Weekend Media Threads, July 6, 2019

MAD Magazine is all but dead, so is Thud, Amazon owns everything, but can Walmart challenge them?

MAD Magazine announce this week that it will will discontinue publishing new content this fall. They’ll continue to publish special editions with classic content, but there will be no new content. At this point a print media icon shutting down isn’t news, it something that occurs regularly at this point.

This particular end is of personal interest to me, however. I was a huge fan of MAD. I have a framed copy of a random issue hanging in my foyer, and keep a copy signed by my eight grade classmates in a memory box. I haven’t read the magazine regularly in well over 20 years, but I have checked in occasionally to see how the magazine is holding up.

When I did pick up a copy, what I found was what you see in MAD’s print cousins: less pages, smaller format, confusing layout, no sense of continuity, etc. I also found that I outgrew most of the humor a long time ago. Although, while the humor no longer struck a chord with me, the artwork has remained top notch, a fact that will remain through the final issue I’m sure. MAD’s artists have always been second-to-none.

I even checked in to its website on rare occasions, and started following them on various social sites. Unfortunately what I found there was a sad version of the once-great magazine. MAD and its staff of artists and writers, like many traditional media outlets, never figured out how to thrive in our modern media landscape. Unlike most media outlets, from my perspective, it didn’t feel like they even tried. Like they decided they would ride and die with a dying print presence.

With its irreverent humor, political takes, and stylized art could have positioned itself to become a unique online satire website. Instead, MAD’s web presence feels like a box to check someone checks once a week instead of a destination for users to experience new content.

The fact that Cracked will outlive MAD it terms of societal relevancy, seems like an awful joke to my 12-year-old self. I assume most of the people who visit Cracked.com have no clue its history in magazine publishing and how it was the only satire magazine to really compete with MAD. In Cracked’s Wikipedia entry they reference a joke that I always found to be true:

and it [Cracked] “spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out.”

MAD was always more popular and socially relevant. Yet over the past two decades MAD continued its decline into obscurity while Cracked magazine folded and it reinvented itself into a successful website.

Somewhere I imagine Sylvester P. Smythe standing over Alfred E. Neuman laughing.

Thud!

Not that building a satire/comedy brand is easy, just ask Elon Musk.

Before I read that linked article I had never heard of Thud, or at least I don’t remember hearing about it. Thud is a satire brand that was envisioned to consist of more than just a website. Announced in March of 2014, Thud would create fake brands, products, and museum installations that would exist in real world.

The reason I, and I’m guessing most people, never heard of it is because it got off to a rough start and never found an audience. Which was a result of its “quirky and limited” marketing:

Thud’s quirky and limited approach to marketing meant that few people discovered its projects. Of its initial send-ups, two out of the three that include social media components have fewer than 150 followers combined across their Twitter and Instagram pages. The most successful project, DNA Friend, has around 2,000 followers across both platforms.

I looked through some of the brands they did create and they just scream of trying too hard. I’m all for quirky, and love satire, but nothing hear strikes me a something that is needed. And apparently most people agree.

Amazon owns everything

I came across this list from BuzzFeed News on businesses owned by Amazon (of course named with more SEO value than I wrote above). According to the article, “Amazon will make up an estimated 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year.” According to Shopify, the e-commerce market in the U.S. is $561 billion. Amazon’s e-commerce business will bring in $213 billion in 2019. To match this you would need to combine the e-commerce markets of Canada ($44b), Germany ($77b), and the U.S. ($93b).

That’s incredible.

What’s even more incredible is the number of individual businesses that Amazon owns that makes up its empire. They even own a wind farm.

Can anyone challenge Amazon?

One of Amazon’s main competitors in e-commerce is Walmart. Actually with just 4.7 percent of the market, it might not be fair to call they a competitor. At least not yet.

Walmart has moved aggressively into the e-commerce space over the past few years in order to position themselves as a competitor. More than you can save for most retailers. Although its currently behind the curve, credit Walmart for recognizing the future and quickly carving out a path to get there. At least they understand what they need to do.

But can they do it?

As with any traditional brand that aggressively moves into the digital world, it will be tough. A fact that is detailed in this Recode article on Walmart’s internal conflict in regards to its race against Amazon.

It’s not easy for a company to move into a new space. There is a huge amount of risk. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving and, when you’re in catch-up mode, can be a money-losing proposition in the short-term causes. Which can cause internal strife. A reality, according to Recode, that Walmart is now fully entrenched in.

