November 16, 2021

Workweek Is a Media Company and That’s the Point

One of the inflated areas of focus over the past couple of years has been the creator economy. There are so many new startups launching, many of them pretending to help creators with their businesses.

But when I saw the news that Workweek had officially launched last week, I didn’t get that same sense.

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Now let’s jump in…

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Workweek launched last week, co-founded by Adam Ryan and Becca Sherman. Previously, both Ryan and Sherman were senior members of The Hustle team. According to an announcement by Axios:

A new company called Workweek launched Wednesday to give creators of business-to-business content — traditionally content that lived in white papers or behind paywalls at trade outlets — full-time support to work independently.

The big picture: For decades, creators in newsrooms and content companies were considered cost centers — receiving salaries for work that companies didn’t assign much direct value towards.

Bottom line: “Traditionally, a great creator at a media company increases brand value, user growth, revenue per user, and many other KPIs across the business. However, content teams have historically been one of the lowest-budgeted departments,” said Ryan in a statement.

TL;DR, what the piece is ultimately saying is that Workweek is a media company. Look at this quote from Axios’ Sara Fischer:

The model is meant to give writers and creators more support than they would typically receive if they wrote for an independent publishing platform, like a salary and full-time benefits

That’s a media company. An entity that gives writers and creators support—salary and benefits—so they can focus on what they do best is a media company. And I think that’s an important point because this could have been billed as some platform meant to help creators reach self-actualization and whatever other crap all these various partners are hawking these days.

But the key point can be found in that first quote where Ryan basically calls a spade a spade: “Content teams have historically been one of the lowest-budgeted departments.” It’s unfortunate how true that statement is. I asked Ryan and he said, “my bet is simple. If you can attract the best creators – you’ll win.”

At the core of it, I think that the idea is interesting. But there are some operational and tactical things that I question.

The immediate concern I have is the niches. It has a publication about cannabis, fintech, healthcare and, my favorite, media. These have absolutely nothing in common. That makes the business harder for two reasons. First, there is likely very little audience overlap. Maybe there’s some healthcare and cannabis crossover, but it’s more tangential than truly complementary. Second, there is little sponsor overlap. Are media advertisers and fintech advertisers actually the same?

This makes growth and advertising sales quite complicated. There are no benefits of scale here. On the growth side, you don’t benefit from one user liking multiple publications. And on the sales side, someone who specializes in selling healthcare ads may not have the same connections as someone who can sell media or fintech.

Perhaps Workweek can sell a more generalized business audience that has a certain affluence, but my guess is that having very disparate audiences makes this an uphill battle on the advertising front.

The other issue that I see has to do with the type of creator that Workweek will likely partner with. If you’re a creator with a large following, why get hired by Workweek versus doing it on your own and hiring a staff? Or, if you do want to be part of something bigger, why choose Workweek over one of the many other newsletter offerings from these various media companies? I wrote about The Atlantic’s last week. It comes with a robust audience baked in versus Workweek, which doesn’t have an audience yet.

It’s always hard to judge a company when it first launches. And the spirit of Workweek is right. In October 2019 (early AMO days), I wrote the following:

Your newsroom is not a liability. It is the biggest asset of your business; the fuel of the entire operation. No other department matters as much as the newsroom.

Think about it this way…

If you’re trying to save money, do you stop buying gas for the car you need to get to your job? Of course not. You would then lose your job and have even less money.

And yet in media, so many operators look at the newsroom and go, “yeah… I don’t need this fuel…”

Workweek is right to focus on the creator as the biggest opportunity and leverage point for the company. Whether it can execute on its vision is an entirely different story. But comparing this to other “creator-friendly” platforms isn’t right. Many others will pop and fizzle away. Whether Workweek can succeed is based entirely on its ability to find the right creators, build an audience, and sell. That’s media 101.

Does Dotdash keep People?

As we know, Dotdash is acquiring Meredith in a deal valued at $2.7 billion. I think it’s a smart move for the company and gives it a much larger intent-based audience to work with. But one major question is what to do with People and, to a lesser extent, Entertainment Weekly.

According to The New York Times:

But Mr. Vogel acknowledged that People and another Meredith magazine, Entertainment Weekly, might not seem like logical fits at first glance. They are “not as intent-driven as the rest of the things we do,” he told investors — meaning they are not as likely to be visited by readers in search of practical information, Dotdash’s stock in trade.

In an interview, Mr. Vogel declined to discuss People directly, because the merger has yet to close, but he said that Dotdash sees value in content with broad appeal. “We’re not trying to build audiences and sell ads, though it is ultimately what we do,” he said. “We’re trying to build relationships with people, where they come to us.”

It’s an interesting position to be in. On one hand, People gets 75.4m monthly visits, according to SimilarWeb. That’s a hefty audience to work with. On the other hand, what is the advertising story? Readers that come to the site don’t fit one of Dotdash’s intent-based niches. Compare that to TripSavvy, where millions of people go for travel-related information. It’s very easy to imagine what companies are advertising on that site.

Additionally, the type of content is different. While it’s not hard news by any means, it’s also not evergreen information either. The value of Dotdash is that a piece of content has lasting power. Does Paul Rudd winning Sexiest Man Alive really matter in a few months? It’s almost a type of content that doesn’t really matter as much as it once did prior to social media. Why read People when I can just look at Kim Kardashian’s Instagram?

Anytime I look at one of these scenarios, I ask myself: what would I do?

My initial instinct would be to sell People. What makes Dotdash so remarkable is the team’s unrelenting focus and discipline. It focuses on a very specific type of content and doesn’t deviate from that. Therefore, if People deviates from that plan, find a buyer and sell. There is so much money sloshing around, I imagine Dotdash could find a buyer.

But maybe there is a play here. What if Dotdash cleaned up the site (streamlined the site experience, reduced the ad load, etc.) and then just held it? I think the real story here would have to be the ability to build personas that look at audiences across the entire Dotdash network. If someone is reading Liquor and then goes to People, can Dotdash continue serving Liquor-related ads there? Does this provide additional scale?

Every other piece of the Meredith deal makes a lot of sense. Even Dotdash’s talking points on managing the slowly declining print business make a lot of sense. But what it does with the celebrity-related publications—People and Entertainment Weekly—will be interesting.

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