However, when an executive asks, “How can tech and data help us to drive digital subscriptions and improve retention,” they aren’t asking about digital storytelling. They are asking about funneling more users into the payment process, managing customer engagement, and the like. They are talking about digital marketing in one form or another. That is where media companies’ tech really fails. Most media companies have inadequate control over the data that is generated on their sites, and the companies that do have that control lack the technical capabilities needed to act on that data.
It’s true! I subscribe to three digital subscriptions of print media — The New Yorker, Lapham’s Quarterly, and The Kenyon Review — and all three experiences seem woefully antiquated (I receive more paper mailers from them than emails.)
I agree with Zack’s points on it being an issue that stems essentially from shipping your org chart, but the other thing it reminds me of is the lack of unifying technology across all media companies. This reared its head last decade with the advent of streaming, and the ultimate solution to the problem (the “problem” being getting a bunch of resource-strapped federated television companies to be able to competently build out a streaming platform) ended up being a productized consultancy spun out of the MLB:
BAM competes for clients with streaming tech companies like NeuLion and Imagine Communications, as well as big telecommunication outfits like Verizon. But, says Dan Rayburn, a streaming industry analyst, "there really isn’t anybody who does the true end-to-end solution like MLB does, especially at scale, out in the market."
This part from the above article rung true in particular:
"The thing about broadcast television is, today people probably think of it as stodgy old engineers with big beer bellies and a pocket protector," says Inzerillo. "But the truth is that there are a lot of things about the way they do it, the technology and the philosophy, that make it incredibly stable and scalable." Inzerillo set out to fuse those two worlds, creating a platform with the agility of a web startup and the reliability of a broadcast network.
All of the engineers involved are talented. Sometimes you just need someone with a six-figure retainer to come in and tell an org “no, you’ve got to organize it this way.” (Or maybe offer a Stripe Connect abstraction with a five-digit price tag, but it seems more likely that will come from someone like Substack moving upstream.)