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Ryan Holiday

Bestselling author of 'Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator'
Digital Publishing

From Zero to 35,000: How I Built A Big Email List Exclusively About Books I Liked

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­In May 2009, I sent an email to a friend. I’d been posting book recommendations on my website for the last couple years, but what did he think of the idea of doing it as a monthly email instead? It was a bad idea, he said–because people wouldn’t be able to share the blog posts anymore. People are protective of their emails, so who would want to sign up for that?

I considered his advice and decide to ignore it. In the five years since, that list, known as the Reading List Email, has grown from 50 friends to roughly 35,000 people with a 50% open rate (which is crazy compared to most lists). It has readers from all over the world, ranging from high school students to Fortune 500 CEOs, NFL coaches, bestselling authors, publishers and entrepreneurs. I’ve sent close to 100 emails to a “total” audience of 400,000+ over the years and sold a few hundred thousand dollars worth of books for retailers over the years. Read More

Off the Media

Rage Profiteers: How Bloggers Harness Our Anger For Their Own Gain

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Last year, a couple of young guys in the pickup community created a deliberately offensive article for Medium.com about the female writers at XOjane. Not because they wanted to offend people for some personal benefit (it was published under pseudonyms) but to trace and observe the process.

As you can imagine, it caused a stir.

You could call it trolling. Or you could call it a social experiment. Read More

Off the Media

Who Can You Trust? A Guide To Your Online Media Diet

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You’re probably pretty aware that you’re being manipulated at this point.

Clickbait. Outrage porn. Shoddy sourcing. Stories being traded up the chain. Fake traffic. Sanctimony. The playbook of online publishers has started to resemble something a 20th century con man might use. It’s suite of ruses, misdirection and outright deception designed to steal clicks here and traffic there. It’s a way of relieving unsuspecting readers of their attention and pawning it off to trusting advertisers.

So if you’re not one of those people, that is if you are finally suspecting and suspicious, what are you to do? Who should you read? Who can you trust?

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since I wrote my book. It’s also a question I’ve asked a lot myself — because I’d like to know the answer. Read More

Off the Media

Facebook Is Getting Rid of Clickbait — But Not Because They Care About You

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We’re saved! Finally, Facebook has announced it’s stepping in to put a stop to all the “clickbait.”

Sure, they largely created and encouraged today’s iteration of this problem (Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Viral Nova et al were founded almost exclusively around Facebook’s easy-to-game algorithms) and profited greatly from it. But now they’ve had enough and things are going to change.

I believe that. I also believe that things are going to get worse. Read More

Off the Media

Spare Us The Sanctimony: The Gross Hypocrisy of Online Media in the Nude Photo Leak

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It seems to me that we are entering a new phase in our media culture online. It’s post-gossip, post-snark and post-smarm. It is the sanctimony phase.

Maybe it’s an outgrowth of Upworthy and its simple yet holier-than-thou politics. Maybe it’s the natural extension of outrage porn. But you are seeing it quite clearly with the media reaction to the recent trove of leaked celebrity nudes. Read More

Off the Media

The New Media Dilemma: Eschewing Crap for Quality, Despite the Incentives

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When I say that Vox and FiveThirtyEight have quickly gone from promising to clickbait hackery, they almost make it too easy. I mean, “This is what Pangaea would look like with modern borders”? C’mon. Even Gawker was aghast.

But that’s my point, it is so easy to criticize. What’s harder is the dilemma that every web publisher today is facing, including myself and the leadership at Betabeat.

This stuff gets traffic. Are we just not supposed to publish it? Read More

Off the Media

Even Data Journalists Like Klein and Silver Aren’t Above Hack Tactics

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We live in a new world of “method journalism.”

In it, bright minds like Nate Silver and Ezra Klein have staked out new media territory, defined by the style in which their writers produce content. It’s supposed to be a new golden age for content, driven by hard data in Silver’s case, and simplified explanation in Klein’s.

Except of course, they’re not. It’s just the same pageview journalism dressed up with better rhetoric. The same end, just different means. Read More