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Why Mashable flamed out (digiday.com)
59 points by prawn 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments



Funny how everyone talks like Mashable lost to Techcrunch. Look up how much TC got acquired for, it's actually less than what Mashable got acquired for.

What REALLY happened was not that Mashable failed. It's that the entire journalism sector failed. Mashable is just a good mascot and sacrificial lamb because it's actually one of the most well known ones.

I say Mashable is a "mascot" because they represent exactly what's wrong with "journalism" nowadays. Instead of producing what people should read, they have shifted their focus onto:

1. What people will click (Memes, controversial topics, content about other people's misfortune) 2. What advertisers will pay more for (Video)

It's understandable because it's been a while since "content" became commoditized. Now media sites no longer can differentiate themselves with content anymore and they can't figure out how to, so they just do what makes them money in the short term.

This article also inevitably mentions Buzzfeed, which I think is what Mashable would have been if it didn't have to go through all the trial and error. Buzzfeed probably learned a lot from Mashable's mistakes and decided to go all in on "I don't care about quality, I'll give you what you want, just give us ad money".

But those who've been following the media landscape also know that that model's not been working out either (It's a good thing that it's not).

So my take is, they didn't flame out because of all these little reasons. They were just the symptoms. The real reason was because they have lost their soul. It's not only Mashable that flamed out, it's that the entire media industry that is flaming out, and OP's own publication will probably flame out too, if they keep writing crap like this (I personally think all publications that monetize off of someone else's misfortunes deserve to taste their own drug and die off too)

Oh, by the way, this is nothing new, and is definitely not just because of the Internet. If you read up on the history of the media itself, you'll realize this type of pendulum swing between "quality content" vs. "shallow, give people what they want in exchange for revenue" approaches have existed several times already.


> Funny how everyone talks like Mashable lost to Techcrunch. Look up how much TC got acquired for, it's actually less than what Mashable got acquired for.

Mashable raised $46m and sold for ~$50m. It was a fire sale. TechCrunch sold for ~$30m with the founder owning the majority of the stock.


You're thinking from the founder's perspective.

I was talking from the company valuation point of view.

More importantly, the whole point of my comment has nothing to do with who made how much. It's that everyone lost.


Techcrunch didn't lose. Michael Arrington, made a good amount of money from the sale at the time, unlike Mashable now.


> You're thinking from the founder's perspective.

> I was talking from the company valuation point of view

Man, kids nowadays, they don't even read before commenting. And it was only three lines. Was that so hard to read 3 lines right above?


I agree with you but HN is better off without these kinds of comments. Better to have people downvote and move on or just leave a short corrective note.


To be fair Buzzfeed takes a portfolio approach. One part makes all the money, which funds legitimate journalism (ex: their zenefits investigation)


Yup I'm aware. But you can't really fundamentally change the core value of your company no matter how you try.

I've seen a lot of "investigative journalism" pieces written by Buzzfeed designed to be controversial. There's a fine line between "let's investigate to let the public know what they really need to know" and "let's investigate to find all the dirty secrets of some successful organization or a person so that the public can publicly shame them and feel good about themselves while doing it".

To be fair, a lot of formerly reputable journalistic sources are doing the same thing, but Buzzfeed is the spiritual leader of this trend.

Which brings back to my main point--it's not a single publication, the entire media industry is rotting and eventually there will come a crash, which is a good thing, since from the ashes will arise quality.


True -- good points.

I remember a Hner mentioning once, "why are only conservatives willing to pay for their publications". It's an interesting point, really.


Where does this claim come ? Do they actually ? If so, I'd say it has to do with average age of conservatives vs "progressives".


This resembles what happens to tv channels, like History, Discovery, TLC, OLN, etc.

I'm not sure why the trend is to start off with strong good content and then eventually just end up with superficial, low quality garbage.


Applies to a lot of industries and areas. I suspect the reason is the constant endevour to increase profits every quarter and year eventually leads to a saturation stage where the only way to increase the bottom line is to start producing cheap crap and shove it down the users throats. Superficial low quality garbage actually is what the market wants too. Check out the top ten list of Netflix most watched shows. You wont find much critically acclaimed content there. Whats the highest selling Kindle book of all time? Fifty Shades of Gray. The only channel which has been really consistent in quality over the years has been HBO.


