July 9, 2021
Members Only

From Curation to Originals

Over the past couple of years, there has been a real explosion in the amount of curation-related products out there. Newsletters have been launched about any topic imaginable, curating all the information from that week.

It’s certainly not a new idea. I launched my first curation newsletter about the NBA when I was 24 years old. Fast forward a few years and I launched one about crypto. The curation was great and it was easy for me to do by myself.

But with all the time people have had during Covid and the growth of companies like my employer, Morning Brew, there has been a real obsession with curation. It makes sense why.

There is a lot of content out there for consumers to pick through. And an unimaginable quantity is being created every single day. In 2015, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said at VidCon that over 400 hours of content was being uploaded to the platform every minute. In one day, 65 years’ worth of content is uploaded.

So, curation is necessary. There’s simply too much information out there and if people can curate the best of it, there is real value in that.

The truth is, most businesses are built on curation. If you go to the grocery store, much of what they sell are products from other companies. If you go to a department store, it’s the same thing. Even Netflix got its start licensing content from other media companies and then distributing it.

All of these companies assess what customers are buying and then either stock more of it or stop carrying it entirely. Why pay for products if the end customer doesn’t want them?

But at some point, there’s a very necessary pivot that takes place from curation to original. If you go to the grocery store and it is part of a chain, it likely has the store brand of cereal sitting right next to Kellogg’s. Go to Target and it has its own brand of clothing. And in 2013, Netflix pivoted with the launch of House of Cards, its first original series.

For all media companies, the time will come when they have to decide to go from curating other people’s content to creating their own content and reported pieces. That decision is based on two pain points: growth and economics.

Let’s dig into both…

There are plenty of ways to grow a newsletter. You can:

In that list, what’s missing are the words content, journalism, reporting, or anything along those lines. The truth is, the content in the newsletter has a very short shelf-life because it’s all curation. The newsletter itself has utility and that’s worth sharing, but the individual pieces of content don’t generate much growth outside of the newsletter.

That has consequences. Google has made it abundantly clear for years now that it prioritizes original content above all else. Why wouldn’t it? Google is in the curation business. For it to do its job efficiently, it needs original content. It would be failing its users if it simply drove users to additional curation.

By making the transition from curation to original, the content itself acts as one of the biggest tools for growth.

A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a newsletter operator and he told me about one of the best growth tools he had: the Sunday story. He hired a journalist and tasked said journalist with creating one big story every single week.

Like clockwork, he had an incredibly high-quality piece of original content. Week after week, it was the highest-trafficked story on the site and it drove the most subscriptions compared to any other piece of content on the site. It was an instant success.

Suddenly, his company was benefiting from Google and social media to drive people to a great piece of content. Once there, he could promote the newsletter as much as he wanted. His content was a tool for growth.

If we think about the media flywheel, we use content to build an audience, which we are then able to monetize, which circles back to creating more content. Compared to original content, curation is a weaker component of that growth flywheel.

But it’s not just growth we have to think about. It’s also an economics conversation.

Let’s go back to Netflix again. Until 2013, it was highly dependent on licensing content from studios. If someone came along and was willing to pay more for the same content, it could lose it when the contract expired. In 2019, for example, Netflix lost the rights to Friends and The Office. I remember reports that some Netflix subscribers only paid because they watched those shows on repeat. Losing those shows likely stung.

It’s no wonder then that Netflix paid “far more than the $500 million NBCUniversal paid for The Office,” as reported by The Los Angeles Times, for Seinfeld. The previous deal for Seinfeld had only been $160 million. Netflix knew that it needed to overpay, so it did.

It’s not great when you’re dependent on someone else’s information for your business. You’re constantly negotiating and paying ever greater amounts of money to keep the content on the platform.

Naturally, this has less of an impact on newsletters because we don’t license our content. But there’s another major economics aspect that is talked about even less: intellectual property.

A fundamental reason why original content is so important is that the media brand owns it. Any monetization that comes from said content—directly or indirectly—belongs to the creator.

Let’s change course and talk about my favorite streaming platform, Baby Yoda+. Disney remains the most incredible IP creator on the planet. It owns Star Wars, Marvel, the Disney suite of characters, Pixar, and so much more. Each character can be monetized with merchandise, parks, and the list goes on.

This is where the money in much of media exists today. Creating intellectual property and monetize it in a multitude of ways is what gives original content such a leg up on curation. Economically, there is far more upside with that original content.

This is why we’re seeing companies like Barstool, Vox, Complex, and many others lean so aggressively into original shows. If they take off, monetization can be great.

Look at Complex, for example. It has Hot Ones, which is just a fun chicken wing eating show on YouTube. It has now exploded in popularity and Complex has sold millions of dollars worth of hot sauce and had a TV show. The company can generate far more revenue from owning Hot Ones than it could if it simply curated other people’s hot sauce hot takes.

None of this is to say that curation is bad. There is still far too much content on the internet today and there is real value in helping people find the best and understand it better.

However, for reasons of growth and economics, adding original content into the mix can have a very positive impact on the business. The transition has to happen at some point. For many of the newsletter writers reading AMO, I would ask you: what is something completely original you could create that sets you apart from other curators in your same niche?

I hope you have a great weekend. If you have thoughts, hit reply. And as always, thank you for being a member of A Media Operator.

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