This week Zach Seward, CEO of Quartz, explains why he bought the business lifestyle brand from Uzabase. He tells us how it all started and how it’s going, about memberships and advertising, and the Quartz mission to make business better.
In the news roundup Peter and Chris discuss the opportunities for The New European after its purchase by a consortium of the best and brightest in the media business world. We also discuss Google’s latest advertising battles, the launch of URL Media, and the sad closure of The Overtake.
The full transcript is live here, or see below for highlights:
I was working at the Wall Street Journal as the newspaper’s first social media editor and doing some work with the product teams at Dow Jones. When my boss at the time, Kevin Delaney got hired to start a new business news outlet for Atlantic media, and that was about as much definition as there was.
Kevin was a great boss, I realized that an opportunity like that wouldn’t come around terribly often in my career. And so I ended up following him out the door.
Rooting for Quartz
I think Quartz is a news organization people have liked to root for all along. Part of that is we’ve tried to be open about what we know and don’t know about what works in digital media. And we said on day one, consumer habits and the industry writ large would be rapidly changing.
We wanted to set Quartz up to be ready to adapt to all those changes as we went and be open about what we were thinking and doing along the way. I think that’s just a fun way to approach things and that openness has probably helped with the reception of Quartz.
The one consistent positive performance has been in our subscription business, which doubled over that last year. It’s driving significant revenue for us, but still a minority of our business; advertising is still much larger.
Progressive business journalism
We are absolutely still part of the system that Katherine* was talking about in this essay that she wrote, trying to define progressive business journalism. I don’t want to speak for Katherine, but the way I interpret what she was saying is, we will always be part of the system, there is no escaping the system, when it comes to capitalism. But a smarter form of business journalism starts by recognizing that fact, and incorporating it into our coverage.
* Katherine Bell, Editor in chief, Quartz
The extent the tech industry views journalists these days as “out to get them”, that’s really absurd and a misreading of the purpose of journalism, which is more to hold those tech companies accountable. That tech companies or VC firms think that they can meet that scepticism with a counterpoint, as though it’s like a high school debate tournament with two sides, is a little absurd.
But I think most readers can understand that and read both. What they’re getting from their journalism is different from what they’re getting from their favourite venture capital firm.
The reason Quartz has had real strength in product development over the years is that we’ve structured product to be really closely linked with the newsroom. And when we build editorial products we do it in conjunction between our product team and our journalists.
- A long list of luminaries is behind the purchase, including its editor-in-chief Matt Kelly, former editor of the Financial Times Lionel Barber, and The New York Times’ Mark Thomson
- Matt Kelly is chief executive, editor-in-chief, and majority shareholder, and there are 14 investors in total
- Circulation of about 20,000 – 10,000 subscribers. With 7,000 sales at news-stand, that makes around 17,000 full price weekly sales, in addition to a million web views
- We’re not sure how this fits with Barber’s newly proclaimed commitment to both-sides-ism
- The New European has always punched above its weight, with a relatively small time of full-time staff, so fingers crossed this lets it stretch its legs a little
- “The magazine’s production budget of £6,500 an issue will immediately rise by 50%, the BBC’s report said. The new business will also take on responsibility for the publication’s back-office costs. It will lose money in 2021 but is projected to return to profit next year”
- Where does TNE go with some investment? More events like The National? A dedicated European culture supplement in line with its mission to celebrate Europe post-Brexit? New podcasts?
News in brief
- The Overtake has closed
- Growth has finally returned to the podcast industry with ad spend up 11% – and Spotify is crediting its investment in podcasts for its 24% growth in subscribers
- The NYT has 7.5 million subscribers with ad revenue slipping further. Josh Sternberg asks if this is potentially a problem – will readers start to dictate coverage?
- Google thinks it might have found a replacement for third-party cookies – FLOCs – creates anonymous cohorts – giving advertisers at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent vs. cookies
- Google is also trialling a new platform in Australia designed to showcase the news it is paying for. It’s similar to its News Showcase platform in Germany and Brazil, and aims to dampen enthusiasm for regulation
- Meanwhile in the US, a collection of local newspapers is piggybacking on lawsuits against the Duopoly, arguing that Google and Facebook are killing local news. Sigh.
- URL Media launches to help sustain “high-performing Black and brown media organizations” – “We don’t want the next 4 years to look like the last 4–or 400.”
- George Osborne departs newspaper role for investment bank
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