HBO is an interesting outlier in cable TV (and media creators in general). As you said, they have consistently been at the top of the heap in terms of quality even while reinventing their product and adapting to changing markets over the years.

I think that HBO’s secret has been having revenue directly tied to producing content people want (unlike most other TV channels), which in turn forced them to always have an evergreen source of that content (boxing fights, newly released movies). That stuff is their “Buzzfeed” side that gives them the ability to ride out lean times and come out with their next big thing, like The Sopranos or Game of Thrones (their “Buzzfeed News” side).

If they didn’t have the consistent money makers and a revenue strategy that rewards it, they would long ago have had a business hiccup and been taken apart for spare parts ala most other TV channels.

There are a lot of places trying to emulate HBO now in the prestige content game. What I’m interested to see is if any of them (especially Netflix) can follow the HBO playbook over the next 10-20 years or if they all descend into mediocrity in the pursuit of growth.

And it’s always possible that HBO fails at their own game and gets replaced too.


Insightful post.

I so wanted you to end it with...

But... "it's all in the game."


As someone who is educating oneself in journalism in hopes to ride the "pendulum" toward "quality content" of the likes you speak of, what do you imagine are the next steps? How can one contribute right now for a better journalistic future?

Is this the stage where all of the "shallow" players fall while "quality" players begin to rise? If so, using what model, as advertising, in its current form, is an insidious factor? Will advertising need to change first? How will quality content creators reach people and make a living once the pendulum swings full?

I find it hard to see. During my recent experience at Thanksgiving dinner, memes seem to have reduced some people's thoughts to a base level. I do hold hope as I believe, as you do, this is cyclical, but the stage is vastly different than it was in the past.

edit: themselves/oneself


> what do you imagine are the next steps?

At the moment, its very difficult for people to disassociate "brands" of the parent company with the writers.

For example, I've seen John Kasich write for the Washington Post Opinion pages. But most people expect Washington Post to be a liberal outlet.

Moving forward, a journalism outpost needs to recognize what their power is:

1. The ability to collect opinions from people that matter. Celebrities are a safer testbed: she said / he said gossip columns are necessary to develop the techniques and hierarchy of the brand... but such drivel is often times seen as "non-intelligent". The brand needs to disassociate itself from "drivel" yet still allow it.

"Twitter", for all its faults, manages to do this perfectly. No one blames Twitter for specific viewpoints. Other networks (such as Reddit, 4chan, or Facebook even) have accusations of bias levied regularly against them.

2. People attach themselves to Journalists and Editors these days. Not to papers or organizations. People don't respect "The Washington Post" so much as they respect "Robert Costa". Similarly, no one says they trust "Fox News", but a lot of people trust "Chris Wallace". See the difference?

3. This suggests that a Patreon model which champions specific journalists would work out better in this day and age. The journalists need to create personalities so that the readers can feel like they're connected with them more.

-------------

It means that moving forward: "Journalists" become personalities who deliver the news. These personalities are collected by a neutral-feeling entity and people are willing to funnel money directly to the personality (see Patreon).


> 2. People attach themselves to Journalists and Editors these days. Not to papers or organizations. People don't respect "The Washington Post" so much as they respect "Robert Costa". Similarly, no one says they trust "Fox News", but a lot of people trust "Chris Wallace". See the difference?

This simply doesn't ring true. What about when David Pogue and Katie Couric went to Yahoo News? Or when Nate Silver left the NYT? Or when Mossberg/Swisher set up Recode? The audience largely didn't follow. People trust brands and institutions, even when they say they don't.


> For example, I've seen John Kasich write for the Washington Post Opinion pages. But most people expect Washington Post to be a liberal outlet.

LOL...most conservatives I know consider Kasich to be a liberal ;)


As the saying goes, history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes.

Which means this won't be exactly the same of course, but something will change.

People liking trash content is nothing new. It used to be TV in the old days, but now replaced with the Internet. If you compare the two, the stupid internet memes may actually be "better" than the passive consumption of TV content, since nowadays you're consuming AND creating content, so it's not 100% passive anymore.

