On the morning of May 10, The information published a fierce story about Gopuff, a very popular startup that competes in the strong “instant delivery” industry. The company, which was recently estimated at 15 billion dollars, is spending money and is struggling to raise new funds. Now its employees are openly wondering if its 29-year-old co-founders are in doubt.
A few hours later, Information published another article. But this was sent directly to some Gopuff employees: Would you like to subscribe to Information – so you can read other articles like the one he just published about their company?
“Since you work at COMPANY, we thought you might be interested in this exclusive feature at Gopuff,” read an automated marketing message, which probably meant replacing “COMPANY” with “Gopuff”. The email contained a link to the original work and an offer of a 25 percent discount for a one-year subscription to the Information, which typically costs $ 400.
Welcome to the second part of the subscription boom, a part rarely mentioned in many Substack stories and other subscription-based media startups: hard, arduous work that involves finding people who might want to pay for your stuff, stepping in front of them and getting them to take out your credit card.
And yes, in the case of Information, it can sometimes lead to sending information to people who work in companies you’ve just written tough stories about, says Jessica Lessin, the company’s founder and CEO.
“We deliberately reach out to people we think are interested in our articles,” using custom software to predict what kind of readers might be interested in the story, she told me. And that could certainly include people working for the company that Information just wrote about. “It’s like Netflix’s recommendations,” she said.
I think Lessin and her team will have plenty of opportunities to repeat Gopuff’s book in the coming months, assuming widespread predictions of a technology industry turnaround: easy investor money becomes scarce, once-wild spending companies become manic cost-cutting to former startup employees.
There are many examples in the Information of high-tech companies that quickly reconsider their plans, stop new hires, or even let people go while the market shrinks: Gorillas, Gopuff contestantlay off 300 people – about half of the staff at headquarters; Cameo, a once-vibrant company that lets you hire celebrities to create personalized videos, is laying off 25 percent of its staff; even Amazon is canceling plans to expand his warehouse warehouse.
Question for Information: Is technology withdrawal bad for business? Or is it an opportunity?
Lessin is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who launched Information in 2013 and has explicitly chosen to compete with the world’s most reputable business publications: the Financial Times, the New York Times and her former employer. Its staff of 50 routinely publishes results and timely analyzes that other publications must follow. (Revelation: I’m such a fan that I asked her and information reporter Wayne Ma to work with me on the recent Recode’s season A land of giants a podcast series about Apple.)
But as Lessin’s Gopuff fast marketing points out, running a successful subscriber business requires a lot of work. Simply typing something and hoping someone will pay you to read it is not a beginner. “One of the big differences between us and different news organizations is that we don’t just publish this article on the front page and we hope that people will find it,” she said.
Earlier in her career, Lessin was obsessed with the latest news; she is now preoccupied with figuring out how to attract paying subscribers. She tried all sorts of experiments: merging her publication with others, like Bloomberg; providing student discounts; allowing existing subscribers to recruit new blood by sending them free articles. She is also trying to spread the gospel about the media subscription model, an effort that includes “accelerator”A program for people trying to start their own subscription-based companies.
The person who sent me the informational Gopuff marketing email also added a troll comment for concern: What if Lessin spends her time chasing stories about shaky startups so she can sell them subscriptions?
But aside from the bad factor, I don’t care at all. The obvious truth about journalistic bias – one that routinely eludes critics across the spectrum – is that most journalists are biased in favor of new stories that people haven’t heard before. Right now, that will mean focusing on layoffs and cuts in a technology sector that has progressed to the right for more than a decade. But the more we see them, the less newspaper there will be.
Which is not to say that stories of layoffs and collapse are not attracting attention in the short term. When I worked for Insider CEO Henry Blodget in 2007, in what was then called Silicon Alley Insider, we had zero turnover at launch and months after.
It was then that Blodget received word that AOL – at the time, still a digital company that people cared about – would have significant layoffs. After he released it, traffic jumped, and much of it came from IP addresses in Dulles, Virginia – the headquarters of AOL at the time – and we responded by writing story after story about AOL. In theory, our publication covered the Internet business; true, for a while we were essentially an updated version of Fucked Company (look at that) for one company.
I do not see that the information has moved in that direction. Even if things get very gloomy in technology, there will still be many other things to write about. But if I get a customized email telling me that her staff has written a new story about Vox Media, I may have my own worries.