Content Wars: Rise of the Podcast

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People prefer to receive their daily news in different ways. From radio to television, print to Facebook, news stories fill almost every platform. More and more traditional sources are turning to podcasts, the most recent trend in digital news publishing.

Podcasts: New or Old?

Though David Winer developed the medium, and Adam Curry popularized it, Ben Hammersley coined the actual term “podcast” in 2004. In an article for The GuardianHammersley “rattled off possible names for this booming new medium, the ‘pod‘ of podcast is borrowed from Apple’s ‘iPod‘ digital media player; and the ‘cast‘ portion of podcast is taken from Radio’s ‘broadcast‘ term.” The name and the concept took off.

According to International Podcast Day, a site dedicated to the celebration of podcasts,

“A ‘podcast’ is sort of difficult to explain because there really isn’t anything else like it — but rather, many things that are kind of like it. A good starting point, is to think of a podcast as ‘Internet Radio On-Demand.’ It’s similar in that you can usually listen to it on your computer — but it’s more than that. [However, and not to confuse the issue, podcasting isn’t confined to just audio but can be video as well].”

While podcasting shares many similarities with traditional radio broadcasting, two media’s differences allow podcasts to pave their own way in the digital media world. Contrary to conventional radio, podcasts offer on-demand content that users can access any place, any time. They also have the advantage of being “narrowcast” based on individual, specified content for an identifiable audience.

The New York Times and Podcasting

The New York Times, a newspaper founded in 1851, is known worldwide for its readership and prestige. With over 150 years in the field of journalism, the Times attributes its continued success to its ability to meet readers in their everyday lives. I cover more of the changes it has undergone in “Changing with the Times.”

With the emergence of podcasts, writers at the Times saw a chance to reach readers in a new and more individualized way. According to Ken Doctor, when the Times released its first podcast in 2006, “only 11 percent of U.S. adults listened to any podcast and only 22 percent had even heard the term.”

The New York Times uses the advantage of the medium’s niche nature to its advantage, and its shows branch into topics that may not have made it to print before. With series varying from book reviews to pop culture, even love and sex, the Times has truly embraced the culture of podcasts.

The Daily,” one of the most popular series in the Times’ repertoire, touts the motto “this is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week.” Hosted by political journalist Michael Barbaro, “The Daily” began in early 2017 and became a hit within a few short months.

“The Daily” had reached over 100 million downloads by October of the same year. Sam Dolnick, Barbaro’s assistant, says, “we’ve built a flexible enough frame that I think lots and lots of different things can fit inside of it.”

The New Yorker, a fellow New York-based news company, sent its praises to “The Daily” in an article dedicated to the success of the podcast series. New Yorker journalist Rebecca Mead writes that, through “The Daily,” The New York Times “becomes conversational and intimate, instead of inky and cumbersome. It’s a twenty-minute update murmured in your ear by a well-informed, sensitive, funny, modest friend.”

As of 2018, “The Daily” continued to receive over 1.1 million downloads each weekday. Advertisements pay for the episodes, so listeners get access to the show for free, with new podcasts released every weekday.

The New York Times has another major podcast success under its belt: “Caliphate” the company’s series “following Rukmini Callimachi as she reports on the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul.” Its first narrative nonfiction podcast, “Caliphate” takes a look at the War on Terror and asks, “who are we really fighting?” Listeners can find the podcast, along with its transcripts, on the Times’ site.

The Podcast Craze

The Times isn’t the only one impressed with podcasts: Hannah King describes the attraction of podcasting in the Trojan Digital Review. Versatility defines the beauty of podcasts; anyone can make one anywhere. In her article “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” New York Times journalist Jennifer Miller addresses the idea easy entrance to the medium might be what leads to its ultimate downfall.

“Like the blogs of yore, podcasts — with their combination of sleek high tech and cozy, retro low — are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation,” Miller writes. She quotes host Jordan Harbinger of “The Jordan Harbinger Show” saying, “I love podcasting, and the more shows in the mix the better, as long as they’re done by someone who actually cares and isn’t just trying to get a piece of pie.”

Harbinger goes on to say that the world of podcasting needs “a real conversation that will benefit the audience, not the host.” Through this logic, the Times’ position in podcasting culture will not fizzle out anytime soon. The New York Times has a great tradition of journalistic excellence, and through branching out into the realm of podcasting, it once again secured its spot among the most read, and now listened to, news companies in the world.

