May 11, 2021

Twitter Leans Further Into Publisher Relationship

Twitter’s product release schedule has been fun to watch over the past few months with a multitude of new features and some acquisitions being announced (disclosure: I own shares of Twitter). One thing becoming increasingly clear is that it has a thesis tied directly to content creators.

Much of that thesis has been focused on the individual creator, with the roll-out of Tips (kind of a yawn) and Spaces (copycat Clubhouse), but last week it announced that it was acquiring Scroll. According to the announcement blog post:

Those who create and consume news know that reading – and more broadly, journalism – deserve a better future. Scroll will help us build that future, solving one of the most frustrating parts about reading content online. We want to reimagine what they’ve built to deliver a seamless reading experience to our hyper-engaged audiences and allow publishers to deliver cleaner content that can make them more money than today’s business models.

To do this, we plan to include Scroll as part of an upcoming subscription offering we’re currently exploring. As a Twitter subscriber, picture getting access to premium features where you can easily read articles from your favorite news outlet or a writer’s newsletter from Revue, with a portion of your subscription going to the publishers and writers creating the content.

Twitter’s saying the right things here and I think the addition of Scroll is very interesting for a couple of reasons. To sum up Scroll in a single sentence, it charges users a monthly fee to see an ad-free experience on participating sites without bypassing the paywall. It has always been one of those products that I find quite appealing because, at least for now, the math has always worked out that the revenue per pageview is greater with Scroll than with most ads.

Even if the idea is great, it’s not enough. According to Tony Haile, founder of Scroll:

However, we’re not moving fast enough. Every journalist that loses their job, every newsroom sold to unworthy owners diminishes the great conversation of which we are a part. That is why, when Twitter approached us about accelerating our mission we began to get very, very excited.

Scroll is a remarkably complicated business to scale because it requires two approaches to sales: b2b and DTC. Because it requires you to drop a little JavaScript (JS) on the site, Scroll needs to have a relationship with the publisher, which is in-depth business development. This is the b2b component. Fortunately, the team had a deep bench of publishers that were willing to work with them, so it got early exposure. But not enough. The vast majority of sites I visit still have ads.

The DTC component of this requires convincing hundreds of thousands or millions of users to agree to pay a monthly fee to get an ad-free experience. That’s an entirely different type of sales and marketing. It likely requires considerable investment in paid marketing. It’s very hard to reach scale, especially when there are free ad blockers that do a similar thing.

So, Tony’s right. They’re not moving fast enough because it’s hard to move fast when you’re trying to sell two things at the same time. That’s where Twitter comes into play.

Twitter has not hidden its plan to roll out a subscription product. Between acquiring Revue, which allows for subscription newsletters, and the upcoming community functionality, it’s clear that it wants a new revenue stream. It’s going to be exposing subscription offerings to millions of people—exactly the same thing that Scroll would have needed to figure out how to solve on its own. That gives you speed.

But it’s still an uphill battle. Twitter is going to need to get incredibly aggressive convincing publishers to set up Scroll and also get aggressive convincing a lot of people to sign up simultaneously. Publishers won’t care about potential revenue without the readers and readers need comprehensiveness.

One way around this is for Twitter to just offer a bunch of guarantees to publishers in the beginning. Find the 1,000 largest sites and offer them a chunk of cash for putting the JS on the site. It really isn’t hard to do (I evaluated it while at CoinDesk). At that point, when users hit many of the sites they’d naturally click to from Twitter, they wouldn’t see any ads if they were also paying Scroll subscribers.

However, Twitter is going to have to make a major decision on one critical feature: the publisher paywall.

My guess is that the powers that be at Twitter will try and encourage the creation of a “super bundle,” which brings together hundreds of publishers under a single subscription. If a user signs up for this, anytime they click an article from any publisher, the user would bypass the publisher’s direct paywall. It’s similar—though not exactly—to what Apple News+ is supposed to be.

If Twitter wants to continue building a deeper relationship with publishers, it needs to battle the urge that I described above. My hope is that publishers are smart enough to recognize that they need to own the relationship with the reader and keep the subscription on their website. As I wrote last summer when Twitter first started talking about subscriptions:

Unfortunately, this type of product opportunity aggressively cannibalizes our subscription businesses and is an even more aggressive form of chasing audience scale. Additionally, it looks at the problem in the wrong way.

Here’s what people think the problem is… First-time users are coming to your site and they’re immediately seeing a paywall, so they never have a chance to learn about the type of content you have to offer. By letting Twitter sell a single subscription, they can see as much of your content as they want, giving you a chance to monetize them in other ways.

