June 18, 2024

Incremental Expansion Is How You Grow Sustainably

Let’s jump into today’s newsletter because it’s hefty, but first, a few quick things:

  1. I’m hosting a webinar on Thursday about unlocking the value of your audience. Be sure to register.
  2. I’m brainstorming a panel for the AMO Summit about the future of audience development in a post-AI world. If you believe you’d be good for this, hit reply.

Let’s jump in…

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Punchbowl News expanding into tech policy

Last week, Dave Clarke, a policy editor at Punchbowl News, wrote that the publication was expanding to cover tech policy.

Punchbowl News Tech will delve into the power, people and politics shaping tech policy, offering insider access and market-driving scoops. This fall, members of the Punchbowl News community will begin receiving tech coverage as part of our AM, Midday and PM newsletters. We will also publish a special edition newsletter at the end of the year.

The upcoming coverage is a preview of our latest Premium Policy membership, which will launch in early 2025.

I can offer little commentary on whether this is a smart move from a topical perspective. I suspect the Punchbowl team did their job and interviewed audiences to determine that this expansion made sense. And who better than them to know the right coverage areas?

But this expansion is the right way to go. It’s incremental, but that’s a positive. Let’s analyze it.

The core point is that the audience hasn’t changed. Punchbowl News is named after the Capitol Building, so it serves any audience wanting to understand Congress. Focusing coverage on a single building is as niche as it gets, especially with only 535 people in Congress.

Why is this important?

Publications often lose sight of their audience when they think about expansion. “We need to get bigger” would lead to coverage for people interested in other government aspects, which is dangerous because it introduces gaps for others to fill.

What I like about this myopic focus is that you’re not starting from scratch from an audience perspective. If your audience cares about what Congress is doing in one area, it’s quite possible a subset of that audience cares about other topics. And so, you’re not starting from zero.

And that is true from an advertising perspective as well. Because the audience is already established, you can get sponsor dollars almost immediately. Compare that to a new publication that might focus on tech policy in Congress; it could take quite a while to build readership, which would delay the ability to monetize.

None of this is revolutionary. Many publications have expanded coverage areas incrementally. But this is a good example of a depth over breadth strategy, which many operators struggle with as they get bigger. Instead of getting bigger by expanding who you serve, get bigger by going deeper on those you serve. Depth over breadth. It will be the only way to survive in this business.


You introduce a house of brands model. Punchbowl could do this, but not under the Punchbowl name. If it wanted to serve an audience trying to understand what the President was doing, Punchbowl could launch a new publication called Castle News (the White House is known as Castle to the Secret Service). If it wanted to launch a publication about the defense department, it could call it Calico News (the name for the Pentagon).

In both cases, you are expanding with breadth, but doing it on its own ecosystem. You are not trying to be everything for everyone with a single entity—which is what a branded house attempts to accomplish—but instead, recognizes that different audiences have different needs.

This is the reason we launched independent publications for each industry we covered at Morning Brew. Could we have simply created sub-sections of the main newsletter? It’s possible. But we wouldn’t have been able to support any of those audiences with the level of depth required to have a strong, sustainable business. Each publication needed to be its own business with its own audience and product strategies.

Another example that I’ve long been fond of is Aging Media, which was bought by WTWH Media last year. Co-founder John Yedinak launched Reverse Mortgage Daily in 2006. His brother, George, launched Senior Housing News in 2008. In 2012, they expanded into Home Health Care News; in 2017, Skilled Nursing News; Hospice News in 2019; and Behavioral Health Business in 2020.

This is incremental expansion and it is absolutely the right way to grow. And because the publications have some relation, getting advertisers and audience from one to the other is possible. In the case of Aging Media, many of the publications had overlap, which simplifies expansion.

The era of big, branded houses that can serve a broad audience is over. Instead, it’s going to be smaller, niche publications. That doesn’t mean there’s no path to building a big business; however, it does mean you’ve got to be intentional with the audience. It’ll look more like a network that gradually expanded compared to something massive. And honestly, that’s probably for the best.

