How, When, and Where Does Quality Rise to the Top? [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

LadyBits’ First and Last Year on Medium by Arikia Millikan

Medium is a start-up founded by Ev Williams, the guy behind Twitter, among other things. Medium is kind of like a blogging platform crossed with a publisher. Their site is nice to look at, and it’s structured differently than most content-driven sites. (It doesn’t really have a homepage or typical HuffPo-Buzzfeed qualities.)

Millikan was one of the first invited to be an editor at Medium, and she’s now departing. Her report is worth reading in full, but these are the choice paragraphs:

It would be comforting to believe that we live in a world where quality content chosen by experienced editors and authored by talented people will get more clicks than celebrity gossip, fear-mongering headlines, and snake oil salesmen peddling the next generation of tech bubble pyramid schemes. But that’s almost never the case. …

We were reminded that this was all an experiment, and if we would just put in more work something would probably go viral to make up for the stuff that didn’t. But if I wanted to produce things that were likely to go viral, I would have applied for a job at BuzzFeed. I started to consider the incompatibilities between the publishing company I was building at LadyBits, and the runaway platform Medium was evolving into. 

Questions raised:

  • In book publishing specifically, I hear again and again that “Quality rises to the top.” I don’t think that’s true in book publishing, but let’s say it is. Is it true for online-driven content? And if not, what should online publishing business models look like?
  • How can a publishing business model can be successfully based on engagement (which Medium has turned toward—how long people stay at the site or keep reading?) rather than page views?

The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 1: The Numbers by David Gaughran

Gaughran has been an outspoken (and accurate) critic of Author Solutions (ASI) for a while now, and all of his posts covering ASI are worth reading. If you don’t know about ASI, they’re the largest provider of self-publishing services in the world, with many brand names (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Archway, Trafford, and others).

Crunching the numbers, Gaughran reports on how much he estimates ASI is earning by selling marketing packages that have terrible return on investment. I look forward to reading part 2. If you know anyone considering ASI as a service provider, make sure they read Gaughran’s posts before committing.

Questions raised:

  • The company is facing a class-action lawsuit as a result of its questionable business practices. One wonders how much that does or will affect its business and reputation.
  • Penguin Random House is now the owner of Author Solutions. One also wonders how concerned they are about the reputation or business practices of the company—and how they envision its future.

The Scariest Chart in Mary Meeker’s Slide Deck for Newspapers Has Gotten a Little Scarier by Johsua Benton

Every year, Meeker covers trends in Internet usage and growth. One of the slides that is always passed around is this one—showing the % of attention for each medium versus the % of ad spend it enjoys. Note the polar opposites: print & mobile.

Ad Spend Growth 2013

As usual, print is down in attention and ad dollars from prior years, though it seems to get more attention than it deserves. Also: no one has really figured out how to do effective mobile advertising.

Questions raised:

  • The biggest one: Who’s going to figure out how to monetize mobile through advertising?
  • Does print deserve the ad dollars it’s getting?
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