On the morning of May 10, The Information published a compelling story about Gopuff, a highly-promoted startup competing in the “instant delivery” industry. The company, recently valued at $ 15 billion, is bleeding cash and has been struggling to raise new funds. Now, its employees openly question whether its 29-year-old co-founders are above their bosses.
A few hours later, the Information published another article. But this one was emailed directly to some Gopuff employees – would they like to subscribe to the information so they could read other articles like the one you just posted about your company?
“Since you work for COMPANY, we thought you might be interested in this exclusive Gopuff feature,” read the automated marketing message, which presumably wanted to replace “COMPANY” with “Gopuff.” The email included a link to the original piece and a 25 percent discount offer for a one-year subscription to the information, which typically costs $ 400.
Welcome to the other part of the subscription boom, the part that is rarely mentioned in the many stories about Substack and other subscription-based multimedia startups: the hard and grueling work of finding people who want to pay for your stuff. get into it. in front of them and get them to take out their credit card.
And yes, in the case of information, this can sometimes lead to releases sent to people working in companies about whom you have just written difficult stories, says Jessica Lessin, founder and CEO of the company.
“We intentionally target people we think are interested in our articles,” he told me through custom software to predict what kind of readers might be interested in a story. And that, of course, could include people working for a company that I just wrote about. “It’s like Netflix’s recommendations,” he said.
I think Lessin and his team will have plenty of opportunities to repeat Gopuff’s playbook in the coming months, assuming widespread predictions about a technology industry investment: easy money from investors becomes scarce, companies used to spend a lot they become maniacs. cost reducers and layoffs turn tech startup employees into former startup employees.
In the Information, there are many examples of high-flying technology companies that quickly re-evaluate their plans, interrupt new hires or even let people go while the market is turbulent: Gorillas, a competitor of Gopuff, is dismissing 300 people, about half of its headquarters staff; Cameo, a company that in the past allowed you to hire celebrities to create custom videos, is downsizing its staff by 25 percent; even Amazon is canceling plans to expand its store empire.
The question for information: Is the technological downturn bad for business? Or is it an opportunity?
Lessin is a former Wall Street Journal journalist who launched The News in 2013 and explicitly set out to compete with the world’s most established business publications: the Financial Times, the New York Times, and her former employer. Its 50-person staff routinely publishes primary and timely analyzes on which other publications need to be tracked. (Outreach: I’m a fan Land of the Giants podcast series, about Apple.)
But as Lessin’s Gopuff’s fast-twitch marketing emphasizes, running a successful subscription business requires a lot of work. Just writing something and waiting for someone to pay you to read it is not a start. “One of the big differences between us and the different news organizations is that we don’t just post this article on the home page and hope people find it,” he said.
Early in her career, Lessin was obsessed with breaking news; is now consumed to figure out how to get paid subscribers. He has tried all sorts of experiments: packing his post with others, like Bloomberg; offer discounts to students; allow existing subscribers to recruit new blood by sending them free articles. It also seeks to spread the gospel of the subscription media model, an effort that includes an “accelerator” program for people trying to launch their own subscription-based businesses.
The person who sent me the Gopuff Information marketing email also added a worrying troll comment: What if Lessin spends his time chasing stories about faltering startups so he can sell them subscriptions?
But aside from that, I don’t care. The obvious truth about journalistic bias, which is usually eluded by critics across the spectrum, is that most journalists are biased in favor of new stories that people have not heard before. Right now, that would mean focusing on layoffs and cuts in a technology sector that has been right for more than a decade. But the more we see, the fewer novels there will be.
Which isn’t to say that stories of layoffs and collapses don’t bring eyesight in the short term. When he worked for Insider CEO Henry Blodget in 2007, in what was then called Silicon Alley Insider, we had zero traffic at launch and for months after.
At the time, Blodget received advice that AOL, at the time, was still a digital company that cared about people, would have major layoffs. After posting, traffic increased, and much of it came from IP addresses in Dulles, Virginia, the AOL headquarters at the time, and we responded by writing story after story about AOL. In theory, our publication covered the Internet business; really, for a while, we were essentially an upgraded version of Fucked Company (look for it) for a single company.
I don’t see the information going in that direction. Even if things get very serious in technology, there will still be many other things to write about. But if I get a personalized email telling me that your staff has written a new story about Vox Media, I may have my own concerns.