Unlikely to launch subscription paywall for Escape Products | News Product Made with Humane Club

Unlikely to launch subscription paywall for Escape Products

Published Jun 05, 2021
Updated Jun 14, 2021

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

Escape activities are 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. 

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.

Value proposition

They meet fundamental psychological human needs like killing boredom, prestige, fear of missing out, need to belong and feel connected. 

“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.”

Brut India

Escape products tend to operate in the ad-economy

Attention is the foundation of wealth for escape products. People pay for escape products with their time and attention, and companies monetize this attention with advertisements.

Hence, their competition is…

Anything that consumes a customer’s time.

“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 – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/18/netflix-competitor-sleep-uber-facebook

“Sometimes employees at Netflix think, ‘Oh my god, we’re competing with FX, HBO, or Amazon,” said Hastings, “but think about if you didn’t watch Netflix last night: What did you do? There’s such a broad range of things that you did to relax and unwind, hang out, and connect–and we compete with all of that.”

Netflix C.E.O. Reed Hastings – https://nextbigwhat.com/sleep-vs-netflix-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 – https://journalismdesign.com/why-journalism-design/

Escape media products operate in a zero-sum game

Hence, escape media products are optimized to be addictive, i.e., how often do users come to the platform. In addition, 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. 

Often, there is one dominant, category-defining escape-based product in each category. The rest of the competitors serve a long tail. 

Broadly, there are three:

  1. The first is social platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit that act as news aggregators.
  2. The second is horizontal, catch-all news sites.
  3. The third is interest-based news products like Brut India.

In some situations, you could charge for escape products, if audiences are passionate towards it

First introduced by journalist Kevin Kelly in his blogpassion 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. 

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.

This entire field has now exploded into what’s called the #PassionEconomy or #CreatorEconomy and new platforms like SubStack are helping creators monetize.