.
This is a very interesting ad campaign.
I want to end this newsletter with a very short note about publishers, YouTube, and their revenue from that.
About a week ago, Lucinda Southern from Digiday wrote an excellent article about the Guardian and how they are using YouTube. You can read it yourself if you want the details, but I want to highlight one specific thing.
At the end of the article, they said this:
YouTube has helped drive Guardian revenue too, according to the publisher, though it wouldn't share specific figures.
I had a bit of a chuckle about this because we actually know how much the Guardian is likely to make. We know that, generally, you earn about $1-$2 per 1,000 views on YouTube, with the numbers going up the more brand-friendly something is.
Brand-friendly here is defined by how well it can be targeted by brands. So a YouTuber that creates videos about fashion (a very brand-friendly topic) is likely to have higher earnings than a video about Boris Johnson (a very brand-unfriendly topic).
So the Guardian is likely to make less than $2 per 1,000 views, but then there is the YouTube news initiative, which might artificially boost this.
What this means is that if you go to the Guardian's YouTube channel and you look at their videos, their ad revenue for each of those would be something in this neighborhood.
It's not exactly a lot of money.
However, this is compared to the average (and the Guardian is likely close to that because of its news focus). However, if you actually ask YouTubers how much they make, they will tell you that it's incredibly complicated.
They will tell you that the revenue fluctuates wildly from video to video, that there are massive differences depending on where the audience is from, how old they are, and loads of other factors.
I could try to go into the details of all of this, but I recently came across a video by the YouTuber, Shelby Church, who has created one of the best and most informative videos I have seen yet about YouTube revenue and how complicated it really is.
So I will end this newsletter with her video. Make sure to check it out, and of course, don't forget to read my Plus article about monetizing premium podcasts.
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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