The Times of India created a property called Start Your Day With TOI+, which had one Chart of the Day.
Why it matters: This is an unsolved problem.
- It is a hard problem. It is likely to be outsourced because building and maintaining datasets is a full-time activity that requires domain knowledge and dedicated bandwidth.
- Most suppliers provide this data as Charts-as-a-Service or dashboards instead of programmatic access.
- There is a market for this within each Niche industry.
Internet-first platforms — Apple, Twitter, Google — have launched mobile-first formats. Google built cards in its material design. Tweet embeds are mobile-first. Finally, iOS has widgets. In WWDC 2020 Special Event Keynote, Craig Federighi of Apple introduced widgets as, “Widgets help you get information at a glance.” He goes on to describe them as beautiful and data-rich. Additionally, they now came in different sizes so users could choose the one that best fits their needs.
On the other extreme, Internet-first Platforms built highly immersive formats like Mix-media Immersive Scrollytelling. For example, Facebook invested in Facebook 360 videos and Oculus Virtual Reality. Google built Web Stories and Apple is pushing for Augmented Reality with every passing release.
Exchange credibility with other brands and influencers by launching co-branded products that can be monetized.
Why it matters: Both the brands exchange credibility and the collaborations help expose each brand to new audiences.
- The right influencers already have a presence in your target audience’s lives. The role of an influencer is similar to that of billboards – they grab attention in the middle of a traffic intersection, and convey a message that usually sticks.
- Second, when someone else talks about you or your product, it comes across as more legit.
Partner with influencers
In 1994, James Jebbia started Supreme, a small skateboard shop aimed at the New York skating scene. Over the next 25 years, Supreme expanded into high-quality clothes and accessories and became a staple in the streetwear community. In November 2020, VF Corporation acquired Supreme in an all-cash deal for $2+ billion.
Few examples come to mind:Supreme has frequently collaborated with many iconic brands over the years, such as Nike, Louis Vuitton, and Comme des Garcons.
- YouTuber Marques Brownlee launched a sneaker with footwear brand Atoms.
- Indian NFT company Guardian Links dropped its Chakra The Invincible collaboration with Stan Lee, the creator of famous comics like Spiderman, Iron Man, Hulk, and The Avengers.
Nike pays sportsmen and women to wear Nike at famous events. Similarly, everytime celebrities and trendsetters — A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, and Kanye West — are seen wearing Supreme, the demand for more Supreme products spikes.
Here’s another example from Teixeira, T. S., & Piechota, G. (2019). Unlocking the Customer Value Chain: How Decoupling Drives Consumer Disruption. Currency.
Charles-Albert Gorra started Rebag as a destination to resell high-end used bags – bags that held a resale value of $13,000. He began this venture coming from a background of investment banking. This meant he had no knowledge or contacts in the fashion industry to help him gain his first customers. Instead, he invested in creating a small team that approached influencers, personal shoppers, wardrobe consultants, and salespeople working in high-end stores, asking them to talk to their customers about selling their unwanted bags on Rebag. These influencers were incentivized by offering them a commission on every bag that entered Rebag’s inventory. This eventually kickstarted a business and raised over $68.3 million dollars as of May 2020.
“Social began to eat Search. Scale mattered. Was everything. Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t anymore. Then relationships mattered, and so on.” – Nicholas Dawes’ 2017 Media Indaba keynote on the hot new thing in media technology
In 2014, LittleThings, a feel-good entertainment company, was founded and by 2018, it was thriving with over 20M social media followers and 900M video views. However, the company heavily relied on Facebook for growth. When Facebook decided to prioritize hard-hitting news over feel-good content, LittleThings lost 90% of its organic traffic overnight. The company was told to pay for ads to regain traffic, but the cost was too high. This led to the downfall of LittleThings, which was about to close a $100M deal. Joe Speiser, the founder advises media companies to diversify growth channels and be adaptable to change.
Big Tech unveils new feature X, causing a rush in the news ecosystem to harness X’s potential for growth. Content creators invest significant sums into producing content for X. Initially, ad rates on X are profitable, but they decline as the marketplace becomes saturated. The main beneficiary? Big Tech, with its newly established X marketplace. Content creators may make marginal profits, which they then invest into the next X trend.
Kickstarting the herd behavior: Each wave locks content creators into a prisoner’s dilemma.
- If all players implement the new wave, the market becomes commoditized, and more control shifts upstream.
- If only some adopt this wave, they may see short-term gains and you’ll lose out.
- The only solution is if no content creator jumps onto the bandwagon.
- But to break this, most BigTech platforms give out cash and incentives to some content creators to kickstart the prisoner’s dilemma.
