Off the Media

Whats Wrong With Media? This Tech Investor’s Twitter Rant Nails It

Marc Andreessen diagnoses the ills of the media industry

Marc Andreessen has the kind of track record that makes you stop and listen when he talks—whatever the subject happens to be. So at Betabeat, we were very interested when Mr. Andreessen began to do some analysis and hypothesizing on online media. Especially since he pointed out many of the same issues I have been discussing in Off The Media for the last two years.

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Below is a sampling of his tweets, with the occasional response from us:

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What you measure gets monitored, the saying goes. The problem is that page views and social shares—pretty much the main things that online publishers monitor—are not exactly the best indicators of quality. 

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How to get out of this race to the bottom? I’m not sure. Perhaps subscription/pay walls are one way—but it’s not necessarily scalable. 

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Of course the excuse is pretty clear: sites create more inventory than they could ever conceivably sell directly. So they turn to ad networks. Rock bottom CPMs make it possible for scammy advertisers to buy up the inventory and brand themselves against this content. 

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Agreed. Death to banners!

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For those of you who need a little bit more info on the “related content” ads, we’ve covered that pretty extensively here. The reality is that sites use them—including Betabeat and the New York Observer—because they drive significant traffic and revenue. Mr. Andreessen’s point is a good one though: what are the long term tradeoffs for these short term benefits?

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We wonder what he means by drop prices, because right now most online media doesn’t charge. Even most traditional media doesn’t charge customers directly. CNN charges Time Warner in the same way HBO does. And those fees are much higher than customers would ever directly pay. The only ones that have a history of direct-to-consumer sales are magazines and newspapers. 

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Not much to say here but: “Yup.” Ultimately, publishers have to lay in the bed they’ve made for themselves (or, in too many cases, the acquiring company has to lay in the bed they’ve purchased for themselves). 

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Not just quality ads, but also subscription revenue, as we have written about before. No one is paying for Business Insider, but they will fund Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish and Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. We take pride in the fact that people pay for subscriptions for the New York Observer. It means we’re at least doing some things right.

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As I point out, this is easier said than done. Who wants to hold the line when competitors are showing hockey stick growth trolling for page views and posting BuzzFeed style content?

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I actually somewhat disagree with Andreessen here. He attributes many of the changes in the news business due to certain high net-worth families owning and stewarding the media to a more reputable place. My research shows that an economic shift—away from one-off sales and towards subscription, combined with a push for status from reporters themselves—had a lot to do with it. 

Andreessen seems to have the pulse of the changing state media industry. Is this because he plans to make a move in this space? One can only hope.

He’s ultimately optimistic about the industry as a whole, as we are, but it’s clear that some of the issues he has pointed out will be in flux for years. Nobody yet has figured out a workable model for the 21st century, but with small upstarts like Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish and big players like Jeff Bezos innovating within the industry, it sure is going to be interesting to see who solves the puzzle.

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