Obviously The Future: Filtering Individual Voices to Curate Your News
Situation: The news is a solution integral to the human condition: Humans are social, tribal creatures. People need to know what's going on in their community. What's new? What's exciting? Who is doing what? What are people thinking? What should I be thinking? How does this impact me?
Print publishing emerged to solve this problem at scale. Leaders, thinkers, and academics could write down their ideas and pitch their appeal to a media company that would filter and edit them for publication in their newspaper product.
Advertising and subscription revenue followed. Dual revenue sources combined with high, set fixed costs and an entrenched brand made for a business with a moat and attractive margins.
Over the last 20 years, technology and the Internet have turned the publishing world upside down. The amount of content exploded. The number of mediums of consumption increased. Media organizations that once had a local geographic monopoly now had to compete globally.
In the last ten years, Facebook succeeded in connecting the world. And Google succeeded in organizing the world's information. Facebook and Google became two of the largest companies in the world through advertising revenue offering better targeting. The rise of Facebook and Google often came at the expense of traditional news publishers.
What's the future?
My view is this: Content exists on a spectrum from entertainment to information and analysis. People have always made choices about what they chose to consume, and now they have many more options. When it comes to 'the news' the output of Internet-enabled consumption will continue to personalize and appeal to the most basics human instincts that results in more negative and sensational media being produced and consumed.
The media market bifurcates into either (1) large players who bundle content, operate at scale, and target a large, loyal market segment like the New York Times or (2) small, niche groups or people who keep overheads low and distribute on open platforms like Substack, Gumroad, or through email lists. Newsletters like this one fit into this category.
'News' like press releases and first-person videos will continue to be issued directly and posted online. There will be a direct relationship with primary sources. We already do this - we see a video posted online, we can follow politicians on Twitter, and you can read the press release from a company. Everything else will be seen for what it is: filtered opinion. What will be truly valuable is the insider context of the information. Who really knows what it means?
What does it mean for the consumer?
Jeff Bezos famously said, 'You are your choices. A non-choice is a choice.' Nothing could be more applicable to news and information.
If you don't make active choices about your information diet, you'll end up a slave to the algorithms and those who have studied the best ways to appeal to human cognitive biases.
Micro-targeting allows higher dollars per unit of engagement. As people realize that they have limited time, there is a surplus of content. A discerning consumer is willing to pay for their content and curation.
Some parts of the future aren't so obvious.
I might have bitten off too much with this topic. The investment opportunity for capital is highly uncertain. There's always a place for SaaS products that serve a particular need. But the future business model of the news? Is it much different? I'm not sure. Here is a couple of hypotheses. I'd love to hear from you.
- More writers, researchers, and creatives will go independent and set up paid channels for their work, and many others may remain at the large media companies that offer a strong brand, decent pay, and prestige.
- The fundamental dynamics of media and human cognitive biases are unlikely to change. Media is likely to remain a long-tail, hits business with big winners receiving most of the attention.
- There will be newsletters curated or articles written directly by people. People you know and trust. Some will find massive followings and build business models around them. Others will remain small and niche.
- Some people, enough people, will seek out truth and debate. A newsletter called The Flip Side is curated to present both sides of the politics of the issue. They have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and are growing fast.
- Communities are online, interactive, and interest-based. News will be shared and analyzed in these communities. However, I think this trend is in super early days and online communities have a long way to go to prove enduring value or ability to scale. And maybe that's fine.
Further Reading (shared previous week):