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I've 15 years of experience in media, product & technology. By day, I work at a mainstream news site. On weekends, I read & write on media products. Most recently, I was a Knight Fellow w/ International Center for Journalists for 3.5 years.
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I've 15 years of experience in media, product & technology. By day, I work at a mainstream news site. On weekends, I read & write on media products. Most recently, I was a Knight Fellow w/ International Center for Journalists for 3.5 years.

Monetize with advertisements if you’re an escape product

Published Jun 06, 2021
Updated Mar 27, 2022

At a 30,000 ft view, there are two broad categories of media products online — escape and work. In this post, we discuss Escape Products.

Escape is what people do subconsciously in breaks from work. For example, when you are in a queue and quickly check Twitter, you use Twitter as an escape product. 

  • They meet fundamental psychological human needs like killing boredom, prestige, fear of missing out, need to belong, and feel connected. 
  • On the Internet, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs are examples of successful escape products. Most news websites, at least in India, too are positioned as escape media products.

“The secret behind Buzzfeed is catering to that elusive group known as the ‘Bored at Work‘ network.”

Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed
Brut India too recognizes this. Hence, its homepage uses a call to action copy “Take a break with Brut Nature.”

The crux: Escape products are free. People pay with their time and attention, and companies monetize this attention with advertisements.

Zero-sum game: The competitors of escape product will be anything that consumes your audience’s time. In fact, often, there is one dominant, category-defining escape-based product in each category. The rest of the competitors serve a long tail. 

“You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep, on the margin.

Netflix C.E.O. Reed Hastings

“We’re (news products) no longer just competing with each other, or with the entertainment industry, but with what (content) people create themselves and their communications with one another.”

Heather Chaplin, the founder-director of Journalism+Design

Obsessive focus on DAU: Escape products and their algorithms are designed to be addictive, i.e., how often do users come to the platform.

  • Hence, these products tend to have a temporal bias, i.e., their content that keeps frequently changing throughout the day.
  • This, in turn, creates a fear of missing out that brings the audience back multiple times a day. 

Some Escape Products can be monetized with Commerce

First introduced by journalist Kevin Kelly in his blog, passion products are media products on topics or niches that a target audience profoundly cares about or empathizes with.

  • Kevin elaborates that audiences pay, out of patronage or altruism.
  • They pay to support the creator. That said, these continue to be escape products because subscribers do not get a tangible utility back in return. 
  • This entire field has now exploded into what’s called the #PassionEconomy or #CreatorEconomy and new platforms like SubStack are helping creators monetize.

Below are examples of some passion products:

  • People can be passionate about news products that have a clear political ideology. Citizens leaning left might empathize with the journalists covering a certain issue and hence might support them. Alternatively, if a right-leaning government or Big Business files legal cases against them, consumers will go out of their way to support passion-based escape products.
  • Persecuted minorities can pool in money to support journalism operations. For e.g., adherents of the Falun Gong religious movement can support shows like China Uncensored, which discusses sensitive political issues in China with satire.
  • WaitButWhy is an example of high-quality long-form blog posts.

Twitter recognized this: It realized that followers would tip out of patronage or altruism to support some creators. Hence, it launched Tip Jar.

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