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THEY SEE ME SCROLLIN’ 
THE NEWS
Scroll has launched. The subscription service aims to enable a better online news experience for users by not loading ads on select news sites (among other features) and provide an additional source of revenue for publishers. It has already signed on over 300 partners, including The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, Slate, and Vox.
 
SO WHAT?
Scroll’s value proposition for publishers is clear — but it needs to get users on board as well. Scroll’s established partnerships with publishers also position it to accomplish its ultimate goal of enabling “better journalism” supported by a business model based on bundled micropayments, all as an alternative to the advertising vs. subscription revenue dichotomy. 
 
Who are Scroll’s prospective users? 
1. Ad-blockers. Scroll’s target users have been described as those who “hate ads,” and thus probably have a free ad-blocker already installed. To reach them, Scroll would need to convince them to pay $5/month to block ads not across the internet, but only on the select digital news sites that have partnered with Scroll. It could also appeal to those who block ads but have been talked into whitelisting by publishers.
 
2. Journalism supporters. CEO Tony Haile has described Scroll’s target audience as the tier below superfans — readers who are less loyal to a given publisher, but still want to support journalism at large. Haile found that users care “way more” about supporting publishers and have a more “emotional experience” than he expected. Scroll allows these users to compensate publishers, including those who don’t have a paywall, like Vox, based on how much they engage with them. It does so by tracking how much time readers spend on a given publishers’ content in a month, and then distributing 70% of its $5 monthly fee to publishers based on their respective shares. 
 
3. Those who want a better online news experience. Scroll does more than provide ad-free reading experiences on partners’ sites; its other features could help it appeal to internet users who want a superior online news experience. Not having ads alone has knock-on benefits such as faster load times, no ad-related cookies tracking users, and no clickbait-y off-site recirculation modules at the bottoms of articles. Scroll also enables users to continue reading a given article on mobile after having started it on desktop or pick up where they left with an audio version using text to audio technology. Users can also search their reading histories and see how their news consumption is split across partner publishers.
 
What’s in it for publishers?
1. Revenue. Scroll’s primary pitch to publishers centers around increasing revenue per user. Partnering with Scroll only requires publishers to integrate javascript code that allows their sites to recognize Scroll members and not load ads. For users who are not subscribed and were blocking ads, the increase in revenue per user is from $0 — a clear win. Scroll also says that publishers earn on average $46 per 1,000 impressions through Scroll, and because publishers are hardly ever sold out on direct-sold inventory (Scroll claims most are typically less than 80% sold through), turning on Scroll will only eat up low-CPM programmatic ad inventory. 
 
Moreover, Scroll helps publishers monetize the share of their audience that would not subscribe directly by helping users automatically create their own “bundles” based on engagement. Although micropayments have had limited historical success in the digital news space (e.g. Blendle, an AdBlock Plus-funded venture called Flattr, and Readability), Scroll simplifies the process from a user perspective by bundling together publishers and offering additional features and has already built relationships with top-tier publishers. This could lead to a future in which readers choose a monthly budget for news that could go far beyond the current $5 price point which Scroll then distributes in an equitable way. 
 
2. Data. Part of Scroll’s pitch to publishers is sharing data on how user engagement with their content compares to that of other publishers, as it has unique access to information on user reading habits. For example, Scroll can share average time per article and ranking by percentile within the Scroll network with News Today. The ability to benchmark against other kinds of content can help publishers “create and serve better content to improve member engagement,” according to Scroll’s privacy policy
 
LOOK FOR
How Scroll’s success compares to that of similar services. More recent iterations of the micropayment model are gaining some traction, such as the Swedish Readly, and Apple News+, but there is a space in the market for Scroll, as Readly is primarily Europe-based and doesn’t have the same caliber of publishers, while Apple News+ has been reported to be restrictive about sharing data with publishers. 

Also look for how many more publishers join (and the quality and reach of those that do) and how much publishers themselves advertise Scroll to their readers. Each additional publisher increases the value for users and publishers alike, but some of the biggest are not partners at launch, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal — even though both are investors. Only five are promoting Scroll to their entire audiences, given the fear of cannibalizing ad or subscription revenue, though some, like Salon, are advertising to readers using ad-blockers.  
THIS MADE US SMARTER

In an interview in The New Yorker, Ben Smith, who is currently BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief but will soon be The New York Times’ new media columnist, explains why he wants to return to reporting on the media: “Many of the biggest stories in the world are media stories, and the most explosive stories are at the intersection of media and something else — media and tech, media and politics, media and culture and entertainment.”

WHAT'S NEW WITH...
PRINT // Berkshire Hathaway Media Group has sold its 31 newspapers to Lee Enterprises, the company it hired to manage most of them a year and a half ago, for $140 million after years of declining earnings. Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has taken large positions in other newspaper owners like Tribune Publishing, purchased a 5.9% stake in Lee Enterprises through MNG Enterprises.
 
PODS PT. I // Podsights, an analytics startup that aims to help advertisers better understand the success of their ad purchases on podcasts, announced it had raised $1.5 million. It works by tracking whether listeners took a desired action — like visiting the advertiser’s website — after listening to a podcast ad. It has already signed on The New York Times, NPR, and Wondery as clients.  

PODS PT. II // Vox Media Podcast Network aims to double podcast revenue in 2020 to more than $20 million, according to Digiday. President of Vox Media Studios Marty Moe has said that he doesn’t expect the number of shows (currently over 200) to grow at the same rate as 2019. He expects this year to be the first in which the company’s own brand studio produces the majority of its podcast ads. 
 