That said, human nature won't change, so we will keep consuming shit content no matter what happens. And this is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about organizations that capitalize on this will die off.

Lastly, if you look around it's not so difficult to find "quality" content nowadays. Just go to Youtube and search for whatever niche topic you're interested in learning more about and you'll find at least a few good quality video.


Risking an opinion here, since I am in no way expert on that area, I'd say you have to change advertising first.

Maybe pay walls work long term, but it is certainly hard to get out of the ground with one. There is no way to become known without publishing on the open. There is a Linux development bulletin that has a mixed model of a pay wall, but anybody with a direct link gets to see the article. I don't think it's viable to start with such model anymore either.

Intuitively, it feels like there is some advertising value that can only be delivered by quality oriented journalists. If that is the case, you will have to detect that niche and run after the advertisers one by one. Since there is practically no quality-oriented journalism out there (and there haven't been for a long time) it is hard to point at any model, or even to discover if that niche in fact exists.


> Is this the stage where all of the "shallow" players fall while "quality" players begin to rise?

I think this is super-optimistic. I think the result of this stage will be further consolidation, demands for even higher margins due to a lack of competition, and even lower quality content.


> it's that the entire media industry that is flaming out, and OP's own publication will probably flame out too, if they keep writing crap like this (I personally think all publications that monetize off of someone else's misfortunes deserve to taste their own drug and die off too)

DigiDay is read by publishing / media / AdTech executives and generally people trying to build profitable business models around advertising, so Mashable's demise is likely to have been of immediate interest to these people.


There was a period for me around 2008 where Mashable was one of my go-to sites for tech news. It was like a more fun, less grumpy version of TechCrunch. And then over time I read it less and less, until one day I realized that my Facebook feed was a good 60% non-tech click bait posts from Mashable. I unliked their page, and that was the end of my relationship with them.

The problem was that I think they were always a bit me too in their coverage from the start. Even in their tech news days, they were never quite on top of startup news like TechCrunch. It's not a surprise that they also got lost chasing after BuzzFeed as well.


TheVerge has been following down that path for a while, too, ever since they decided they need to follow "tech pop culture" or something.

I used to be daily on that site, now it's more like whenever I randomly see one of their popular posts on Reddit (which is rather rare these days).


Agreed.

"This Is My Next" had more quality articles in its short run than The Verge has had in any given month.


I have to say I'm happy Mashable failed. I used to visit Mashable regularly. 95% of my visits would originate from Facebook; mainly memes, click bait and other time wasters but it got me through the boring times at work or on the toilet. They always had ads but never enough to annoy me or get in the way.

The years went on and then I started to notice the ad technique of displaying lists as a slideshow on multiple "pages". Followed by the modal popups "Sign up to our newsletter" on every visit. Followed by the site simply not functioning on a mobile. I even tweeted about that one, [0] which incidentally was my last tweet about them (and probably the last time I visited them).

[0] https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Am4tthumphrey%20mashable&...


I just remember when they used to cover API mashups. Like this: http://mashable.com/2009/10/08/top-mashups/

That's where the name came from. Used to visit them a lot in those days.


I think the reason they failed is because there is a disconnect between a media site and VC funding. VC funding means scaling - and media is challenged to do that and do it consistently. Some businesses just aren't geared for VC funding. There are naturally examples in media that show it can sometimes work, but that's the exception rather than the rule in my opinion.


"10 reasons why..."

That's why they failed.


Are you sure it's not because of "this one weird trick..."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_weird_trick_advertisements


Wow harsh newsletter sign up pop up. That's not cool.


>>At its peak, the company had more than 300 people and was in seven countries, including the U.K., India and Australia.

They could have been very successful but I guess wanted to become a unicorn...


Most properties that get bought up by Ziff Davis just sort of go there to die, don't they?


They failed because they increasingly took a political tone and pressed on alienating everyone center to right. You can't lose 50% of the possible audience and continue on.


> You can't lose 50% of the possible audience and continue on.

I don't know that I believe this. Isn't it standard advice to go with a product that 50% of the market is excited about instead of one that 100% is indifferent about? Aren't Breitbart and Fox News doing very well for themselves alienating the other 50% of the audience?


Do you have a source for 50% of their traffic going away and that this was driven by center/right people leaving?




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