‘People who suck at media use the duopoly as an excuse’: Highlights from the Digiday+ member event with Dotdash and Bustle

Digiday+ held an exclusive member event on May 23 featuring a rapid-fire discussion between Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel, Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg and Digiday Editor-in-Chief Brian Morrissey. Below are snippets from the event, lightly edited for clarity and length. Join Digiday+, Digiday’s premium membership program, for invites to future events.

What’s one thing you know to be true that most people don’t?
Neil Vogel: The narrative that publishing and digital media is fundamentally broken — that is false. What people are seeing now is the result of a series of bad decisions.
Bryan Goldberg: The narrative is everything right now is super shitty. That’s because if you are a digital media company, there is no one to buy you. Right now, the major media and television companies are going to acquisition hell. Once these companies go through the most painful merger and acquisition market, things could change.

Does Facebook need publishers to keep people on Facebook?
Goldberg: BuzzFeed was representative of why people liked Facebook in 2015 with their fun quizzes and lists. Right now, the current administration has made Facebook a very combative place to be. My employees see me arguing with my dad over niche foreign policy issues. No one wants that. It needs content people like. Everything worth talking about is very combative and makes people unhappy.

Are more fire sales to come in digital media?
Vogel: Any company that says it’s a tech company, that’s really a media company, short that company right now. Venture-backed companies are expecting venture-backed returns. That’s not this business.

Is relying on Google just as dumb as relying on Facebook?
Vogel: I hope not, or we’re in deep trouble. If you can help them answer queries, then you’re fine. If you can’t, then you’re not fine. If you doing anything programmatic you rely on Google. They own every part of the ad tech stack. Google is a monopoly on every state of our business. It’s a state of the business, it’s not a choice.

Will the pivot to paid fail for most publishers?
Vogel: Dotdash will never succeed with a paywall — not because we don’t have great content, but because there are a lot of people writing about similar things. It’s going to be really hard for publishers without passionate audiences to do well. There is huge rotation away from anything with to do with the Trump administration. We are seeing a huge pivot by consumer packaged goods companies to brands like Dotdash because we are safe.
Goldberg: I think The New York Times has made a mistake calling itself a subscription-first business. It’s not a subscription business. But what it has done is built a subscriber echo chamber. It’s very anti-administration, and they are now charging people a fair subscription rate, and building content that feeds that echo chamber. They have a great ad sales team. Its not the execution for why their ad sales are declining — it’s the product. Extremist content scares away advertisers. There are lot of big Fortune 500 companies who are not going to want to be next to the content on The New York Times.

Is relying on display advertising for the majority of your revenue in 2018 insane?
Vogel: If you go out and lead with a content studio, you’re crazy. Internet advertising is going up; the duopoly is not getting all of it. It’s not insane.
Goldberg: People who suck at media use [the duopoly] as an excuse for why they suck at media.

Will publishers profit from Snapchat?
Goldberg: [Snapchat] has bottomed, and it’s been a humbling bottom. You do not want to give up on Snapchat. Snapchat does not want to give up on publishers. Things that will help Snapchat is tapping into sales forces of publishers. Our sellers know how to sell our content.
Vogel: [Snapchat] is a curated platform. There’s real value in that. It’s not a dumping ground. In the long term, Snapchat will be very valuable to publishers.


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