Past waves: SEO optimization in 2010, the Mobile Apps wave in 2014, the mobile web wave in 2017 with Instant Articles and AMP, video in 2018, web stories in 2020, web vital in 2021 and various others including Social waves, voice apps, chat apps, Podcasts, Subscription, and VR.
Between the lines: These industry shifts are, in fact, downstream effects of tech advancements and Big Tech’s growth. Recognizing them as transient opportunities, not permanent features, is essential. They’re not sustainable Competitive Differentiation as they’re accessible to all.
- Your next business idea, delivered weekly | Trends by the Hustle is a Subscription content product that provides ideas with product-market fit.
A timeline is a well-established story format. It can either act as Context to a story or be the story itself. It is also a high Shelf Life content Formats that can be maintained with minimal regular updates.
Topics that are ideal for timeline
- Topics that have a long history of being in the news, for example, war (Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), scams, long-lasting court cases (Tarun Tejpal rape case), geopolitical conflicts, socio-political movements that organically gain relevance (Farmers Protests), roll out of major policy or legislation (GST)
- Events where the past directly impacts the present and future, for example, Sri Lanka’s economic situation, impacts of a major event e.g. 2008 recession, etc.
- Finally, events that happen frequently but without a regular pattern, for example, gun violence in the US, forest fires, major IPOs, etc.
- Scheduled events like sports tournaments (Olympics), national days (independence day), major competitive exam announcements, announcements of major court cases, etc.
- Ad hoc events like Neeraj Chopra’s Olympics win, the tragic death of General Bipin Rawat, etc.
Live updating topics:
- Fast unfolding novel events like natural calamities, man-made disasters (fires, train derailments, etc.), terrorist attacks and major crimes.
- Scheduled events like sports matches, parliament sessions and stock market updates.
- Important events within a macro topic like election counting day, announcements of major court case verdicts, etc.
This is a quote from Brian Chesky of Airbnb. His quote is especially true for work products.
Recruit early adopters who strongly feel about the problem you are solving but can’t solve it for themselves.
Why it matters: Don’t build in a vacuum.
- Instead build with real people who can help you spot blindspots.
- Eventually, they will feel a sense of ownership over the product and automatically provide word-of-mouth marketing.
Whom not to recruit: Don’t recruit people like you because you already have your insights. Don’t recruit family or friends. Avoid finding too many people of the same persona else your solution will over index for their specific problems
Instead: Recruit people who are invested in the creation and growth of your product and hence will contribute time and Judgment.
- They are deeply passionate about the problem space
- They find it easy to imagine, understand, and appreciate the benefits of how you are solving the problem
- They are a visionary and hence want to gain insights from the product development
- They believe your product will give them competitive edge in their daily work
- They tend to have a higher tolerance for mistakes
Because they are adopting an immature, under-developed product, you’ve to provide a personal service, such as face-to-face meetings, demos, etc. To sustain their interest, speed of adoption of their feedback is key.
**Have a clear purpose of employing NFTs: ** NFTs are by uber-nerds for uber-nerds within a specific subculture. Others can participate if they want, but the products were not built for them. Here are some examples:
Pre-NFT: In the late 1990s, many bought Apple products to signal the Think Different aspiration. Likewise, people own Royal Enfield to be part of the Indian biking community.
In the NFT era: The National Basketball Association knows that people come to live sporting events less for the sports but more for the experience — to feel that moment with others. Hence, their NFT initiative NBA Top Shots allows you to convert those moments into collectible videos and trade them with others. As a result, demand for these videos surged, with 100,000 users owning at least one highlight.
A common Formats of content products is Q&A. It can take the form of:
- Quora and Stackoverflow where the community answers the questions raised from within the community
- ChatGPT and Bing’s Chat where AI answers the questions
- Or ‘Ask the Expert’ columns in newspapers where designated experts answer questions
Example: Many years ago, Google piloted a Q&A product called Neighbourly. It solved for:
- Strong value proposition: Solve problems in people’s lives with news
- Identification: Collecting user identification and First Party Data so we give them value
- Intent-based notifications instead of Spray-and-pray: Getting users to subscribe to emails and Push Notifications
- Personalization without AI: Users choose what they want
The transient nature of content trends: Many times, people start media operations with the central focus being a certain form of content production. These forms are typically a fleeting trend that lacks staying power. Moreover, if the trend does persist, imitation becomes inevitable due to the inherent lack of defensibility.
Case in point – the news sector: In recent years, we’ve seen several of these trends.
- Mobile journalism, for instance, which replaced traditional TV crews with on-the-go mobile recording, had its moment of popularity.
