On this week’s episode we hear from Janice Min, co-owner and CEO of The Ankler, a newsletter-first media brand covering Hollywood and the world of entertainment. She tells us how The Ankler’s revenue streams have evolved over the last twelve months, the potential she sees in lean, newsletter-first businesses, and what lessons she’s applying from her time at big-name legacy publications like the Hollywood Reporter.

In the news roundup we avoid AI entirely and do a Media Voices 101 episode, going through a wishlist for what we want to see from media companies in the next year. Please look out for our new ‘Humanity is pathetic: How do we monetise them?” t-shirts in the near future.

Here are some highlights:

How Janice got involved in The Ankler

I had become really enamoured of this newsletter called The Ankler. What was really interesting to me about it was that it was something that definitely punched above its weight. It was this one man show being put out by a journalist I had known for a while, Richard Rushfield, but it was getting read by  literally some of the most influential people in town, many of them at the CEO level, at the Oscar-winning producer level.

Someone had described it to me as the weekly memo to Hollywood. To have that kind of influence with a really sporadic publishing schedule, and through a newsletter, it seemed like a great opportunity. I thought what Richard had done in terms of capturing an audience that’s very hard to reach, with almost no expenses was a pretty great business model.

One of the things I like about The Ankler, which is so nice and different from other media I’ve done is that it’s a very intentional audience. Because of the high subscription price – well I don’t think it’s high, it’s $149 a year – but because of the intentionality of the audience buying in, they’re very, very engaged with what we do and what we talk about. And that is certainly a freedom that allows you to write a certain way, speak a certain way.

Transforming The Ankler from a solo newsletter to a media business

The number one thing was, no man is an island, or no business is an island. To have the whole thing reliant on Richard Rushfield was not a scalable way to grow the business. So it was about bringing in some other voices and other writers. I felt really fortunate that because of long-term really good relationships between both me and Richard, we were able to beg, borrow and steal, and put together a really small but mighty team.

One of the first people we brought on was someone who goes by the name Entertainment Strategy Guy. He’s a business analyst, a strategy person who used to work at one of the big streamers in Hollywood really dissecting the numbers. At the moment, there’s a real black box around information around who’s watching what and where, and creators in Hollywood can’t get that information out of the people who are buying their shows in the way that they used to. So to be able to unlock the black box just a bit through data and research is what Entertainment Strategy Guy does. That’s proven to be incredibly valuable to the audience.

Then we wanted to get people into a habit. Anyone who runs an organisation knows the value of habit. We brought in features people who could really report and write in-depth about topics impacting entertainment.

We’re trying to be thoughtful, we’re trying to go under the surface of traffic-driven conversation. We don’t do things like what people say on Twitter about this story. It’s been a pleasure to not be in the traffic chasing business but in the subscriber acquisition business. It’s a very different kind of conversation.

Building a business on Substack

I will say this about Substack: we could not have gotten off to such a running start without it. To not have to build a website, debug a website, manage all of that, and not to make those technical decisions that is really not [our] expertise, it allowed us to start publishing very quickly right away. And that’s how we grew, and that’s how we were able to do some really fantastic work out of the gate.

I also think Substack is trying to keep up with brands such as The Ankler that could be seen as outgrowing Substack. Substack really began as that great place for single-author newsletters, and I think they’re making some shifts to try and accommodate mini empires on their platform – we would certainly like to qualify as one of those! They’ve been good partners to us and are definitely trying to broaden the definition of who and what should be on Substack.

Top story: A publishing wishlist for 2023

Rather than a publishing predictions piece, Peter Houston has written a wishlist for What’s New in Publishing.

  • Pivot to value: delivering real value will be the difference between an industry that survives and thrives and one that declines slowly into mediocrity, or worse, mendacity.
  • Sustainable subscriptions: find out what people want and deliver it. Ultimately, that’s what will decide the long-term success of any subscription offer.
  • Newsletters and podcasts: a shift in focus to the revenue potential for two currently very under-monetised products.
  • The mix of six: advertising growth is slowing and the subscription boom has hit the skids. That means revenue diversification has to be a priority.
  • User-first advertising: improving ad quality will deliver more value to individual advertisers and help build long-term commercial relationships. And your site visitors will be happier.
  • More of the good stuff: from climate coverage to improvements in diversity and inclusion, let’s make 2023 the year of more responsible journalism.

News in brief:

  • Haymarket is riding high on a £16.9m profit announcement. It’s attributing that success to a rebounding live events calendar – but it’s also a case of having invested in event strategy over the course of the past few years. It’s potentially a good sign for other publishers investing in event tech like News UK.
  • Damian Radcliffe writes that ecommerce is a trend that has a number of implications for publishers and media companies in his latest for WNIP. The biggest is the disruption of traditional advertising models, as more and more businesses shift their focus – and advertising budgets – towards ecommerce platforms. It’s already a priority revenue stream for more than one in four publishers according to the Reuters Institute predictions report, but with the ad market worth $100 billion and ecommerce predicted to be worth $9 trillion, that absolutely makes sense.
  • Remember Snapchat? It’s still performing pretty strongly as a revenue stream for some publishers, although others are having frustrations, according to a Digiday article this week. One unnamed publisher wanted to invest more in their channels after success in 2022, until Snapchat pivoted away from prioritising that particular kind of publisher programming. The publisher then pivoted and launched two new shows on Snapchat, which are apparently being viewed by no one.

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