The Aud Dev Digest / August 10, 2021

Do we really want to talk about this stuff?

Samantha Zabell
3 min readAug 10, 2021

I am feeling existential dread/internet ennui lately, which you may not see reflected in the below things. But it’s there, and I feel like sometimes writing about this is so pointless when the world is on fire (this tweet was like a gut punch). But, I suppose, routines bring us a sense of calm and control, two things I am very much seeking this week. 🙏 So I will acknowledge that there is a lot of pain and chaos and uncertainty in the world, and also acknowledge that the job I set out to do each week is talk about the innovative work happening in audience development. Let’s start.

1️⃣ I loved this proposal for a customizable inbox. I’ve plugged Mark Stenberg’s Medialyte before, but it’s that good—thoughtful, timely, and unique! It’s not a “welcome to the era of email” email. It’s a genuinely interesting idea for readers to tell publications/people not just what they want to read but also how often they want to read it. As inbox fatigue sets in, getting the cadence just right is going to be crucial.

Right now, newsletters are a great tool for building habit, but the reader has to conform to the cadence of the newsletter. For a much stickier product, that dynamic should be reversed: Users should be able to personalize when and what they receive based on what best fits their schedule.

Not that this will be invented tomorrow, but it offers food for thought for those looking to launch new email products. Substance is key, but timing is more important than ever.

2️⃣ All the platforms look the same now. Kaya Yurieff does really great work covering the creator economy at The Information, and shared this chart comparing features across the major social networks:

At first glance, I was disappointed and frustrated by this chart. If everything is the same, then a publication or creator must be everywhere, which is essentially nowhere. If you’re spreading yourself across too many platforms, you don’t have the time/energy to do the more effective and important work of building audience and relationships. But then I thought: If the platforms all have the same tools, why be on all of them? This could be a relief for audience editors, if they can get newsrooms to listen. (Caveat: This idea holds true mostly for nicher publications; I think general interest papers and magazines still need to court large audiences across demos, who naturally use different platforms).

If Instagram allows for longform, shortform, and live video, plus photo sharing and affiliate linking, then why be anywhere else? Why not target all content for that platform and focus all efforts there, if you know the demo matches your needs? Same goes for YouTube, or TikTok, or even Pinterest (they tested video a while ago, I think it will come back). Before, we had to be in multiple places because you couldn’t do everything on one site. But with the multitude of ways the platforms become one, it means that audience editors can finally become one, too. One audience, one platform, one focus.

3️⃣ I am incredibly unclear on what makes Puck so innovative and different than other media/news startups. That is not meant to be as derisive as it sounded—I genuinely don’t understand. I am surprised that in 2021 people are still launching media things without a clear differentiator — especially in the news space.

On its landing page, Puck says it’s a media company covering “power, money, & ego.”

So like — Vanity Fair meets The Cut meets The Information? I guess maybe it’s The Information for a very special type of New York media-entertainment insider? Though apparently it’s “at the nexus of Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington, and Silicon Valley,” so maybe it’s beyond media? I don’t know, I don’t get it. Can someone explain it better and why we need it?

And the tweet of the week is from Gabby Fernandez at LA Times, and it made me smile at my computer on an otherwise unsmiling screen week:



Samantha Zabell

Audience development strategist, previously at Medium, Time Inc., Real Simple