Discover more from The Rebooting
The China Project’s pivot to B2B and subscriptions
Plus: a misguided Vice autopsy, RIP gaming algos, and 'time billionaires'
Check out all the things we have going on in Cannes this year, including a “cocktails and conversation” recording of The Rebooting Show on Thursday, June 22, with Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel, in addition to The New Attention Economy, a three-day conversation series we're putting on in partnership with Kerv.
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Learn how the Nativo Platform has helped hundreds of publishers strengthen their ad portfolios with formats that solve for the mid-funnel.
The China Project’s pivot to B2B and subs
On this week’s episode of The Rebooting Show, I spoke to Bob Guterma, CEO of The China Project, to discuss how to maintain credibility while catching flack from many sides, The China Project’s decision to leave Substack, adopting a subscription-first model and its crowdfunding efforts to raise capital from its audience.
Five highlights from my conversation with Bob:
For seven years, The China Project – called SupChina until July 2022 – has aimed to act as a bridge for the outside world to understand China. “It's literally 5x the number of people in America. In some ways, you could say [China] is more dynamic. Their historical trajectory is so fast that there are simultaneously people living the same as they did 150 years ago, and there are people living in the Jetsons – all in the same country.”
That task that’s grown more complicated in recent years as tensions have risen between the US and China. That’s ensnared The China Project in political hot water, with a group of hawkish senators saying it is a tool of Chinese influence and the Chinese government banning it. Bob has described The China Project as “neither pro-China or anti-China” and its mission as “helping the world understand China better, more contextually, and with greater care, so that better decisions can be made.”
The China Project moved off Substack, which is oriented more to single writer projects than full-fledged media properties. “There are ways to customize Substack as you go along, but it's really built around this one experience of a paid newsletter. We were already, and just only became more and more as time went on, not just a newsletter.”
The China Project has multiple revenue streams, including ads, events and consulting, but it aims to be a subscription-first publisher. The China Project sells subscriptions from $120 for an individual up to $5,000 per year for database products. It made this shift with a changed focus on a B2B audience, which is more likely to pay for subscriptions than regular people simply curious about China. “As much as I think China is the biggest story of our times, most people aren't sitting at home thinking about how to cultivate better knowledge of China, and they're certainly not sitting at home ready to spend money on that.”
The era of venture-funded publishing is mostly over, but new avenues are emerging, such as RegCF, which allows companies to use crowdfunding to raise up to $5 million over the course of 12 months. The China Project raised $1.6 million two years ago and is near $1 million in a second round. The China Project has raised nearly $10 million over the years. That incremental approach is preferable to big upfront funding, in Bob’s view: “Raising $50 million before you've done anything almost guarantees your irrelevance.”
Semafor did a deep a piece on The China Project that highlights the criticisms leveled at it in a whistleblower complaint that alleges it slants coverage to favor Chinese interests. (Bob dismisses this coverage as innuendo and cover for Semafor’s own indirect ties to the Chinese government through a partnership with a Chinese think tank.)
The China Project published a lengthy rebuttal, claiming it is “a target of racist, populist, anti-China sentiment.”
Unlike most small publishers, The China Project has published an annual report as part of its earlier crowdfunding capital raise.
Join The New Attention Economy in Cannes
The New Attention Economy, presented by Kerv at the Kerv Cafe, from June 19-21 will explore how the pathways to gaining attention have changed for media – and are on the cusp of changing even more in a new era of AI and other immersive technologies. Over three days, we will host conversations with 30 speakers. Some highlights:
GroupM CEO Kirk McDonald on making for a more equitable, responsible media ecosystem
Bloomberg Media CRO Christine Cook on reasons for media business optimism
Puck COO Liz Gough and Semafor co-founder Ben Smith on journalists as influencers
NBC Universal CMO Josh Feldman on melding entertainment and commerce
Havas president and chief creative officer Myra Nussbaum on creativity in an AI age
The autopsies of fallen stars of digital media’s previous era keep coming, and finding new angles. In this telling, Vice was not a victim of chronic mismanagement, a disastrous bet on linear TV, an insane corporate structure but a victim of private equity. History gets fuzzy. It was hardly commonly held that Vice was “the future of media” in 2017. Most people I talked to saw the TPG deal as an albatross. (FT)
Digital media’s current freakout is leading to a wave of nostalgia for simpler times, when algorithms could be gamed to make the traffic numbers go up. Semafor’s Ben Smith has a smart “person in the news” angle with a look at the key role played by Neetzan Zimmerman in The Messenger. Neetzan was in the thick of the high velocity publishing game that emerged from the blogging era and saw a generation of young journalists sent into the content mines, some fated to never return. (Semafor)
The experience of digital publishing has been akin to leaping from one burning platform to the next as giant tech companies pivot strategies and leave carnage in their wake. Creator network Jellysmack is cutting staff and blaming TikTok envy at YouTube and Facebook for an unstable environment – haven’t heard that before. "All the major platforms are chasing TikTok and focusing less and less on traditional long-form videos. From ad-spending to changing algorithms, the rise of short-form video will be a challenging evolution for creators, platforms, and the entire digital media industry." (Insider)
Axios CEO Jim VandeHei pronounces his broad view of whats next in the media business. “The days of gaming social media algorithms are coming to an abrupt — and needed — end. Commoditized or general interest content will fade in value. Any company betting only on high traffic seems doomed. The demand for subject matter expertise will rise fast.” (Axios)
The flood of AI into all parts of the economy will inevitably lead to a “human premium” being placed on products and services that are improved by the human element. “Increasingly people will look for people to talk to, guide them, or enhance their experience,” writes Rishad Tobaccowala. (The Future Does Not Fit…)
Hierarchical organizations will struggle to compete with looser federations that prioritize autonomy over control. Cornell’s Brian Lucas explains the tie between the feeling of power and creativity:
“If you feel powerful—maybe that’s because you have a higher rank, maybe you have control over resources, maybe you are part of a societal group that tends to be valued more, or maybe you have skill sets that are valued more—it changes the way that you think about things. You become a little less concerned about what other people think of you. You get a little less concerned about whether other people are going to reject your ideas. You become more willing to take risks, and it actually facilitates abstract thinking, the ability to help us see connections between disparate things.” (Charter)
“Being a ‘time billionaire’ isn’t necessarily about having the actual time, but about the awareness of the precious nature of the time you do have. It is about embracing the shortness of life and finding joy in ordinary daily moments of beauty.” (The Free Press)
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