- Then came the rise of solutions journalism, which shifted the spotlight from issues to their potential resolutions.
- Vox pioneered in establishing the “explainer journalism” niche.
- Furthermore, we saw other trends like drone journalism, sensor journalism, forensic journalism, and so on.
- These shifts underscore the evolving landscape of content creation.
The cost of producing high-quality editorial product is high. However, the Digital Advertisements business model values page views irrespective of whether the content is cat videos or highly researched content. Hence, it is highly recommended to create to evergreen content, like Work Products, deep explainers, Timeline, and data dives can explain the Context. Such content remains usable months/years in the future.
- News is a fast-moving consumer good. Hence, most news is about reporting what is happening. However, this content tends to be fast-moving, shallow and has short shelf-life.
- To maintain high shelf life content, you need to invest in a workflow that allows for updating of previously published content.
Loom’s video player has some interesting features. It pitches ‘playback speed’ as a time-saving hack. It allows users to add reactions on the timeline and presents others with a summary of those reactions. Finally, the player has a built-in transcript support.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways for Escape Products to game “attention minutes”
- If you’ve ever seen a headline over a YouTube embed with an appeal to stick around until a certain point in a video
- Or a post that implores you to stick around for a particular list item (These 29 Advertisements Are Almost Too Clever For Their Own Good. Number 11 Got Me Good. LOL.)
- What else takes a long time? Quizzes. Games.
Proprietary Technology, when effectively utilized, can significantly bolster competitive differentiation. For example:
- Steve Jobs’ Pixar serves as a classic example, revolutionizing the animation industry by producing movies at a fraction of conventional costs.
- OpenAI’s GPT technology is game-changing for content creation.
In contrast: Many tend to invest capital in technology that doesn’t generate meaningful competitive differentiation. For example, are you investing in custom-building and maintaining a page-based content management systems (CMS)?
- Such investments tend to become cost-centers because they operate on the same indifference curve as WordPress.
- Eventually, investment drops and the it reflects in the quality of the product or they are completely abandoned.
- Vox Media invested millions in building a custom-built CMS and eventually migrated to WordPress.
- Here’s a great post by Frederic Filloux on Medium detailing how the vast majority of news companies have horrible products.
- Companies that are not technology-first, for example media, struggle to build technology.
- With the advent of AI, companies will be forced to decide between becoming compute-heavy or remaining compute-light.
Insight Density is the number of Aha moments for every 100 words. A good example is the series Two minutes with Seth Godin that Blinkist ran. Each 2-minute episode in this 50-episode series forced one to think.
One can employ Artificial Intelligence to detect which sentences are insight-dense. For example, TextRank finds how similar each sentence is to all other sentences in the text. The most important sentence is the one that is most similar to all the others, with this in mind the similarity function should be oriented to the semantic of the sentence, cosine similarity based on a bag of words approach can work well and BM25/BM25+ work really nicely for TextRank.
From/To Analysis helps you visually and succinctly articulate where you are today and how the future will be different. Here are some examples:
When it launched, this is how Medium.com communicated the change it was trying to drive:
Another great inspiration is this early diagram on Intercom’s website.
When veteran journalist and founder of Storyful, Mark Little, started Kinzen.com, he articulated the transformation they were trying to drive on their whiteboard.
The secret to creating value lies in crafting a unique offering that can’t be easily found elsewhere.
However: The content industry seems to squander resources on factors that don’t provide significant distinction. Common pitfalls include investing in visual branding or web design, creating a custom Content Management System (CMS), or chasing the latest tech trends.
How we got here: Before the 2000s, the internet thrived on decentralization independent sites connected via directories and RSS feeds. Yet, as we’ve progressed, the landscape has shifted dramatically.
- Venture-capital funded BigTech has exerted a dominating presence, asserting control over significant elements of value creation like content distribution, audience and advertiser relationships, programmatic ad networks, and content formats.
- This relentless encroachment left less room for professionals in the content industry to truly make their mark.
All Work Products empower users to effect changes in their lives:
- Change Information: They add new data to the user’s existing knowledge pool. Higher insight density amplifies their value. Bloomberg Terminals and Q&A sites like Quora fit this category.
- Change Ability: These products equip users with new skills or abilities. MOOC platforms and most SaaS internet products are from this category.
- Change Action: They encourage users to act, use, try, or buy something new, often converting raw data into actionable truth. E-commerce sites are a classic example.
- Change Beliefs: Inspiring and perspective-shifting, these products prompt users to rethink their beliefs or worldview. TED talks are a prime example.
