Original content now ‘critical,’ Altas Obscura publisher says

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Original content now ‘critical,’ Altas Obscura publisher says


David Minkin, Publisher of Atlas Obscura

In commemoration of the JoongAng Media Conference, which marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the JoongAng Media Network, the Korea JoongAng Daily is running a series of interviews with major players in the media industry. The Know Way Out media
conference will be attended by worldclass experts in the media industry, including those interviewed beforehand. The conference, which will take place Monday at Dongdaemun Design Plaza Art Hall, will address the crises the media industry currently faces and suggest a
new path for the years ahead. -Ed.

In this technological age, as media companies find themselves under growing pressure to secure new sources of revenue amid a decline in newspaper readership, it has become ever more important for publishers to determine ways to entice potential audiences to their digital products.

David Minkin, the publisher of Atlas Obscura, is renowned in the industry for his expertise in drawing out the best of this shifting trend toward the digital age for media companies.

He is known for his success as a digital strategist for traditional publications like Forbes, The Economist and The Atlantic.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Minkin stated that the future of media is “obviously in digital,” and while revenues from direct online advertisements and online subscriptions are important, having native advertising as a revenue source “is critical.”

“The future of publishers,” he added, “is in original content.”

Q. Most newspaper companies in Korea can’t make do without advertising. A new dimension to this business model is necessary, though some doubt that paywall services are sustainable. Do you have any advice or recommendations for a new business model for Korean newspapers?

A. If I had a good answer, I’d probably be a very wealthy man! This is a difficult issue to resolve. The future is obviously in digital. And with the rise of ad blocking and the general deflation of CPMs because of over-supply, it makes sense to focus on alternate digital revenue streams beyond banners. Subscriptions could very well be a piece of the puzzle. But native advertising as part of the mix is critical.

News curation services like Huffington Post and scoop.it are being spotlighted in both Korea and the world market. And curators that can recreate and revitalize the value of existing content are being noticed. How is the growth potential for news curation services?

I can’t speak to these sites specifically, but I wonder about the future of aggregation. Most publishers receive a large percentage of their traffic from social media platforms, but these platforms are ultimately incentivized to reduce the amount of traffic they’re referring to publishers so that they can keep a user on the platform for longer. This is why you see Facebook and Apple now wanting to host content themselves. If referrals from platforms to publishers decline, can the market support a large number of sites that exist by primarily ggregating content? I’m not so sure. I think the future for publishers is in original content.

It seems we are currently absorbed by “tech journalism,” which simply concentrates on marketing and media format. The essence of journalism is missing. Are we just biased from a marketing perspective? What do you think?

I think there is a lot of great journalism being done. In fact, we’re in a golden age. But for every great piece of content, there’s probably 100,000 pieces of terrible content, which can make finding the great stuff difficult. That’s why platforms like This.cm and Nuzzel are so interesting to me — these platforms do a remarkable job at surfacing great content.

Can only short-form journalism meet consumer tastes? Video news and the Apple Watch Glance feature are very limited for long-form. Can good stories and lengthy articles attract readers in this digital era?

There is so much great long-form content right now. The Atlantic, Vox, Buzzfeed, The New York Times and a bunch of other publishers are producing oodles of excellent long-form pieces. Produce great content, and people will read it regardless of length — I’ve seen the analytics that back this up.

With an increase in news consumption through social media platforms, questions have arisen as to whether it will still be effective for media companies to invest in our web pages — many of which have seen reductions in traffic as more readers move to social media sites for their news. Should media companies still try to upgrade their sites amid these changes?

Homepages are dying. But obviously social platforms are huge. It’s important that as a publisher, you’re producing content for how people consume content today, not 10 years ago. That means publishing to Facebook, Instagram, etc… just as you’re doing. Buzzfeed has a whole team called Buzzfeed Distributed, which is dedicated to producing content that will never run on Buzzfeed.com — it’s content just for platforms. I think this is the way large publishers need to operate. These are actually all points I will cover in my presentation [at the JoongAng Media Conference].

What do you think about native advertisements?

I don’t think native advertising is really anything new — it’s simply an ad that’s in the same format as the content being consumed. And the data suggests that when done well, it can be very effective. It’s just important to make sure that content is at least as good as your editorial in terms of quality, that you’re open with your readers, that this content has been paid for and that the topic fits in with the type of content you’d publish editorially. Do these things, and make the production scalable, and I think it’s a great revenue model for a publisher.

What made you move to Atlas Obscura?

That’s a good question. The Atlantic is an amazing brand — I love everything about it. The content is second-tonone. But before I was at The Atlantic, I worked for a start-up I co-founded, Breaking Media (the parent company of abovethelaw.com, fashionista.com and
dealbreaker.com), and while I was at The Atlantic, I found myself missing the energy and the craziness of being in a start-up environment.

I have been friends with the founders of Atlas Obscura for a few years, and I have always been a fan of their content — it’s totally unique, and they’re really dong something special. I love the idea behind the site: We live on an amazing planet, and there are incredible things
all over the place — Atlas Obscura is the media company that will help you discover the wonder that’s everywhere. So, when the founders pitched me the publisher role, I jumped at it. I’m excited to build something here.

What do you do as publisher? Could you please tell us more about Atlas Obscura?

As the publisher, I’m responsible for revenue. So I’m trying to make sponsorship deals with every brand that may want to reach our audience of 25- to 34-year-olds — from Hyundai to Samsung and every brand in-between.

Atlas Obscura is a digital media and experience start-up about discovery, wonder and exploration of the world’s most surprising and amazing places — a kind of 21st century National Geographic.

Our users have created an online atlas of more than 10,000 places. We’ve got more than two million monthly readers, and we’re growing 20 percent per month. We also do expeditions and events all over the world.

More than 4,000 people participated in Obscura Day on May 30, during which we did more than 100 expeditions and events in 39 U.S. states in a single day.

BY HA SUN-YOUNG [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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