A new wave of digital media companies are coming to Australia, offering Millennial and Gen Z readers news in a punchy, quick and stylish format.
They tend to use frequent bolding to break up the page and emphasise subheadings that make salient points clear to the reader at a glance and reach readers where they are online, whether through email newsletters or Instagram.
Why it matters: mainstream media in Australia missed the boat on the internet in the early 2000s, doing huge damage to its profitability and resulting in thousands of journalists losing their jobs. It tried to get on board with ad-driven sites like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed News in the 2010s, but they did not last. If the new wave of outlets work, they could offer the industry a shot at redemption (and profit) but also fresh competition for established players.
The founders of The Daily Aus a social news service, Sam Koslowski and Zara Seidler.Credit:Sydney Morning Herald
Major media outlets might also be convinced that a snappier tone and (judicious) use of memes, humour and emojis is the way to reach younger readers, at least on some content.
Examples: it’s early days for the genre, but there are already a few leading contenders.
- The Daily Aus does general news in short, simple bites and claims an audience that is 80 per cent under 30, with a female skew. It has 329,000 followers on Instagram, its favoured platform.
- Letter of Intent is a daily email newsletter for finance and deal professionals, tracking market moves and capital raising, that started this year. Its founder Kal Jamshidi, 32, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that’s just the start. It will expand into more verticals, like HR and is quickly growing its subscriber base, which sits at 5500.
- Cut Through Venture is another newsletter, aimed at the start-up capital raising space, but full of the data and charts beloved by techies.
Go deeper: publications with a similar business model in the United States are doing incredibly well.
- Politico, founded in 2007 as a gossipy, scrappy outfit that is well-known for its newsletters, was sold for $US1 billion ($1.3 billion) last year to a German publishing giant. It tried to buy a competitor, Axios, too.
- Morning Brew, a finance newsletter similar to Letter of Intent, sold a controlling stake for up to $US75 million ($101 million) to Insider, a digital news site, in 2020. It reported its own sale with trademark verve, saying the deal works because “Morning Brew expects to bring in $20+ million in revenue this year, has been consistently profitable, and has incredibly good-looking newsletter writers.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers: this will not solve the problem of declining local news on topics like schools and crime because the money and scale aren’t there. It’s not clear how much original reporting it can support, too.
- The business model isn’t proven yet. Jamshidi’s Letter of Intent has the clearest path. It makes money from ads that go for about $700 per newsletter, which works because it is targeting a narrow genre of people that software and finance companies need to talk to.
- The Daily Aus has taken money from investors and will have to hope that it can convert Instagram followers into dollars.
- Venture capitalists won’t touch media companies because they can’t generate the hefty returns that they are after, so that way of raising cash looks like a dead end.
- Quote: “We just don’t think you’re destined for a multibillion exit,” one VC fund manager told Daily Aus co-founder Sam Koslowski, 27. “I think that’s totally correct, I’m fine with it,” Koslowski said. The people giving the company cash want good journalism and a decent return.
Mainstream media companies like Nine, the owner of this masthead, and News Corp, have made moves too. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have a newsletter editor overseeing titles like national science reporter Liam Mannix’s Examine, Money With Jess [Irvine] and veteran books editor Jason Steger’s Booklist (no prizes for guessing what it is). The Australian is readying a youth publication called (and again, no prizes for inventiveness) The Oz.
And one more thing, while this crop of media outlets are hoping ads, events and brand deals will get them to profitability, in the US there’s a whole other crop of successful outlets that are subscription-driven: the Athletic (sports), the Information (technology) and Puck (Washington, Silicon Valley, Hollywood) are just a few.
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