If a user wants to read multiple articles in a month, they are the exact target for a subscription. By giving up that control to Twitter, we are 100% cannibalizing our subscription business. We may be earning money from more people, but we’d likely wind up earning less in aggregate.

Instead, what Twitter should do is come up with creative ways to help publishers grow while also helping first-time readers access content without immediately hitting the paywall. Perhaps as a way of enticing the publisher to add Scroll, Twitter can offer a one-click register with the publisher when a user clicks over from the app. Twitter already has the user’s email address, so it could just transfer the data when the user opts-in. I’m no dev, so this might be incredibly complicated to do; however, I think Twitter used to have an ad product that basically did this.

In this scenario, Twitter is acting as a partner rather than a parasite to publishers. In Twitter’s case, it gets a better experience for its users while hopefully encouraging more of them to pay for Scroll to bypass the ads. And in the publisher’s case, they are getting more registered users and, hopefully, increased revenue through Scroll.

It’s great to see that Twitter wants to lean into its relationship with publishers. And I am a big fan of what Scroll wants to achieve. However, it’ll be an uphill battle and if it’s going to do it right, it needs to think outside of the typical “platform tries to destroy everything” approach that so many of Twitter’s competitors have taken.

iOS 14.5 Ad Blocking Is a Glimpse of What’s To Come

In what can only be labeled as a “duh,” early reports show that almost no one wants to knowingly be tracked by apps. According to Flurry, a mobile app analytics company, only 4-5% of people allow app tracking.

This shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone and it’s also why companies like Facebook, which are somewhat dependent on this data, were fighting so hard to prevent Apple from doing this. We all passively accept that we are constantly being watched. But if given the choice, most of us would choose not to be watched.

With every one of these steps, less data is available to marketers to help them target their ad buys. Chrome is gutting cookies next year. Although Google is coming out with a replacement for cookies, the way things are done is fundamentally changing.

There are two outcomes from these sorts of moves. The first is that the platforms simply get stronger. If no one can track third party traffic, then marketers go to the next best thing, which is the platforms with the most first party data. Let’s not forget that Facebook has dozens of data points about us because we have shared it over time.

The other option is that publishers can be in a better position with their own first-party data. We may never reach the scale that Facebook did—nor should we strive to, that ship has sailed—but we should be able to link our audience to contextual targeting.

I’ve often said that the removal of third-party tracking would be a positive for publishers. But that’s only true if we give marketers the tools that they need to succeed. I wrote about this last June and focused on the following requirements:

Self-serve: Ever bought an ad on Facebook and Google? It’s self-serve. I control the spend. I control the start/stop dates. I control everything. Other marketers will want that as well. That’s why so many want to sign PMP deals.

Contextual: If we’re not going to offer marketers the ability to target specific people, we need to let them target specific topics and themes. But that means we need to know exactly what our content is about and make that part of the self-serve selection process.

Viewable Impressions: I can’t tell you how many sites I go to where there are ads loading below the fold. Why? Only marketers paying pennies would ever bid for those impressions. Our ads need to all be viewable.

Reporting: We need to provide far better analytics. That also means we need to return to the discussion of clicks. Whether we like it or not, marketers are paying for performance. Our ads need to perform. Let’s show that they are.

Unique Creative: We can’t just offer boxes. We need to be able to offer new types of creative that will get marketers more excited.

A good example of a product that is looking to accomplish at least some of these is Concert. It’s a self-serve ad manager that lets you pick by geographic area, content channels, and audience interest. I don’t know if the impressions are guaranteed viewable, but it provides reporting and the creative is better than a 300×250 advertisement. It doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but the reality is, making it easier for marketers to get exposure to your audience will increase the likelihood of you being one of their go-to partners.

And now, a piece from Colin Morrison over at Flashes & Flames.

How M&A Will Revive Trade Shows

The international exhibitions market is slowly coming back to life after the 2020 standstill. Its been a huge shock for a global industry which had seemed to escape the digital disruption that has torn apart newspapers and magazines.

But what exactly is coming back? Will those digital events which have exploded during the pandemic blend into new live-digital hybrid trade shows? Will exhibitions simply resume their former scale and growth trajectory? Will the new wave, all-digital organisers continue to disrupt the industry even after the full-blooded return of live events and international travel? Will the recovery of events be constrained because – however much visitors and exhibitors once valued the real-life contact – some people have got used to life without them? Will the gradual resumption produce a succession of under-supported events that fail to match expectations?

Then there’s the broader change in a world where the pandemic has forced companies everywhere to try to support employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders to an unprecedented extent: this is the era of multi-stakeholder responsibility – and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

Read The Full Piece Here