A Digiday article talks about the cautionary story of Mic.com. It started in 2012 and across its lifetime has raised ~ $60 million. From 2012 until 2019, it has pivoted its Niche and Formats multiple times, each time struggling to find a moat.
- 2012: Posts on policy-making for progressive, young audiences.
- 2014: Posts on news for progressive, young audiences from Social (Facebook).
- 2016: Posts on news for progressive, young audiences from SEO.
- 2017: Videos on news for progressive, young audiences from SEO.
- 2018: Content agency but eventually laid off the majority of its staff.
There are many such stories of badly selected niches:
- Quartz which grew out of The Atlantic was The Economist but free.
Find contributors, volunteers, experts, and nerds in your Niche and ask them to contribute to your product.
Why it matters: Beyond the obvious advantage of collecting content, you end up collecting people into your Community. Then there are some use cases where information can only be crowd-sourced.
Whom to recruit: Contributors are likely to be people with expertise, time, and Labor but lack a platform.
- Contributors tend to be nerds who are looking to an open platform they believe in. For example: Open Street Maps, Wikipedia, WordPress, etc.
- They can also be professionals looking to signal their Judgment. For example: Collecting points in Stackoverflow, Reddit, Hacker News, etc. Often such platforms have a well-moderated Community that incentivizes participation through reward points and badges. For example, Reddit Moderators Do Over $3.4 Million in Free Labor Every Year
- Then there are doctoral students, researchers, professors, and policy analysts who contribute analysis to mainstream newspapers.
- Sometimes experts look to collaborate because of the production and presentation skills that you bring to the table.
- Another way is to look for underutilized assets of NGOs and think tanks, for example, databases and Evidence built up by researchers that have not reached the masses.
- Finally, there is, of course, monetary compensation.
Editorial Products demonstrate judgment and a world view — a form of consistent sensibility and quirk that optimizes for something. It could be Insight Density, political leaning, social justice, Click-bait, etc.
This editorial judgment determines what the audiences will see, what will get omitted out, how it is presented, when it will be published, and by whom.
And this is how** **work products set the agenda for a certain aspect in the minds of a target audience. No! It isn’t always passionate activism. Work Products are often utility oriented.
This is a quote by Hunter Walk.
The best case scenario for any work product is that every audience you onboard ends up staying back for the Community, where audiences directly help other audiences.
Why it matters: The resulting network efforts will make your business hard to displace.
- Over the last 20 years, many blogging platforms have come and gone but WordPress has endured. This is because of the Community of developers, agencies, designers, and dependent companies that it has nurtured. In 2011, WordPress powered 13.1% of the Internet. By 2019, that number had grown to 32.7% of the Internet.
- Medium is more valuable than WordPress because Medium has a community of audience.
- YouTube is more valuable than Vimeo.
- LinkedIn is more valuable than Indeed.
- Royal Enfield in India is more valuable than Yamaha Bikes.
- Attending Stanford in-person is more valuable than their online courses on Coursera.
- GitHub is more valuable than GitLab.
How: To build a Community, you need good software and more importantly great moderation. Moderators should:
- Have a voice that is smart, insidery, critical but generous.
- Be kind and assume good faith.
- Encourage the right behavior that is right for the platform. For example, encourage comments and constructive feedback that is more thoughtful and substantive, etc.
- Discourage shallow dismissals, ideological battles, swipes that discourage curiosity.
What is the difference between reading news on your website versus on Apple News or Medium?
For the same article, broadly the reading experience across all publishers and aggregators (like Google News) and social media platform is similar. With this, individual publishers have lost their power to create Owned Identity and Competitive Differentiation for themselves.
Candid Communication lost out. Over the last two decades, the only way to monetize your Owned Media got intertwined with the Digital Advertisements economy and the page-views metric. This meant there was no valuation (financial or otherwise) of the inherent intellectual information in the piece, because the ecosystem couldn’t measure it — in effect, a well-reported piece of journalism or research competed with a funny cat video!
We now serve platforms, not users. Publishers started optimizing their platforms for SEO, not user experience. For example, a website optimized for SEO will publish 50 stories across 100 days for an evolving topic instead of building an one upgrading explainer that provides a coherent narrative.
Here’s how some of the biggest technology companies looked when they started:
Here’s how billion dollar revenue companies look today!
The bottomline: Owned Identity or brands are built over years by delivering on your core promise. All you need is a design that is good enough that won’t kill the launch.
- Google’s focus was its Search algorithm.
- Amazon’s focus was on faster shipping, lower pricing, and greater variety.