The Economist gets “Snappy”

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Since 1843, The Economist has released weekly print editions of their magazine-style newspaper. In October of 2016, the publication took a leap towards rejuvenation and began publishing on Snapchat, one of the most popular apps in the world.

The Economist has been on Snapchat’s Discover page for three years and has paved a new way for print publications to reach the “tap generation.” The Snapchat Discover page is “all about keeping you up-to-date on current events, pop culture, and more.”

Snapchat Discover is where users can find stories- short videos or pictures- from their friends, other Snapchat users, TV shows, and publishers. Publisher stories “are Discover content that is from publishers and other media partners that partner with Snapchat.” Some companies that can be found on the Discover page are The Wall Street JournalNational GeographicThe Washington Post, and The Economist.

When The Economist made its Snapchat debut in 2016, reaching out to an audience via Snapchat wasn’t common for such an established and respectable news company. When Lucy Rohr, the Snapchat editor for The Economist, was met with some questioning from her colleagues, she responded:

How does a 173-year-old publication, known for its global analysis and read by every American president since JFK, fit on a messaging app whose unique selling point is bite-sized, disappearing videos? But think about it for a moment. Snapchat Discover’s audience is forward-looking, globally curious and highly engaged with liberal causes. So The Economist is actually pretty well aligned.

So how does a roughly 80-page news magazine convert its material to fit this new medium? To Rohr the answer is quite simple: it doesn’t.  The goal for the Snapchat extension of The Economist was not to put out another digital form of what they’ve already written. Instead, the idea was to hit a themed subject with each new weekly release.

“Themed editions are an ideal way for us to serve up our analysis in a fun and concise package that’s easy to consume anywhere. It’s what The Economist is known for, and we think this sits well on Snapchat Discover,” Rohr says.

Snapchat is an app that relies heavily on the visual aspect of its content, so Rohr and her team work to create a harmony between the youthful and interactive nature of the app and the professionalism of The Economist’s brand. According to Rohr, the perfect blend is achieved through “crisp, clean layouts, a couple of specific fonts.”

The Snapchat editions of The Economist are formed from a script, which is broken down into a minimum of 14 snaps, or 10 second looping videos or animations, and the visuals for each snap are then planned accordingly. Each individual snap is predominantly an image with highlighted text over it. The text often plays as a teaser, which gives the reader enough information to understand what is being addressed, but leaves them wanting more.  

The interactive feature is brought into play when links to find more information pertaining to a particular snap are added through the “swipe up” feature. Then on the final product, users can swipe up on a snap to follow links that will lead to articles that give readers an in-depth analysis that the teasers hinted at.

According to Rohr:

The design team really nailed it. They came up with a visual treatment that really brings our journalism to life, and brings levity to some of the heavier stuff we’re covering. As much as I want our journalism to set us apart, I think our design does too.

Rohr knows that the task of producing Snapchat editions is not an easy one. “Plenty of what we do can’t be readily translated into a ‘Snappy’ format. We have to take the time to really think about each edition and each snap and how to do it best,” she says. An example of what Discover stories from The Economist look like is on their YouTube channel.

When The Economist made the leap into the world of Snapchat, consumers were concerned that it would be detrimental to the prestige of the company. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, “78% of American internet users between the ages of 18 and 24 used Snapchat in 2018.” The statistics of active Snapchat users in the UK are similar to those in America. The age demographic is rarely a concern of The Economist.

Having a young audience does not worry The Economist’s Snapchat team, though. At the Digital Innovators Summit, Rohr addressed the new demographic saying:

We had to translate our very specific editorial voice to the platform, but we did not ‘dumb ourselves down’ – we realised that to underestimate the intellect of the younger audience, and their discernment, is a real mistake.

Rather than fitting their journalism to the demographic, Rohr and her team prep the demographic for their journalism. Rohr referred to Snapchat editions as “the ultimate cheat sheet ” to being able to comprehensibly read full length articles from The Economist. One of the goals is to provide readers with the vocabulary, context, and “toolkit” needed to understand the company’s specific style of journalism.

As of 2017, The Economist had an average of 7.1 million users visiting their Snapchat stories. Deputy editor and head of digital strategy, Tom Standage, claimed the addition of Snapchat to their repertoire was “the biggest step-change in the audience of The Economist since 1843.”

Wattpad: From Digital Publishing to Print

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Wattpad connects “a global community of over 80 million monthly readers.” This community is based around a free website where readers, devoted franchise fans, and aspiring authors alike form a community where they can read or create online material. 

