By boycotting, quitting Big Tech platforms, media companies gain control but lose conversions

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand

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What do The New York Times, Stuff, and Zetland have it common? Not much, you would think: The NYT is the largest subscription-based digital newspaper in the Western media market. Stuff is one of the largest news publishers in New Zealand. And Zetland is a small digital news publisher in Denmark.

They are very different, yet, they have all turned back from platforms that failed to deliver adequate income and freedom over their businesses.

Media companies are leaving and boycotting tech platforms for a variety of reasons. Photo courtesy: StopHateForProfit.org
Media companies are leaving and boycotting tech platforms for a variety of reasons. Photo courtesy: StopHateForProfit.org

When Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google launched their digital subscription services targeted at news publishers, many news publishers willingly signed for them. Facebook and Google dominate this market as they have more newspaper publishers partnering with them than the other two services.

Recently, some large media companies — including Disney — cut their advertising budget on Facebook as a part of the #StopHateForProfit campaign. But some others, as discussed here, left these platforms for other reasons.

In June, the NYT announced it was leaving Apple News because the company “had given it little in the way of direct relationships with readers and little control over the business.” According to Apple, it is not a big loss, for the NYT “only offered Apple News a few stories a day.”

Apple’s relationship with news publishers has been complicated for a long time. One of the reasons has been that it has taken a large cut — 30% — of any subscriptions sold on its Apple News app. This has been criticised by companies such as Schibsted, but some other publishers have hinted their relationships with Apple yield results. News Corp. CEO Robert Thompson, for example, said the company’s deals with Apple and Facebook were “beginning to yield financial dividends.”

In July, Stuff, which was recently bought by Sinead Boucher in a management buy-out, announced it was cooling its relationship with Facebook. In 2019, Stuff stopped advertising on Facebook after the deadly mosque attacks in Christchurch.

The company says it is ceasing all activity on Facebook and Instagram in a trial. Stuff has nearly 953,000 followers on its Facebook news page and 134,000 followers on Instagram. Stuff Editor-in-Chief Patrick Crewdson says that while this is an experiment, there is no fixed date to finish it. The publisher decided to pull out of Facebook because of the “various unhealthy things seen on Facebook such as fake news, hate speech, and fraudulent advertising.”

The trial gives Stuff a chance to determine its traffic flows from Facebook, and also the impact of this decision on the publisher’s overall revenue.

In July, Danish publisher Zetland also decided to quit Facebook and stopped advertising on the platform. According to Digiday, it has not suffered from this move. Zetland has a staff of 30, and its revenue model is based on membership. Currently, its 16,000 members are paying almost US$20 per month for its stories.

The move has not been easy, as “on a good month, Facebook has generated a third of new members for the small publisher.”

And this might be the problem: While news publishers keep wanting more control over their readers and businesses, getting rid of platform dependency is challenging. As we have seen, platforms don’t just drive traffic; they also can aid memberships and subscription conversion.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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