This week we hear from Scott Omelianuk, Inc. Magazine’s Editor in Chief. He talks about how starting his new job just before lockdown affected Inc.’s plans for change, how their content strategy has shifted in response to a momentous year in politics, and the thinking behind their new texting subscription service. He also explains why media businesses need a process before trying new platforms.

In the news roundup the team discusses BuzzFeed buying HuffPost, Google’s payments to French publishers, and the whys and wherefores of launching a one-off print comic book for grown-ups. Don’t worry, America, Peter still loves you really.

The full transcript will be live here on Wednesday, but for now, here are some highlights:

Opportunities from lockdown

It changed everything, really. First and foremost, we lost a big piece of revenue that would have been associated with events that we hold during the SXSW conference that obviously was cancelled. We came up with the idea to very quickly pivot to some streaming video events and did that successfully with some significant names. People like Mark Cuban and Daymond John, famous entrepreneurs.

So we suddenly had another business that has proven to have been really useful for us and a significant revenue generator. But of course that came out of the crisis, right? And the lesson there really is, don’t let a good crisis go to waste, in a way!

It’s an opportunity to experiment, because you don’t have a choice. You can continue to do what you did, and you’ll watch yourself decline. Or you can be nimble and try to find new ways.

Covering business during the election

There used to be a time when you could say, ‘Well, that’s business, we don’t have to talk about politics.’ But at a certain point, business and politics do intersect, and it’s hard to talk about one without the other.

Our audience is more conservative than I am, for example. And I understand that, and yet at the same time, I also understand things like, no matter who is in power, uncertainty is the enemy of moving forward economically. I think that’s something worth talking about. Outlining realities for people in terms of, this is a government with an active legislation toward supporting small business and helping it in a time of crisis is more useful than one that’s ignoring it.

And so I think we can and do look at it that way, what can the government be doing? Is there a coherence in policy? And if not, what needs to be there? And so that’s how we’ve discussed it.

Serving an audience across different mediums

Our role is to support small business and how we do that really will ultimately be dictated by our audience. So they will tell us at some point, perhaps, they don’t want a magazine anymore. And that will be okay, because we’ll serve them in another way.

One of the ways we’re serving them now is something called Subtext where a handful of our most read columnists or reporters are able to have a texting relationship with some of our audience.

It’s a subscription offer. You pay monthly or by the year, but you have a more intimate and more two way communication with our columnists, our reporters, and our editors. And I think that’s something that’s really valuable for our audience.

Inc.’s longer-term plans for their texting service

I know that a Subtext subscription costs more than a magazine subscription. It does not have the associated manufacturing and distribution costs with it. So the economic model is quite different. I could end up with a much smaller audience, but a much more passionate audience, or one that I can charge more for, because they’re that passionate. And that might be okay.

So no, I don’t expect Subtext to replace any of our current businesses. I see it right now as an addition, as an add-on, as a way to get closer to the brand for our audience, and a way to have better communication, and understand their needs better, and then be able to respond more interestingly in our other platforms to their needs.

To me, it’s a really interesting two way opportunity now. Ultimately, is there a revenue opportunity there? I hope so. And if there is, that’s great.

Key stories:

News in brief:

  • Apple has given into pressure around its 30% app store tax, and has now announced a reduction to its commission rate as part of a new program for small businesses. Any developers who earn less than $1 million in annual sales a year for all their apps qualify for a reduced App Store cut of 15%. For publishers who qualify, this should boost take-home revenue for a new subscriber by around 20%.
  • Google has signed a copyright agreement with six French publishers including Le Monde and Le Figaro, following a year-long row over revamped EU copyright rules. The agreements are based on criteria such as the publisher’s ‘contribution to political and general information’, the amount they publish each day, and how their content is used on Google’s platform. This isn’t actually a snippet tax resolution though – it involves the Google News Showcase where Google will pay publishers around the world to license their content.
  • Kids comic The Beano is publishing its first ever version aimed at grown-ups. The one-off edition, called BeanOLD, will feature stories of Captain Tom Moore, Marcus Rashford, Greta Thunberg, and of course Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings.
  • Marie Claire have launched a VIP scheme which is basically a premium loyalty programme. Members can join for free, and receive points from other online retailers when they shop via the Marie Claire VIP site. They can then exchange these points for online vouchers to spend at VIP partner retailers.
  • Vox is losing its (other) co-founder and editor-in-chief. Ezra Klein and Lauren Williams are both leaving. Klein is heading to the NYT to write a column, in addition to launching other endeavours. Williams is launching a new nonprofit startup called ‘Capital B’, focused on creating a news outlet for civic journalism tailored to Black communities.
  • It turns out those labels Facebook have been putting on Trump’s posts have done little to slow the spread. “We have evidence that applying these informs to posts decreases their reshares by 8%” said a data scientist. “However, given that Trump has SO many shares on any given post, that decrease is not going to change shares by orders of magnitude.”
  • Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey have been back in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Content moderation dominated the questions asked, with Republican senators focused on how both platforms could employ less moderation.
  • Twitter has launched its own version of Stories this week called Fleets; tweets that disappear after 24 hours. It looks like there are some initial kinks to be ironed out, including the fact that anyone can reply to them in your DMs.

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