What Publishers Can Learn from the Demise of Tech Media Players

Apr 22, 2015

Article ImageIn the world of digital publishing, the law of the jungle still applies, as it does in any industry: Only the fittest shall survive. But while eContent providers initiate and expire with regularity these days, recent news of the shakeout of three notable names in tech media--Gigaom, Joystiq, and The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)--has caused some players in this space to sit up, take notice, and ask nervous questions.

Word of Gigaom's shuttering arrived last month, coming only weeks after AOL chose to fold TUAW and Joystiq into Engadget and ReadWrite was acquired by Wearable World. With 2015 only a few short months into the books, industry experts are taking a closer look at the tech media tea leaves and trying to see if a troubling trend is emerging.

The demise of Gigaom, which was unable to pay its creditors, came as a surprise to Gregarious Narain, cofounder and CTO of Chute. "(Gigaom) had created an interesting consulting model alongside its site. Unfortunately, venture-backed content players are forced to hire fast and scale spending," Narain says. "That, of course, can be at odds with the underlying need to build an audience and engagement that can be monetized."

Ben Parr, author of Captivology and former co-editor of Mashable, chalks up Gigaom's failure to bad leadership and money management. "Under the right management, Gigaom could have absolutely survived. It should have cut failing programs like its research arm, been more open about its finances with its editorial, and focused on increasing its footprint," says Parr.

Previous media tech titles that met the same fate as Gigaom include the print magazines The Industry Standard and Business 2.0. "Many of these (titles) didn't find a unique enough voice or they saw that voice fade as key members of their editorial staff moved on. Others became engaged in other revenue-generating efforts, which ultimately took away from their core," says Narain.

Yet, plenty of tech publication peers have survived, if not thrived, including Fast Company, TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, Re/code, The Verge, and PandoDaily.

"The lesson to be learned here is that Gigaom will not be the last well-lauded publisher of quality content to buckle in an era where content is no longer king," says Alex Lustberg, CMO of Lyris. "This highlights the need for media companies to begin engaging in intelligent conversations with their audiences that create new relationships in new ways."

Toni Ressaire, blogger and publisher with Route 11 Publications, is another who doesn't see Gigaom's obituary as a bad omen for tech media or digital content in general. "People are consuming more information today than ever before, but with the goal of using that information to further their own careers and personal lives," says Ressaire.

Parr agrees. "Sure, you'll see more tech media death, but I think that happens in any industry where there are a lot of startups," says Parr. "Digital publishing is stronger than ever. It's about learning from your success and dominating your own niche with unique content."

However, media titles need to roll with the changes and not rely on quality content alone, Lustberg contends. Auxiliary business models are needed to drive revenue and/or new marketing models based on highly personalized offerings that command advertising and subscription premiums.

"Tech media specifically has an opportunity to explore new business models-for example, by harnessing smart content to engage audiences with personalized and contextually informed interactivity," adds Lustberg.

While over-extending resources and rapid growth can be deadly to tech media companies, Ressaire says these businesses can succeed with the right focus. "One of the weaknesses I see in tech enterprises is lack of user research," says Ressaire. "Readers and users are looking for value. What's in it for them? How can this information help them grow personally or professionally? Listen to your audience and provide the solutions they want and need."

Also, instead of transferring the mass broadcasting approach of print to the web, publishers must effectively convey value to what Lustberg calls "the channel of one" by tailoring the right content for every individual subscriber.

"For example, instead of delivering daily news alerts or newsletters via emails as part of a paid subscription, publishers of all stripes are now able to apply predictive algorithms and machine learning to deliver meaningful content to every individual subscriber profile," Lustberg says. "That is the kind of granularity that provides an information edge based on a reader's interest, and it is what people will pay a premium for."    

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)