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Affiliate Disruption, Forums are New Again, Ways to Monetize Media, Niche Media Finds

Welcome to this week's issue of the Niche Media Publishing Newsletter.

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Alright, let’s get into the topics for this week.

Google Breaks Covenant with Publishers

The last 10 days have been the most disruptive sea change for indie media in the 10+ years I’ve been in the industry.

Last week kicked off with the incisive report from House of Fresh that summarized what most publishers already knew, but couldn’t quite articulate…

House Fresh is a site doing everything Google “says” a site should do… yet they were also crushed in Google search…

This coincided with Glen Allsop’s deep dive on the ubiquity of forums after September’s “helpful content update”.

Then, news broke that GOOGLE was the previously unnamed buyer of Reddit’s data that I referenced last week.

The optics of this move are terrible.

  1. Google rolls out HCU, sending Reddit traffic to the Moon

  2. Reddit sets a date for IPO, post best traffic results ever

  3. Reddit is named as the Google partner. Google see Reddit as the ultimate source of (free, user-generated e.g. not compensated) content to feed their AI and circumvent publishers…

Worse, it feels like Google has completely abdicated their core responsibility to rank quality content.

For now, Reddit’s volunteer, anonymous, and unqualified moderators are charged with holding the line against spam.

Reddit is a “poor mans” Wikipedia…

Amy covered all of this really well in the Content Forward newsletter last Friday (definitely check it out):

So what does all of this mean for niche media?

I keep coming back to this video and I encourage everyone to watch:

I’m excited about a blockchain solution for creative works…

Imagine a world where publishers receive fractional royalties, based on the % of their work used in AI outputs?

And for once, it’s a rare, genuinely useful crypto project, converging with the rise of AI. If anyone is building this, I’d love to chat!

But I don’t have a clear answer or overall thesis yet. I’m embracing the “I don’t know” to re-evaluate all of my previously held assumptions.

That said, I do think it’s time to build a new covenant… not with a PLATFORM but with our audiences directly.

Google Doesn’t Deserve Our Content

It’s time to protect our product and preserve our place in the media landscape.

All that BS about “E-E-A-T” is nonsense… at least in terms of pleasing Google.

Experience. Expertise. Authority. Trust.

Google prefers Reddit, folks. A platform that inspires NONE of these attributes.

Google doesn’t know how to measure it anyway. They’ve admitted as much.

From an internal “all hands” Google SEO meeting.

My “time on site” with Reddit is indeed quite long… as I sift through mountains of comments and figure out if I trust each individual - anonymous - take.

Personally, I’m treating Google as just a growth hack. When it works, it’s still a great traffic gateway.

Just like Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and… Reddit.

I’m looking for ways to preserve our best content for durable, direct relationships with our audience, while protecting our best content from the ravages of AI.

Until the “blockchain” for publishers arrives, this means raising the drawbridges…

Raising the Drawbridge, Building Moats

So what are the practical ways publishers can build a durable plan in this environment?

There are two primary avenues in my mind:

  1. Email Lists

  2. “Owned” Communities

I’ve touched on both of these strategies in previous editions, but I see email as the core DNA of our company moving forward.

An email list is transferrable and durable. Google, or any other platform, could remove your content, de-index your site, overnight… but the list endures!

One of my favorite “email first” companies to follow along with is MarketBeat and their founder, Matt Paulsen (great follow on Twitter):

Email is a great insurance policy for our media brands, but now I want to make it the MAIN event. Newsletters are one of the distribution channels.

Community is the other gem. An email list is a great one way communication channel, but the UGC + brand interplay is also quite sticky and an impregnable moat when it clicks.

Most brands put their community in either Facebook groups or Slack channels, but there are problems with both.

Facebook is just another platform, and there’s no way to “export” your community.

And Slack and Facebook are not crawlable or indexable, meaning there’s no possibility for direct discoverability in a search-like system. There’s also no stopping Facebook from pulling a Reddit and selling (or using) your content for their AI.

This is why I love forums - or forum-like - tech that can be selectively indexed / publicly available AND be locked down with premium access or premium areas.

The key is to own the platform. Who knows, it could even be your own data source to better understand your audience and generate useful AI tools in an ethical way…

I don’t think the answer has to be forums. But this is where my heads is at. How can I selectively lower and raise the drawbridge based on variable conditions.

It certainly feels like the end of an era. Is the “open-web” getting killed by AI? Will it take a dystopian turn, or lead to a creative golden age?

This is a service company we run, reach out if you need content wizards!

Niche Media Finds This Week

Here are some niche media businesses I’ve found this week that piqued my interest:

  • Walking the Boards: Another interesting LOCAL media play with email / newsletters as the entry point. Bullish on this.

  • Speaking of UGC, this “ugly” platform makes Craigslist look nice. Also featuring a forum! It’s been around forever. I can’t seem to find how (or if) they are monetizing… What other similar markets could benefit from a community like this?

Organize your inbox and get the dedicated “e-reader” for your newsletters

Enter…. Meco.

Interesting News Below the Fold

These are some other interesting things I read recently. Didn’t quite make the main feature, but worth reading.

  • Reddit Tools Ecosystem: With Reddit’s rise, there’s a groundswell of interest in tools that specifically support gaming (or understanding) their system. Here comes the spam!

  • Reddit Let’s Super Mods in for IPO: Letting mods buy in is a nice gesture, but not everyone is buying. This creator / moderating vs company narrative will likely increase ad Reddit becomes a public company.

  • Buzzfeed Sells Complex: This sale buys Buzzfeed some time to figure out if they can survive. Another media headwinds story.

Other Newsletters Worth Following

Here are some other publications I subscribe to, author, or co-sign.

If you are operating a newsletter (or even just interested), this next one is one of my “must opens” every week:

If you leverage affiliate relationships in your media business, Affiliate Insider is where I share my in-the-field experience.

Our COO (Amy), publishes an incredibly detailed and thoughtful newsletter for content marketers here:

Content Forward: Thoughts from the Front LinesWeekly deep dives & insights from a real operator, for creators seeking an edge. New insights every Friday evening!

We also cover the latest MarTech trends and deep dives with a monthly (soon to be weekly) newsletter for B2B operators:

MarTech ToolkitDiscover & Implement marketing tech in your business.

OK, that's it for this week...

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