NEWS AGGREGATOR // News Corp launched the Knewz.com site as a beta test, four months after the Wall Street Journal reported News Corp’s plans to launch an alternative aggregator service to Google News and Facebook. The site aims to address the problems of fake news and clickbait and currently features stories from over four hundred publishers. 
 
LAYOFFS // BBC News plans to cut 450 jobs (out of 6,000 total) as a part of its goal to save $104 million by 2022 and to move from traditional linear broadcasting to digital. After the job cuts, BBC News’ annual budget will be $625 million.

FACEBOOK // Facebook awarded $700,000 to 30 news organizations in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. This brings the total number of news organizations that are part of the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network to 76. The recipients of the grants were primarily newsrooms covering minority populations, like Esperanza, which aims to serve the Hispanic community in North Philadelphia. The initiative is part of Facebook’s broader $300 million commitment to invest in news. 

NEWSLETTERS // Morning Brew, the five-year-old digital media company whose primary product is a daily newsletter on business news, announced an increase in revenue from $3 million to $13 million over the course of last year. Its podcast, “Business Casual,’’ has been downloaded more than 1 million times, and it expects to hit two million newsletter subscribers this spring.
 
LOCAL // Flipboard will begin delivering local news to users in 23 cities in the U.S. and Canada, including Washington D.C., New York City, and Toronto.
 
VIDEO // Facebook is pulling back from original shows and live sports in Facebook Watch, investing instead in talk shows and licensing. It has also increased Facebook Watch’s budget to $1.4 billion from $1 billion in 2017.
SUBSCRIBER SPOTLIGHT

Ben Dreyfuss
Editorial Director, Growth and Strategy, Mother Jones
@bendreyfuss

Can you give me a brief overview of your team and role?

For the past two years, I have served as the editorial director for growth and strategy at Mother Jones. My day-to-day consists of looking at our current stories and making sure that their framing works, talking through story ideas, coming up with headlines, and sometimes assigning stories. 

When I first joined in 2013 as an engagement editor, my expertise was in getting people to engage on social media. At the time, Mother Jones didn’t have anyone dedicated to social media. I successfully increased our social media engagement pretty quickly, which helped my bosses recognize the value of social media. They started to let me conduct small experiments and, eventually, invested more resources into the team.

Over the past two years, I’ve helped build what is now our social media team. We’re tasked with overseeing audience development, growth, and strategy on digital platforms. Working at a nonprofit can feel like wringing water out of sand. My team is always doing different things – they’re not just thinking about how to raise traffic, but are also writing and reporting. 

Besides myself, the team consists of a deputy in London, an editor/reporter in San Francisco, and two fellows – one works in the New York office directly on my team and the other is part of the video team and handles our Instagram. I have to say my proudest accomplishment here at Mother Jones is assembling this team. 

Tell me a little bit about some of the projects you've overseen since being editorial director?

We work on launching and reconceiving digital products. Since Mother Jones is small in size and lacks a dedicated data team, my team’s main objective is to bridge siloes in the organization and gather all the data and information from various platforms. 

As part of an organization that's striving to deliver impact with its journalism, my team is interested in figuring out how our content can have the most impact on our platforms. One of the things we realized early on was that behavior we observed on social media can be used to inform writing and reportage. Basically, certain story frames won’t work, while others will. For example, if there’s a headline that I think will do well, but the story is missing certain elements for that headline to work, I go back to the editors and ask them to expand on certain parts. 

Additionally, since 2016, we’ve been trying to focus on having our audience development strategy not just be about growth or traffic, but also be about making sure that the content we produce and share on our platforms adds as much value to our readers as possible. Recently, we’ve spent a lot of time on things like Instagram and video. We recognize that these initiatives won’t dramatically increase our traffic or contribute to revenue, but we find them key to fulfilling the organization’s goal of making an impact. 

Could you tell me a little bit more about how your team supports the video team?

I work in the NYC office and the main group here is the video and podcast team. So, I work with them to help increase views and listens. With video, I help them think about where to put them, what works, length, and when to post them. 

For a long time, our video strategy was built around Facebook. Recently, we’ve started experimenting with our videos on Twitter and we’re realizing that Twitter is a much better platform for our videos than Facebook. It’s also been interesting and helpful to observe the reception of our Instagram Stories – it’s helped us think more about how we want to present our stories off Instagram. 

What is the most interesting thing (product, tool, article, social channel, special project, redesign, etc.) that you've seen from a media outlet other than your own?

I am obligated by family to mention my sister, Emily Dreyfuss, who’s currently at Politico helping launch Protocol, a new, Politico-owned media company on the “people, power, and politics of the technology industry.” 

I’m also interested in the way creators have been able to build mini brands from podcasts that then reach back to other mediums like video. Vox and Slate, in particular, are both great at building a particular voice or personality. One thing we’ve all learned from social media is that people follow human voices.

I think moving forward we can also expect to see more emphasis on short form video. 

RAPID FIRE
What’s your first read in the morning?

Apple News.

What was the last book you read?
“The Zimmerman Telegram” by Barbara W. Tuchman. 

What job would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
I’m only in my current role because I failed to be a movie star. Or, I’d work somewhere very sad but would take my skill set, like an advertising agency. 
 
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Read the rest on Medium.
 

Last week, we wondered how often you listen to TV show companion podcasts like Crown: The Official Podcast. 65% said never, 13% said rarely, 11% said all the time, 9% said sometimes and 2% said pretty often.

This week, We’re wondering how much you dislike ads on digital news sites:

I dislike them and have an ad-blocker!
I dislike them but don’t have an ad-blocker
I dislike them and just got Scroll
I don’t mind them

__

The Idea is written by Atlantic Media's strategy research team. Send thoughts, tips, and your favorite Iowa caucus coverage to idea@atlanticmedia.com. 

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