Food52, NY Magazine, online advertising challenges, & more

With online advertising only getting tougher, perhaps the future of media is represented by Food52 – a hybrid publisher and e-commerce retailer. Read on for my takes on this and other culture-tech stories…

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. TCG Buys Majority Stake in Food52 for $83 Million 🍲

The Wall St Journal reports:

“Founded in 2009 by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, veteran food journalists who worked for the New York Times, Food52 offers recipes and home-improvement tips as well as selling its own products to online shoppers. Two of its top sellers are an apron with built-in potholders ($45) and a double-sided cutting board with an extra-deep juice-trough ($59).

[…]Food52 is among a crop of media companies that make much of their revenue from e-commerce—both by selling their own products online and by referring their readers to online retailers like Inc. to buy other products.”

My take: What’s interesting about this news is that Food52 started out as a media business, but turned into a full-scale e-commerce business. The convergence of content and commerce is a growing trend, particularly in the direct-to-commerce (DTC) retail industry. What better way to build an audience organically for your product than to hook them first with media content they can get passionate about. The media brand builds customer loyalty, which (if you play your cards right, as Food52 have done) translates to product sales later.

  1. New York Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief on sale to Vox 📰

As noted in Friday’s Weekly Wrapup, last week the leading digital media company Vox acquired New York Magazine. Since then there have been several interviews and think pieces about the news, such as this one from Folio:

One departure [EIC] Haskell has made in his first six months has been reorganizing the features department to better enable digital publication of the types of deeply researched, occasionally explosive long-form pieces the print magazine has become known for.

Haskell describes it as prioritizing ambition, affording the digital newsroom more freedom to produce deeper dives with a more collaborative editorial process—more or less mirroring the existing workflow on the print side—and allowing the print product to serve as a showcase of the magazine’s best work, rather than the engine that drives it.

“As the digital expression of our magazine continues to evolve, it has to be generating those features itself and not just relying on the print magazine to create them,” he says.

My take: Print is increasingly being used to showcase online material, rather than the other way round in earlier eras of the Web. I also liked David Haskell’s terminology, “digital expression of our magazine,” suggesting that New York Magazine’s brand is now an amalgam of digital and print. Again, this is a change from prior years, where the website was typically seen as a mere add-on to the main (print) brand. Although as we’ve seen with other magazine brands, print will be the format that gets the chop if financial difficulties arise within New York Magazine or Vox.

  1. Online advertising technical challenges for publishers 💰

As noted in a recent subscriber newsletter, publishers are struggling to adapt to an online advertising market dominated by two big tech companies (Google and Facebook). But as two new articles state, publishers also have to deal with “fake news” and enforced new tracking technologies.

  • How ad tech companies fund misinformation; Poynter

  • Unintended consequences of the shift from third-party to first-party cookies; Digiday

As Digiday notes on the latter:

“Publishers, ad tech vendors, and agencies are all scrambling to figure out how to leverage first-party cookie-based models which can seriously reduce their reliance on the third-party cookie — a future that’s now critical to future survival thanks to data-privacy regulatory pressures and the anti-tracking path taken by the browsers.”

My take: First-party cookies are stored by the domain (website) you are visiting directly, whereas third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one you are visiting directly (definition by Clearcode). The main limitation of first-party cookies is that they can be read only when the user is visiting the domain, which means they can’t be used for advertising purposes on other websites. But as the Digiday article makes clear, this won’t stop Google and Facebook tracking you across other websites if you’re logged into their identity systems (which many of us are, practically all the time). So once again, the burden of online advertising changes falls on indie publishers – and not the big tech platforms.

  1. Minecraft Earth “couldn’t have been made two years ago” 🎮

In late 2014, Microsoft acquired the enormously popular game Minecraft for a reported $2.5 billion. has an interview with game director Torfi Olafsson and principal program manager Jessica Zahn about the current state of the game, and in particular its upcoming AR version.

“After our experiences with HoloLens, we were incredibly keen to bring Minecraft to the real world — not just to your table, but to your street corner, your park, the water fountain, and allow people to be completely immersed with it,” said Olafsson. “But it had a lot of technical and design challenges. And this particular game couldn’t have been made two years ago, let alone four years ago. There have been so many advances in the capabilities of mobile phones and cloud computing and visual computing in the past couple of years that the thing we are doing just became possible, which puts us at the bleeding edge of technology.”

My take: The inspiration here is clearly from Pokémon Go, with its focus on location-based play and AR. But the Minecraft executives say it will be much better scaled, thanks to Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure. I think it sounds amazing and it’ll be interesting to see if this AR version of Minecraft becomes as popular as Pokémon Go. The new game is currently in a closed beta, but will be released “into early access in select countries this October.”

Data Points 📊

  • 2019 Infinite Dial Study: Podcasts show explosive growth, drive subscriptions, and ad revenue to cross $1B in 2021 🎧

  • Marketing Charts: Cord-Cutting Shows No Sign of Slowing Down 📺

  • SensorTower: Top Grossing SVOD Apps in the U.S. for August 2019 📹

  • PublishersWeekly: Pew Survey Finds More Adults Listening to Audiobooks 📚

  • Hypebot: Global Live Music Ticket Sales To Top $25B By 2023 🎹

Tweet of the day 🐦

Rafat Ali notes that media content is “the flytrap” for Food52:

That’s the Monday update, hope you found it useful! Your early support of Cybercultural is much appreciated. 🙏