From Mashable to Time: Making Sense of the Chaos

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Written by Matt Berringer

December 5, 2017

Mashable was sold for one-fifth of its perceived 2016 value, Vice and Buzzfeed announced they are going to miss revenue targets by around 20% and Oath, which holds Yahoo, AOL and Huffpost, has laid off more than 500 employees. If that wasn’t enough, Time Incorporated finished off 2017, we hope, by being sold to Meredith Corporation in a move that will undoubtedly change the foundations of the publishing world. It’s hard to not feel a little bit stunned.

Time Inc. has been a mainstay of the publishing industry since 1922 and in many ways sought to adapt a robust digital strategy, along with varied revenue diversification tactics, into a dwindling print business. Turnover at the highest levels, as well as budget cuts, never allowed the publisher to truly take off in the digital era though.

Mashable, on the other hand, was one of the darlings of the new digital media era. In fact, things were so good that the organization took on a round of venture capital funding at a $250 million valuation in March of 2016. That valuation has plummeted to $50 million, as the sale to Ziff Davis was made official a few weeks ago. Truth be told, Mashable still continues to grow at a robust rate, but the drop dramatically shows things aren’t as rosy as we, and specifically venture capital firms, believed.

For many of the new media giants, as well as the old stalwarts, talk revolves around engaging audiences on mobile, creating a wealth of distribution strategies, pivoting to video, and developing snack-able content that works well with social media.  Unfortunately, this year has shown that doing this in a profitable way has been a challenge. Pulling together all the insights from those near to the situation, it seems both Mashable and Time Inc. lost their way on the innovation train. Both were keenly making use of all that was out there, but there was not a profitable management strategy behind the advances.

New technologies, which seem to come out on a weekly basis, have put not only Time and Mashable but much of the digital media industry into a frenzy where innovation and temporary success becomes king instead of a well thought out path forward. Out of the frenzy, The Atlantic recently stated that the goal for many media companies has become to “produce the equivalent of corporate confetti, fast, flimsy, and forgettable morsels, blasted from the CMS cannon, which upon inspection were less journalism than Millennial Mad Libs: “[Number] Ways That [Google-Trend-Generated Subject] Totally Made Us [Past-Tense Verb].” That is condemning to say the least.

Wrangling a Strategy

During our 15 years of providing digital publishing solutions, we have seen all sizes and kinds of media companies move from one innovative delivery platform to the next. Over those years, one question has consistently come up when clients sign on with us, how do I monetize my content? In our crowded media landscape, the need for a sustainable, strategic manner of running a successful media organization continues to be elusive no matter the distribution method.

Even though popular snippets may be grabbing the attention of millennials and looking good to advertisers the questions must be asked:

I’m as gullible as anyone. Once I see a little diamond of advertising that is gaining traction on social media or a landing page that is gaining visits, I grab onto it and build a strategy around it. We need to be truthful evaluators of every successful data point and make sure it isn’t leading us down a rabbit trail that could position us into a market that is unsustainable.

Once again going back to the Atlantic article “Something almost like success has come for companies that have used the instability of the 2017 news cycle to establish themselves as vital and irreplaceable.” Here’s hoping that we have the fight and passion to stay on our unique track, despite all the distraction, and deeply engage with our readers with valuable, one-of-a-kind, hard to match content.

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