According to sources in the article, Walmart’s e-commerce division lost $1 billion on revenues of between $21 and $22 billion (just five percent of Walmart’s U.S. business). And folks on the profitable side of the business are getting nervous.

From Recode:

This is the reality Lore [Jet.com founder, which Walmart bought in 2016] is still struggling to get Walmart’s entire executive team and board to accept, though sources say McMillon [Walmart CEO] also acknowledges it: E-commerce in the US is becoming a “winner take all” industry. Or, at a minimum, a “winner take most” market.

Amazon is a very real existential threat to Walmart’s entire future if the retailer does not significantly close this gap — and fast. If Walmart falls further behind Amazon or doesn’t make up ground, we’re increasingly likely to face a future where Amazon is even more the de facto online store for everyone, with little legitimate competition or compelling alternatives on the market.

It’s a fascinating look at the internal workings of large-scale change at any organization.

Weekend Media Threads, June 1, 2019

My new adventure begins, what’s a media company to do?, and some of my favorite links from the week.

Despite this being a holiday week it’s been a whirlwind week for me. I ended one job, and left an industry, on Tuesday and started a new job on Thursday with a travel/paperwork day in between.

For the first time in my career I started my workday working for an organization not involved in newspaper publishing. No need to worry about web breaks and missed deliveries.

via GIPHY

Thursday did feel a little surreal at first. Suddenly I’m working in radio and TV. How would a newspaper guy fit in?

Turns out – as deep down we all know – no one really cares where you come from. Sure people are interested, but the current destination is more important than the journey that preceded it.

Also, once I started to meet people and got to listening, I realized that no matter the legacy distribution channel, news is still news and digital media presents the same challenges. Most of us in the media industry are asking – and struggling with – the same questions. Even fewer of us have the right answers.

Some of us look internally, opting for mass consolidation, ‘efficiency’, extreme pricing actions, and the like. Mostly ignoring external data signals from audience.

I know that no media organization would admit to the above, but if you work for one of these organizations, you know it’s true. Every conversation starts with some variation of, “how do we do this without disrupting ourselves? Oh, we can’t? Okay, let’s just do it the same way we always have then.”

Fewer of us, it seems, are starting with audience and building out from there. It doesn’t mean we ignore real efficiency and revenue streams, but it is a fundamentally different way to look at our challenges, and leads to a different culture.

Discussions around whether Amazon is a monopoly and what they’ve done to circumvent competition aside, at its core, Amazon a customer-focused organization. As much as many like to hate on the company, it’s hard to break away from them.

Why?

Because they make it simple to do business with them. And they do that by addressing the customer’s pain points. They are relentless with data and test every part of the funnel from discovery to your porch (or couch in the case of OTT). They make it easy for you to do business with them, then they address internal pain points without disrupting the customer experience.

Think about it, Amazon makes changes daily, when was the last time these changes negatively impacted your experience with them? I can think of a few poor delivery experiences, but each time their customer service will do whatever it takes to make it right.

As a result over the past five years Amazon’s stock has increased over 450%. For comparison the Dow is up 48% over that same period. They’ve outpaced the index by 402 points!

Compare this to how many media companies do business.

  • They start with internal structures and legacy business systems;
  • Then they figure out what fits into their workflow;
  • Then they distribute to the platform that is easiest for them;
  • Then they wonder why the audience didn’t show up.

This isn’t brain surgery.

If media wants to survive they need to stop thinking about internal pain points and begin addressing customer pain points.

Links from this week

Speaking of audience first, Pico launched what is basically a CRM for media companies. According to this TechCrunch article, it’s “an identity layer for media — offering a way to implement paywalls, checkouts and analytics while actually knowing who your customers are.”

Did you say audience data? This article from Publishing Executive discusses how B2B Media is leading the way in first-party data, and opening up new revenue streams.

And then there is this. If you’re in media you’ve seen this by now, but it looks like Gannett is in talks with GateHouse, McClatchy and Tribune on a possible merger. This will be good for the shareholders, I just hope they start looking to audience.

As reported on Nieman Journalism Lab, After four years of handing out money for European news projects, Google is expanding its funding to North America. You can see the post from Google here.

Also from Nieman, Why local foundations are putting their money behind a rural journalism collaborative.