Wattpad targets a different audience than companies like Smashwords  and Kobo. Where those are services designed to help authors publish and sell their work, Wattpad is meant as a creative outlet for users. While Wattpad does encourage authors to “establish a global fan base as [their] story gains readership and momentum” and “connect with other like-minded writers through storytelling,” they leave the marketing to the author’s discretion. 

For the Writers 

Wattpad allows freedom for its writers. It leaves the creative rights to the author who is in complete control of every aspect of the story. For example, Wattpad authors have no publishing time constraints. According to The Writer’s Circle, “you could post a short draft and get immediate feedback from readers.” Writers are free to post new chapters of their books whenever they are ready. 

With its emphasis on freedom, Wattpad is very lax when it comes to their content guidelines. The terms of service for anyone considering the use of Wattpad as a creative platform can be found here

Again, Wattpad is not a company that openly seeks to sell creator’s content to larger publishing platforms. However, Wattpad does offer tips to content creators for getting their stories to a broad audience. 

For the Readers 

Wattpad is unique in its ability to form a bridge between content creators and their readers. For example, they allow readers to create reading lists for easy access. Users may vote for the stories they like the most, thus pushing reader-preferred content closer to the front of the site. 

Readers can share their favorite stories on social media increasing the potential reach for any story. Users also have unparalleled access to the authors and other Wattpad users who are reading the same things. Feedback for authors and discussion about the stories is readily available as a result. 

Wattpad Books 

With over 80 million users worldwide, Wattpad has decided to take digital publishing to the presses. According to Ashleigh Gardner, Deputy General Manager at Wattpad Studios Publishing: 

We bring something completely unique to publishing: an engaged global community, the most diverse set of writers on the planet, and the technology to find every type of hit imaginable. Wattpad Books is more than a new division for us, it’s a validation and celebration of the creativity, interests, and world-building that happens on Wattpad every day. 

Wattpad Books is the company’s first direct publishing division. It “takes the stories people have obsessed over, and gives them a platform so their creators can be heard.” 

Publishing famous Wattpad stories has been a trend for a while. According to Michael Kozlowski, “To date, nearly one thousand Wattpad stories have been turned into books and adapted for TV, film, and digital projects.” 

While Wattpad stories have previously been published by separate companies, “Wattpad Books will be its own direct division.” In North America, Wattpad has partnered with Macmillan Publishers, Anvil Publishing, and Raincoast Books. Recently, Wattpad Books has announced that they will be partnering with Penguin Random House UK, the UK branch of the world’s leading trade publisher, to publish Wattpad Books in the United Kingdom. 

Wattpad Books uses a special sort of artificial intelligence (AI) to determine what books they will publish. This AI is known as Story DNA Machine Learning. According to Gardner, by combining “machine learning, deep learning, and recurrent neural network,” Story DNA will break down the statistics of the over 400 million stories available on Wattpad. 

The AI goes beyond the statistics of shares, comments, and views that a story has and “deconstructs stories into their elemental features, such as sentence structure, word use, and grammar.” This data is then compared to other stories on Wattpad as well as books in the public domain. Resulting data comparison is done in hopes of finding quality content comparable in structure and style to what has already been published. 

Once the Story DNA Machine Learning has gathered the content, the stories are sent to a team of Wattpad staff who determine what will be published. Gardner says, “Wattpad Books is equal parts art and science, and our human content and editorial experts are just as important for everything we do at Wattpad Books.” 


In 2014, Wattpad author Anna Todd’s One Direction themed fanfiction was published as a multi-part series in both print and e-book form. The After series has recently developed into a film adaptation released in April of 2019. Todd, who is now a New York Times bestselling author, is one of Wattpad’s greatest success stories to date. 

With the new Wattpad Books approach to publishing stories made famous through digital writing, books chosen by the Wattpad AI system and staff members will be published as paperbacks, e-books, and even hardback copies. 

According to Wattpad Books’ website, they are “poised to disrupt traditional publishing by harnessing data to unleash the most groundbreaking stories from Wattpad directly onto bookshelves.” That is what they intend to do with their Fall 2019 List. The list of the six titles being published through Wattpad Books throughout Fall of 2019 can be found here

Though Wattpad Books gives aspiring authors a chance to have their works published through paper and ink, Gardner says it “is more than a new division for us, it’s a validation and celebration of the creativity, interests, and world-building that happens on Wattpad every day.” 

Wattpad and Wattpad Books are proof that success in digital publishing can be the stepping-stone many need to reach success in the wider world of publishing. 

Changing with the Times

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Changing with the Times

“You find the future in the past if you look hard enough,” says Mark Thompson, Chief Executive Officer and president of The New York Times. It is a common belief that newspapers’ going out of print is a direct effect of changing times. In many ways, this is true. However, the reasoning for lessening print publications is rooted in the same basic marketing strategies that the media have always followed.

Traditional print newspapers have always thrived upon meeting the reader in their daily lives. After all, without the readers there would be no reason to share the news. Writers and producers of the news know that, often, consumers do not seek out the news themselves. Therefore, in order to stay afloat, these news sources must find a way to come to the consumer.

While many print publications are struggling to keep up with consumers, the Times is managing to not only stay afloat, but also thrive in a world of mass digital news consumption.

In the past, life was centered around the daily papers. If you wanted to find a job, you looked to the paper. If you needed look for a new apartment, you looked in the paper. Now, all those things and more are done online. According to Thompson, “ads once brought in as much as $235 million with very little overhead costs, but that figure slid to just $6 or $7 million in revenue in recent years.”

This decrease in ad sales was a major push towards a digital way of thinking for the Times. Executives knew that, in order to keep up with consumers, they would need to reevaluate and reconnect with the modern consumer’s lifestyle.

“It’s all about the user experience and it’s all about engagement,” says Thompson. In 2015, the company set out to make $800 million in digital revenue by 2020 and they are already on track to blow that goal out of the water. As of the end of 2018, the Times made $709 million in digital revenue. With a total of $1.748 billion at the end of the fiscal year in 2018, this shows that digital revenue “accounted for just over 40% of the total.”

With such great numbers coming in from the financial side, Thompson set a goal to reach 10 million subscribers by 2025. This goal seems to be in reach for the company as its number of digital subscribers has grown to 3.3 million as of 2018. This number is up 27% from 2017. The Times now has over 4.3 million subscribers, which is an all-time high for the company.

Another record breaker for the Times happened in the fourth quarter of 2018 when digital advertisement made more than print advertisement. Digital advertising sales jumped 23% to $103 million while print advertising dropped 10% to $88 million.

Thompson says that these gains in revenue will be put back into newsroom operations. At a time when many news companies are being forced to make cuts due to lack of funding, the Times take the opposite approach.

Our appeal to subscribers — and to the world’s leading advertisers — depends more than anything on the quality of our journalism. That is why we have increased, rather than cut back, our investment in our newsroom and opinion departments. We want to accelerate our digital growth further, so in 2019, we will direct fresh investment into journalism, product and marketing.

Thompson also believes that the Times’ legacy has played a hand in its success in the shift towards primarily digital platform. “An intense news cycle has always sold newspapers and made TV news ratings shoot up,” Thompson says. In this world where every news company is racing to get the most recent information out first, it pays to be a credible company that consumers trust.

Another possible reason for the Times’ continued success is the diverse material that they offer consumers. Recently, over half of Times’ subscriptions came from the cooking and crosswords. According to journalist Tyler Bishop, one of the highest priorities for digital publishers coming into 2019 was growing their audiences. According to Bishop, the main focus for many digital publishers was “traffic, but more specifically, quality visitors.”

The Times is a legacy company, and their diverse offerings of news, opinion pieces, crosswords, and more make them more appealing to consumers. According to Thompson, these subscribers are “the kind of person who is our kind of person.” While other news companies and digital publishers are struggling to get the audience they are reaching for, the Times has the advantage of having a solid, diverse, consumer base to work and grow with.

According to the New York Times’ 2020 group:

While the past two years have been a time of significant innovation, the pace must accelerate. Too often, digital progress has been accomplished through workarounds; now we must tear apart the barriers. We must differentiate between mission and tradition: what we do because it’s essential to our values and what we do because we’ve always done it.

This team of journalists  at the Times take deep pride in their work and understand that the same qualities that brought print subscribers will “lead people to devote valuable space on their smartphone’s homescreen to our app, to seek us out on social media amid the cacophony and to subscribe to our newsletters and briefings.”

In the world of publication, many companies see themselves as either print-first or digital first. The New York Times, however, sees themselves as a “subscription-first business .” The company does not want to get lost in a battle to “maximize clicks” or “win a pageviews arms race.” Rather, they are focused on producing the same strong journalism that they have for over 150 years. This business plan has secured them a front-runner in print journalism for many years, and the same business plan is what they hope will keep them a front-runner during this time of digital change.


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Smashwords, a platform created in 2007, publishes and distributes ebooks for self-publishing authors. Mark Coker founded the company after numerous publishing companies turned down the novel Boob Tube, which he and his wife Lesleyann wrote together. Coker knew their book was ready for the public, but novels in that genre did not do as well as the companies wanted, so publishers continued to turn them away.

Coker knew the novel would attract a specific audience, but the large publishing companies would not give them a chance. “They’re unable to take a risk on every author. They acquire books based on perceived commercial potential, but ultimately they don’t know which books will sell well.” Coker explains that he wanted to bypass the obstacles of traditional publishing to “give every author the freedom, tools and distribution they needed.” The company aims to give authors a chance to publish when other companies might not.

They accomplish this as a free publishing and distribution platform; Smashwords allows authors full control over how their book is priced, published, sampled, and sold for free. Yes, free. This fact might cause some eyebrow-raising.  This dedication to attainable self-publishing forms the foundation of Smashwords. Coker’s answer to whether Smashwords will help authors sell large quantities of books: “probably not.” Instead, publishing through Smashwords’ should get an author’s work out efficiently and accessibly, rather than helping the author get rich quick.

What Authors Need to Know

According to Coker, “Smashwords authors and publishers earn 85% or more of the net proceeds from the sale of their works.” The client receives three-quarters of the net profit, and in exchange, the company distributes the books to major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and indie retailers as well. The math breaks down to mean authors make $8 for every $10 book on Smashwords. These royalty rates are some of the highest in the world of publishing.

Net Proceeds (to author) = Sales Price – Processing Fees * .85

On top of high royalties, Smashwords also handles much of the leg work that comes with publishing. Afterward, the company will also send your work to other publishers and ebook retailers. Smashwords provides authors with free marketing, metadata analysis, and distribution and sales report tools. The company also pays authors monthly rather than quarterly.

Compared to its major competitors, Draft2Digital and PublishDrive, Smashwords has the longest list of affiliated publishing companies. While this large platform can be a great selling point for writers, it doesn’t promise more sales. Smashwords also has a detailed protocol for authors who want their work sent to specific companies. Additionally, the company doesn’t handle formatting of the ebook, which can create a significant setback for its clients.

Authors submitting to Smashwords also must format their work to meet the company’s standards. To ease the pressure on writers, Smashwords published an ebook with instructions for submitting in their format. While this formatting may seem tedious, Smashwords says that it is well worth the hassle:

Our Meatgrinder technology will automatically convert your .doc file into nine different ebook formats, plus a tenth, custom version of EPUB required by Sony. In the years since we launched Smashwords, we have continuously enhanced our Meatgrinder conversion technology. Meatgrinder-produced books often rival or surpass the quality of expensive, custom-designed ebook files. Smashwords ebooks support reflowable narrative, images, linked Tables of Contents, hyperlinks and advanced styling.

What Readers Need to Know

The authors publishing through Smashwords would be nowhere if it weren’t for those reading their books. Registration is free and once registered, members have access to over 80,000 free ebooks and 500,000 low-cost ebooks. The platform also allows members to read samples of books before purchasing; the sample sizes may vary depending on the author’s selection.

Smashwords produces DRM-free ebooks, a real perk for readers. DRM stands for Digital Restrictions Management which puts constraints on how the reader may use the text. Without DRM, readers can essentially share the book however they choose after purchase which can be a drawback for authors as it leaves the work open to piracy and could cut back on sales.

Readers also benefit from the company’s multi-format ebooks. Smashwords provides a platform that works with many different e-reader devices. Other content-selling companies often restrict the device or file that can be used. Smashwords boasts a user-friendly interface that allows their readers to create a virtual library of ebooks, establish “favorite” authors, and sign up for notifications when a particular author publishes new work.

Coker says the company has no intention of getting involved in print publishing.

I don’t see us ever getting into the business of selling or fulfilling POD versions or otherwise. This was a decision I made early on when I started working on the Smashwords business plan in 2005 and 2006. There were already a bunch of companies doing great work on the print side, and I knew we wouldn’t have the resources to do it better.

With the growing popularity of ebooks and the never-ending struggle to get published motivating Coker, Smashwords entered the market and became one of the largest “distributors of independent and self-published ebooks.” Created with both author and reader in mind, Smashwords continues to dominate the world of ebooks.