Tumblr thoughts, the future of social, Spotify for Podcasters, & more

Welcome Cybercultural subscribers. The acquisition of Tumblr by WordPress this week raised hopes that blogging is back. I’ll stick with email newsletters for now, but read on for my takes…

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. Verizon sells Tumblr to Automattic Inc, owner of WordPress ✏️

It was the big news of the week, although many media pundits were overly focused on the shockingly low price Tumblr was sold for this time (a reported $3 million to Automattic, compared to $1.1 billion to Yahoo in 2013). But a follow-up interview by The Verge with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg offered more useful information on the product side of the deal. This quote from Mullenweg in particular intrigued me:

“…there’s huge engagement. The people who love Tumblr use it every day. They have more daily active users than WordPress.com has monthly active users. They’ve really cracked a lot of the social side of it.”

My take: I’m a long-time user of WordPress and still use it to this day for my personal website, plus other recent sites I’ve run like Creator Interviews and Blocksplain. It’s an awesome online publishing tool, but the one aspect of WordPress I’ve never been impressed by is its social functionality. It’s too reliant on third party services and plugins like Gravatar and Sassy Social Share, which make the overall social user experience disjointed. The social aspects of WordPress.com – Automattic’s user-friendly, hosted version of WordPress – are also subpar. The “Reader” on wordpress.com is just awful. By contrast, everything on Tumblr is slick and just works. So I think this deal augurs well for both Automattic and WordPress users. Plus Tumblr of course, which couldn’t have asked for a better acquirer.

  1. Spotify for Podcasters comes out of beta 🎧

The Verge reported this week:

“The company is taking its Spotify for Podcasters dashboard out of a beta today, giving more podcasters a chance to see data like their listeners’ music taste, age, gender, location, and how long they listened to a particular episode. Apart from Apple, which offers some show analytics, this is the most detailed information podcasters likely have about their audience.”

My take: There was some kickback from Apple podcast fans, notably Marco Arment (the creator of an iOS app called Overcast, which I use; Arment was also, incidentally, a co-founder of Tumblr). Arment said that “Apple Podcasts already provides lots of data to all podcasters from their larger and more representative app.” Regardless of who’s right, podcasters should be grateful they get this level of detail about their listeners. Such data is hard to come by (or simply not released to creators, *cough* Netflix) in other cultural industries.

  1. Traditional TV Takes Pokes At Streaming Giants 📺

According to Broadcasting & Cable, Netflix was the target of TV network chiefs’ barbs at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California. I thought this comment was especially interesting:

The notion of a weekly release may seem archaic in the Netflix age, but some broadcasters said it works better for a series. “The conversation continues and continues and continues,” [CBS Entertainment senior executive VP of programming Thom] Sherman said of a broadcast release. “When you are on one of the other places, the conversation is very brief, and then people move on to other things until that show might come back.”

My take: Netflix is famous for dropping an entire series of a show in one go, so that people can “binge-watch” it over a few nights. But I think Sherman is right that a better way to build social conversation and engagement is to release a show weekly, under the traditional model. For example, I enjoyed the slow build and 18-week conversation in podcasts and online media around Showtime’s Twin Peaks in 2017. The latest season of Stranger Things could’ve benefited from that approach this year, because it felt (to me at least) that the conversation for it fizzled out pretty early.

  1. Singularity 6 secures $16.5 million to fund tech and game development 🚀

This funding news is interesting mainly because of who the lead investor was: Silicon Valley hotshots Andreessen Horowitz. One of its VCs, Andrew Chen, explained in a Twitter thread that the founders of Singularity 6 “came to us with an awesome vision: That the next big social paradigm will look more like a large-scale multiplayer immersive game, appealing to a huge audience, designed to be social from the ground up.” This tweet stood out to me:

My take: Of course nobody knows how the future of social will play out in the cultural industries, but I’m convinced too that it will be much more immersive than at present. With gaming being so popular now, and AR / VR still to fulfil its considerable promise, cultural organisations need to prepare for the world Chen describes. What’s also fascinating is how that will change the format of cultural content – will tv and movies be more of an “experience” in the future, than merely something to watch? We’ll see.

Data Points 📊

  • TDG via Marketing Charts: 73% of social network users say they engage with TV-related content on social platforms. 📺

  • Shorenstein Center: Newspaper publishers saw 90% drop-off of users once they enter the subscription process (presentation of offers and pricing choices). 🗞️

  • PublishersWeekly: Bookstore sales finished the first half of 2019 down 5.1% compared to the first six months of 2018. 📚

  • Newzoo: Fans watched 81.8m hours of the Fortnite World Cup across Twitch, YouTube; top streamers and official channels accounted for 85% of that. 🎮

  • Tubefilter: 50% of teens say they get their news from YouTube, while 54% said they get their news from other hubs like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 📱

Tweet of the day 🐦

Kate Leth does the math:

That’s the Friday update, hope you found it useful. See you next week! And once again, I really appreciate your early support of Cybercultural. 🙏