All Hail Flipboard?

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After the brouhaha that got kicked up over my comments about Flipboard last week, I had an initially somewhat awkward but eventually very pleasant conversation on Tuesday with Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard, who wanted to discuss what he thought I missed in my post on Flipboard, Google Currents and other comparable products.

As I noted earlier, you can’t eat ‘reach’. And McCue seemed to agree. No publisher can subsist on exposure and hype or any of the other things that disguise themselves as things you can build a business on. So why are publishers like TPM supposed to be on Flipboard?

McCue’s basic argument was this: He says they’re already delivering sizable ad dollars to their top publishers – ones that tend to be large in the first place, brands that are large enough that they can effectively sell ads against, etc. According to McCue, the full page swipe type ads they’re selling are getting CPMs (the basic unit in which digital ads are priced) comparable to print (i.e., dramatically higher than most digital publications are able to command.)

I have no way of confirming any of this but also have no reason to doubt it. But the key is this is all still the big premium publications. Not medium or small outfits like TPM – notwithstanding the fact that lots of medium and small outfits are on the platform.

But McCue says they’re currently working on a new product/sales channel that will be able to scale that success down to smaller, more boutique publishers. Publishers like TPM.

Not yet. But soon.

He says they’re also working on ways of allowing publications to use their subscription authentications through Flipboard. So for instance, maybe we’d have Flipboard access as a feature for Prime members.

Flipboard’s business certainly doesn’t depend on TPM. But what I told him was that if and when these new features or monetization routes become available we’d probably come right back. There are always issues of scale, internal resources, rates and so forth. But in principle, that sounds great. Not surprisingly, revenue in exchange for content is a significantly different proposition than no revenue in exchange for content.

So the upshot is that this was great to hear and it made me think we might be able to work with Flipboard in the future. But it didn’t fundamentally change or alter anything I said in my original post, which – to be crystal clear – was never really directed at Flipboard as opposed to Currents or half a dozen other similar products but rather at the business proposition these entities currently provide to publishers.

If McCue can produce what he says they’re working on it could be great for Flipboard and good for publishers too. We’ll wait and see.

For us, all of it comes down to the same thing.

To serve our readers, we are focused on building closely monitored, granularly understood revenues streams tied to every experience reading TPM content. That’s how we can pay our staff who produce what we publish every day. That is how we plan to progressively raise salaries for our existing staff and bring in new people to continuously improve the product, the experience, we provide. It’s nothing more than basic old fashioned business practices applied in our space and it’s what has put TPM in the best shape we’ve been in financially in a number of years.

We’re a very small fish in a vast ocean. That has some drawbacks. But it also has a few advantages. One big one is that we don’t even try to buck the trends in the broader digital news economy. Bigger outfits try; we can’t. Seneca says fate leads the willing and drags the unwilling. Being small gives us the gift of realism and because of that it often allows us to move more quickly. We try to understand the trends as quickly as we can and plan ways we can prosper within them. That’s what was behind our refocus on 3rd party advertising more than 18 months ago as we saw the increasing bifurcation of what had been the direct ad sales space. It also informed our realization that all of the optimizing services radically underperform the ‘by hand’ optimization that is possible with a dense understanding of traffic analytics.

This post is mainly aimed at people who follow the digital news economy and related tech and sales spaces. But for our readers, we focus on this everyday because this is how we can bring you what we publish every day while remaining a growing, vibrant, and – critically – editorially and financially independent operation.

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