AMO Pro: Workweek Raises $12.5 Million to Expand Into Professional Communities

Workweek is a creator-centric media company that believes the future of b2b media is personality-led. It is moving into its next evolution with the launch of a number of professional communities, including ones for HR professionals and healthcare strategists.

I sat down with Workweek CEO, Adam Ryan, to talk about the $12.5 million raise and the strategy for these professional communities. One thing I found particularly interesting is how niche they’re going. It’s not good enough to launch an HR community; instead, it’s a community for HR professionals of a certain category of company. Plus, we spoke a bit about how the business is doing more broadly.

Read more here.

High quality print

The New York Times has a compelling read on the growing number of ultra-niche, ultra-high-quality print magazines that are appearing around the United States. And in some cases, these publications are making pretty good money.

The Surfer’s Journal persists as envisioned, now with about 28,000 subscribers (six issues a year for $84, or $25 for one) and eight “sponsors” (each paying $70,000 per year). Thousands of other copies are sold in surf shops and bookstores. The company has expanded into books, a popular podcast and The Golfer’s Journal, with manicured green grass taking the place of swelling blue oceans. It has about two dozen employees, including those who handle circulation from company headquarters.

Do the math and you’re looking at $2.3 million in subscription revenue—generating $14 per issue—and then another $560,000 in sponsor revenue. Serving under 30,000 people and generating over $100 per reader every year. That’s a great business.

But it helps to understand why these products are working. As The Times discusses, it’s this notion of “leaning back.” People want to slow down and get immersed in something. It’s different than the internet where I can get another dopamine hit from a social media platform in seconds.

Another fact touched on in this story is the notion of quality.

She does not call it a magazine, but a journal, even a bimonthly book. She noted high-end flourishes, like an embossed title. She picked up an upcoming issue, printed on thicker paper — 18 percent thicker. Why do that?

“That’s a really good question, because it’s going to cost, like, $22,000 in postage,” Pezman said. But she sees other magazines entering the market, ratcheting up the standards that she helped set. “It’s just a dial-up of our quality, to differentiate,” she said.

Yes, it will cost more. But the user is getting something that feels much better. And that factors into the desire to pay for it.

I will say that this model works is an obvious approach for enthusiast brands. I’ve written about Firecrown before. These publications are all consumer brands. But it doesn’t have to only be consumer brands. I’ll give you an example.

I am a big fan of Foreign Affairs. It costs $40 a year and you get 6 issues, which means each one generates about $6.66 in revenue. Personally, I feel like it can charge more, but it is what it is. Each of these magazines is chock full of long essays about foreign policy. Like Surfer’s Journal, they are more like books and less like traditional magazines. I would argue this is also a “lean-back” product.

And look… it’s not the biggest magazine on the planet. In total, it has 216k paying subscribers, according to its media kit. But as that kit says, “We do not give away copies to bolster our numbers.” These are core readers that are willing to pay for the content.

Last week I interviewed the CEO of Hoffman Media for the podcast. It also costs $40 to get six editions of this magazine. Eric Hoffman told me that they don’t lose money on a print subscriber like so many other magazines do. If they are going to acquire one more subscriber, it needs to be done profitably.

I’m not saying we should all go out and launch print magazines (AMO Magazine anyone?), but I do think there are places where it makes sense. While much of the coverage is about enthusiast outdoor brands, I think you could do it for any passion topic and, arguably, any niche topic, so long as you were going deep. That’s why Foreign Affairs works.

AMO Pro: Google Says to Diversify Traffic; Does It Matter For Rankings?

It’s hard to know what publishers should do to rank highly for competitive keywords. And in many respects, Google gaslights publishers with conflicting information and, in some respects, outright lies. Earlier this week, Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, told people on X that diversifying traffic is important. 

But does it matter from a ranking perspective? I spoke with my friend Mike King, founder of iPullRank, to dig into this. The short answer? No, it doesn’t matter for rankings, at least according to leaked algorithmic documentation that he looked at. But that doesn’t mean diversity of traffic isn’t important. We should all be diversifying away from Google. 

Read more here.

AMO Podcast With Curtis Cord From Olive Oil Times

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