The case for investing in independent publishers and news media

Scott Purcell, co-founder of Man of Many, argues that independent publishers and news platforms are not just another channel for ad placements - they represent a unique opportunity for advertisers to engage with audiences in a meaningful, impactful way.

In recent times, the discourse surrounding the state of the media has been rife with criticism and concern. From the operational shortcomings of the News Media Bargaining Code, to broader media consolidation issues and the evolving landscape of digital content distribution, many valid points have been raised by voices across the spectrum.

As someone deeply entrenched in the media industry as co-founder of Man of Many, I find myself nodding in agreement with several of these observations.

The challenges are real, and the solutions complex. However, where my agreement finds its limit is in the recurring narrative that fails to appreciate the intricate value that aligning with independent publishers and news media offers to advertisers.

This oversight is not just a small misstep; it’s a significant blind spot in understanding the power and potential of media today.

Independent publishers and news platforms are not just another channel for ad placements; they represent a unique opportunity for advertisers to engage with audiences in a meaningful, impactful way. The value derived from this alignment goes beyond traditional metrics, touching upon the essence of brand awareness and consumer education and, ultimately, fostering a connection that transcends the transactional.

As we delve deeper into this conversation, it’s essential to recognise the nuanced benefits that these media entities bring to the table. From the intentional engagement of their audience to the credibility and trust they command, the case for advertisers to invest in these platforms is compelling.

This is not just about challenging the shortcomings of the NMBC or advocating for a particular policy change. It’s about acknowledging and harnessing the power of media to benefit all stakeholders involved, especially in a landscape as dynamic and influential as today’s. This alignment not only serves the immediate goals of advertisers but also contributes to a richer, more vibrant media ecosystem that upholds the values of diversity, quality journalism, and informed public discourse.

First, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the landscape of media consumption has drastically evolved, with social media platforms becoming a dominant force in how information is disseminated and consumed. However, the nature of engagement on social media versus news platforms is fundamentally different. Social media is primarily designed for entertainment, social interaction, and brief content consumption. While it offers vast reach, the engagement with content, especially advertisements, tends to be more superficial. Users often scroll through feeds quickly, and the intent to engage deeply with content, including ads, is low.

In contrast, news articles and independent media platforms like ours attract audiences intending to seek information, education, and insight. This intentional engagement is more focused, with users likely to spend time reading through content thoroughly. It offers advertisers a unique opportunity to deliver their message in an environment conducive to absorbing information. This depth of engagement significantly enhances advertising effectiveness, delivering real value through brand awareness, education, and direct traffic to services or products.

Moreover, aligning with reputable independent media platforms can offer advertisers the benefit of being associated with quality, credibility, and trustworthiness (as opposed to the riskiness and dumpster fires often seen on social). This can be particularly valuable in a digital landscape often plagued with misinformation, where brand safety and the context of ad placement have become paramount concerns for advertisers.

While some argue for the redistribution of funds through government intervention to support journalism, it’s important for advertisers to recognise the intrinsic value of investing directly in independent publishers and news media. By doing so, advertisers not only leverage the unique advantages of these platforms for delivering impactful advertising that resonates with engaged and informed audiences but also contribute to sustaining a diverse and healthy news ecosystem.

The flawed nature of the News Media Bargaining Code, intended to support media diversity, has inadvertently favoured large media conglomerates at the expense of small independent publishers like us. Our submission to the ACCC outlined the code’s failures and the detrimental impacts on media diversity, highlighting our position against the potential designation of Meta’s services under the code and the extremely likely withdrawal of news across its platforms in Australia (as has already happened in Canada).

This would have a devastating impact on many independent publishers who didn’t receive funding under the code. They would also lose a significant portion of their audience and an important avenue for engagement and revenue. Just think about not being able to access some of your favourite Instagram channels, like The Daily Aus or The Betoota Advocate. In our submission, we’ve outlined the significant imbalance between Meta and Australian news businesses, particularly impacting independent publishers by limiting our ability to negotiate.

Despite the challenges presented by the News Media Bargaining Code and the potential withdrawal of news content across Meta’s platforms, Man of Many remains poised for continued success. Our optimism lies not just in our diversified traffic sources but also in the quality and depth of engagement we foster with our audience—a distinct advantage that holds significant value for advertisers.

Interestingly, Meta’s platforms (Facebook and Instagram) contribute to only a marginal portion (~2%) of our total traffic, with ChartBeat reporting a ~70% decline in social referral traffic to publishers more broadly. Despite this, we’ve seen a ~1,200% lift in engagement across our social platforms in the last 12 months as we’ve continued to focus on producing quality original videos. These statistics might surprise many, especially in a digital age where social media’s dominion is often considered unassailable. However, this underscores a pivotal aspect of our publication and that of other digital independents: our audience’s preference for consuming content by coming directly to our site from bookmarks or their browser, through search with strong intent for what they are looking for, or through our daily newsletter.

This contrasts with the casual nature of social media. While that does drive “passing engagement”, it no longer directly drives as much traffic or clicks, with tech giants preferring to keep users “on the platform”. The direct engagement that independent publishers and news media receive indicates the intent and purpose with which readers approach our content—seeking out Man of Many for specific information, advice, and insights.

This mode of engagement, where readers spend minutes—not mere seconds—immersing themselves in our content, speaks volumes about the value we offer advertisers. Unlike the fleeting glances that characterize much social media browsing, interaction on our website is intentional and focused. Our readers are active engagers, fully present and receptive to the content before them. This environment is ripe for advertisers, offering a platform where messages are not just seen but considered and acted upon.

While the potential exit of Meta from news distribution in Australia poses challenges, notably publishers losing an important channel for interaction, it does not detract from our core strength: our ability to engage deeply with our audience. This direct and purposeful engagement is our hedge against the volatility of external platforms and policies. It is also what makes independent publishers like Man of Many an invaluable partner for advertisers. In a landscape where attention is the ultimate currency, the quality of engagement that independent publishers facilitate is a testament to the inherent value we bring to the table—not just as a media platform but as a vital conduit between advertisers and a deeply engaged audience.

We at Man of Many continue to advocate for inclusive negotiation mechanisms for all media (not just the big end of town), safeguarding against platform withdrawal or deprioritising news and supporting media diversity.

Advertisers have an important role to play in this, through their direct investment and supporting such reforms, which are crucial for a sustainable, equitable, and diverse media landscape and where they can find real value in their investments beyond mere exposure or vanity metric figures. This approach aligns with the broader objectives of building an informed society while achieving advertisers’ goals of effective and meaningful audience engagement.



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