- Once you’ve cracked your core value proposition, the unique design can add to the experience, thereby allowing you to charge a premium.
In comparison: The Outline has overinvested in design relative to their size and earning potential and that capital could have been better deployed in experimenting with and iterating on their core editorial proposition.
- This typically happens because editorial teams tend to mix up brand, design, and content.
I love the the New York Times’ ‘Op-Eds From the Future’ series, where writers are asked to craft fictional opinion pieces to situations that could happen 10-100 years from now. Removing the mind from today’s moral, ethical, social, and technological context frees up the writer to new possibilities.
Flashback: More than a decade ago, The New York Times started publishing visual, mix-media, interactive stories to explain complex issues. Since then, this style of visual storytelling has been a north star for publications and data journalists alike.
However, the ROI from these stories isn’t proven.
- These stories are extremely expensive to produce. Only a few stories can be produced per week or month. Each story requires high-skilled labour who not only knows data analysis and storytelling but also designing and coding.
- We’ve not seen these stories generate an outsized quantity of page views. In fact, adding to the challenges in discovery is the fact that there is no meaningful way to inject interactive stories in most page-based CMS.
- Hence, they are at best a branding exercise.
The strongest commerce brands nurture a strong resale market and Hypebeasts purchase their products and board them in hope their resale value will rise.
Unlike most brands, Supreme isn’t in the business of profit maximization, i.e., selling as much product as possible. Instead they:
- Promote exclusivity: Their collection drops have many products but in minimal quantities. Additionally, once sold, Supreme never repeats the same product. This scarcity intensifies the desire because customers know that it won’t be available again if they do not buy the product right now. Generally, demand far outstrips supply. Hence, Hypebeasts compete to buy the products, and the merchandise is sold within minutes, if not seconds. Similarly, luxury brands like Burberry, Nike, and Louis Vuitton spend millions on destroying their own unsold merchandise to preserve their reputation of exclusivity.
- Maximize for a resale market that stands the test of time: Hence, Supreme cannot jack up the prices even if demand outstrips supply. Instead, you’ll have to leave value on the table so that a mature resale market develops and resellers can earn a healthy profit. In return, you lock in customers and resellers into a community that is committed to you long-term.
Cultivate Fear Of Missing Out: What happens if you wanted something, but it got sold out? You know that Supreme won’t release more of the same product. This is where the resale market kicks in, converting Supreme’s merchandise into collectibles. Often called “Supreme Flipper” or “Supreme Collectors,” resellers earn a significant markup on the original retail price. You can find the Supreme products for resale on websites like StockX.
Context is the background or surrounding circumstances in which something occurs. It can refer to the setting, situation, or environment in which a particular event or situation takes place.
Why it matters: As professionals or experts within a Niche field, we are attenuated to the details. However, the same might not be true for your audience.
Most media companies have struggled to become technology companies.
Why it happens:
- HR: Great engineers prefer to work in companies where they are the primary value creators. In most media companies, the technology team is seen as support.
- Poor economics: Media is a low ARPU business and hence cannot afford great engineers.
- Lack of vision: Most media companies tend to reinvent the wheel that eventually become cost-centers instead of adding to competitive differentiation.
Pixar: Most technology-first companies think capability-first. In contrast, media and other consumer Internet Products companies think audience-first. For example, Lucas Films, the makers of Star Wars, couldn’t make the most out of Lucas Films Computer Division. Steve Jobs bought it and converted it into Pixar, which too at its core initially was a tools company.
Click-baiting’ is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.
Readers experience Context Collapse, i.e., not fully understand or misinterpret the meaning, when they read or consume information that was not written for them or for then.
The details: It is likely to happen:
- When talking about under-reported phenomena and slow-moving movements that require a longitudinal outlook to grasp
- When discussing fast-moving topics where the situation is dynamic and information can become stale fast
- When talking across cultural boundaries
What you can do about it?
- Declare your Assumed Audience.
- The Posts format was an acceptable format for the print newspaper. Every day, the reader would trash today’s newspaper and start afresh. Online, articles stay around forever. When we write stories on unfolding events, the information published in the article might not be accurate after a day or two. Yet, this is archived forever and can drive misinformation. One solution for this is to put a message at the top of a dated article.
In his blog, author Robin Sloan recommends that to avoid Context Collapse, writers should declare their assumed audience at the top of any piece of Posts, informing readers who the intended audience is and acknowledging that others may read it but might need to exert additional effort to fully comprehend it since it was not specifically written for them.
He goes on to say that the assumed audience can change over time and thus it is important for writers to keep revisiting this note and adapt the note to changing cultural and societal norms. Below are two examples from his blog: