We’re reinventing MarkLives. Here’s what to expect.
by Herman Manson (@MarkLives) Sometimes change is scary, but usually it’s exactly what we need. On Thursday, 20 August 2020, we announced a fundamental shift in our business and publishing format that we believe will put our platform on a sustainable and viable footing while adding value to our industry, commercial supporters and to you, our readers.
Over the last two years, I’ve been thinking about our publishing model a lot and wondering how we could become more efficient at what we do. We’re a small team and our daily content schedule has become personally taxing. We’ve been unable to find ways to grow quickly enough to support a larger team without doing less of what we love and more of what we don’t.
State of digital publishing
Digital publishers are at the mercy of many outside factors and players, and have actively contributed to the general decline in their fortunes by embracing rules imposed on them by these players, rather than working at resetting the status quo.
For example, we all rely on algorithms set by social media and search platforms which often change without consultation or consideration of the impact such changes have on directing people to our sites. The increasing toxicity of social media platforms has impacted greatly on topics publishers are willing to engage. Frankly, they impact the mental well-being of all of us and, personally, I’m less and less willing to engage with this (even as it means waving goodbye to another chunk of traffic).
The very fact that so many publishers and newsrooms equate site traffic growth with a viable commercial strategy, or read this as a signal of success with readers, shows we’ve not adapted our thinking or strategies since the mid-1990s, when the commercial internet started taking off. Digital publishers have been actively pursuing traffic as their measure for success (even installing traffic counters on screens in newsrooms), giving rise to click-bait content and a general decline in editorial standards, while fighting a losing game with ever-declining CPM rates that have simply seen increases in traffic offset by declines in the rates chargeable to advertisers.
Our thinking needs to shift
Add to the above that media organisations in South Africa have seen anything between 30% and 100% of ad revenue disappear since March 2020 and it’s clear, as it’s been for a while now, that our thinking needs to shift, and our strategies need to be questioned and renewed.
How do we become less reliant on web traffic as a measure of success? Can we decrease our engagement with social media channels increasingly open to information warfare and manipulation? Can we survive the shrinking ad economy? Are there more-efficient means of delivering our content? Can we do all this and up our investment in journalism, and can we do all this and retain commercial viability while adding benefit to our community and our commercial partners?
I believe we can achieve all of the above and more. We can do it by being smarter, nimbler and different. It requires adjustments by our team, but also by our readers and sponsors. I believe all our stakeholders are willing to make these, provided we can show that we can add value to our product. That we can be more; that, for us, change is an investment in our future, rather than something that’s forced upon us by circumstances (or at least that we won’t be defined by those).
From daily site to weekly newsletter
Email has become increasingly popular and viable as a publishing platform. The success of newsletters on platforms like Substack proves the business case and the value newsletters bring to readers and publishers.
Starting in mid-September, MarkLives will shift our content schedule from daily to weekly. We’ll also move our primary content-delivery mechanism from website to email (short term), and to email and app (medium term). Please take a moment to subscribe to our free newsletter if you’ve not done so already.
This means that you, our readers, will receive an in-depth, content-filled newsletter every week directly to your inbox — you’ll no need longer need to click to the website. Each edition will consist of a weekly feature article, written by a journalist, focusing on issues affecting agencies and marketers; an interview with interesting people active in marketing, media or advertising; several opinion pieces; and an easy-to-read digest of appointments and general news.
We’ll continue to publish exclusive breaking news as it happens — premium subscribers will receive breaking news whenever it occurs in addition to our weekly mailer.
Revenue model changes
Our revenue model is changing alongside our content delivery and frequency changes.
Our weekly newsletter and breaking-news product will be made available on a paid-for basis to individual subscribers. We’re asking readers to help fund our investment in journalism through a monthly subscription fee of R50 (or R550 per annum). If you find value in our service, we believe this is a reasonable and affordable contribution and it’s our intention to reinvest subscription fees into our content. Those current newsletter subscribers and website readers who choose to wait out the changes and see how we fare will receive at least one full newsletter every month without needing to pay. For the moment, you’ll continue to receive our content free of charge as our paid-for product will, in all likelihood, only become available in mid-October.
MarkLives will retain its 10 sponsorship slots on the site (which will carry our newsletter archive and subscriber dashboards) and in the newsletter — each of these sponsors have all made a long-term commitment to journalism in our industry. As part of every package, each sponsor will receive subsidised free subscriptions for their staff and clients; both are capped but chances are, if you work for or with one of our sponsors, your subscription fee is already taken care of — you’ll receive an opt-in email asking you to confirm your intention to take up their offer once we roll out our new service.
#3. Group discounts for agencies & marketers
We’re also offering agencies and marketing departments an opportunity to take advantage of our extremely attractive group discount rates to sponsor subscriptions for their own staff and clients (please contact us for details).
#4. Tertiary education
We are also calling on advertising and marketing schools to connect with us as it’s our intention to offer your students free subscriptions to our new weekly. We realise how important access to information is while studying towards a career in our industry and we want to ensure all students can continue to access our content without cost. We’ll work with schools, rather than individual students, to streamline this process but, if you think your school should take up our offer, please let your lecturer know.
We’ll still maintain a slimmed-down website with some content available freely and the rest behind a paywall which will be open to all subscribers to our paid-for weekly product.
Never been prouder
I’ve never been prouder of MarkLives and the remarkable people who write and who produce for us. With our reorientation towards more hard news, we’ve had to say goodbye to many of our regular columnists. This has been one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make; we’ve walked roads with some of them that stretch back many years. It’s made me realise, once again, that change isn’t something to be flippant about and it’s not an easy decision to make, even if it’s a necessary one — it impacts widely and that impact may be personal.
There are also no guarantees. But I’m OK with that. It’s time to go back to our roots and reclaim ownership of how we measure what we’ve built, and where the future might take it.
- Quick overview of changes coming to MarkLives
- Communication professionals and organisational spokespeople may qualify to receive our editorial diary in advance. Please apply to have your name added to our list.
This editorial was originally published on 20 August 2020.