Killing the Paywall

Tom Goodwin’s recent article, “Why making content on the internet free was our biggest mistake… and how to fix it” is required reading for all marketers in publishing. I’ve felt this way for a long time. Mr. Goodwin only wrote it far more eloquently than I could have.

In the late ’90s I was working for a publishing company running a ~$100 million line of business. I got the task of speaking to all the Dotcom 1.0 folks (remember PointCast?) who were trying to convince us to give our content away for free. Because of “eyeballs, man.” Their plan was to get their COGS down to zero, by fooling us into giving them the raw material for their business.

My company could never figure out a business model in giving away our valuable content. So we never played the dotcom game. But we were fascinated by all the companies, including venerable names such as the New York Times, which were giving away their content. We wondered why anybody would pay if they could get it for free on the internet.

It turns out that, to date, we were right.

The outcome was worse than any of us could have predicted. We’ve built a system that’s gutted our society of proper journalists and editors. We’ve replaced those journalists with rooms full of algorithm-driven galley slaves, serving up clickbait, listicles, and low-rent junk appealing to our most base instincts. And the Silicon Valley crew has spread the propaganda that digital advertising (whatever that is) is somehow better than wasteful public media.

As expected, the marketing industry–one of magpies–bought into the delusion, dragging the big spenders in the advertising world into the digital delusion. As a result, two industries were damaged and possibly mortally wounded: publishing, and advertising.

There might be a glimmer of hope, as Mr. Goodwin suggests.

The first part of that is killing the term “paywall.”  The term implies that you’re blocking something. In reality, the payment is a sign of quality. That the content is indeed worth something. That it was created by somebody who did the hard work of creating something worthwhile.

I don’t have a term to replace “paywall” that I’m willing to share yet. But it’s going to be the marketers to do the work of convincing a lost generation that information doesn’t want to be free. (Only Zuckerberg wants to get it for free, to sell your attention to the highest, shadiest bidder.) Proper marketing will explain the value of quality content to a lost generation and build the business models that will make it work financially.

I know it can work. There are glimmers of hope. The New York Times added 197K new customers last quarter, a 81% YoY increase. 3.8 million people pay for their digital products now, including me.

It seems some people are peeking out of their social media-induced rabbit holes, looking for something more than a Buzzfeed list or celebrity toe fungus articles. Take the opportunity to build something better, before we lose journalism and publishing forever to the likes of PewDiePie.

Marketers: If the Times can do it, you can do it. You just have to try, because it won’t be easy.

Posted in digital marketing, Leadership, Marketing, Media, Strategy, Tactics | Tagged , , , ,


It’s pitch black, 00:16 hours and you’ve just crash-landed near Caen. You’re in hostile territory, lost, and some of your comrades are already dead and wounded. You’re just 20 years old and have never been in combat.

So began D-Day 75 years ago.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like.

Over 180,000 young men jumped, landed, or waded into Europe to remove the evil and tyranny that gripped much of the continent for so many years.

Those young men didn’t consider themselves heroes. They were there to do a job that needed to be done. They hoped that when the job was done, they would go home to begin their lives.

Some never made it.

We should never forget this day, nor those who did their job. I won’t.

The post above is a slightly edited version of the one I published on D-Day in 2014.

Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , , , ,

USPS 3685 and the State of Marketing

Sometimes reading the USPS-required Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation (form 3685) can reveal a lot about the state of one’s industry.

As a direct marketing and postal junkie, I find USPS forms fascinating. (I don’t get out much.)

I was looking up something about Net Promoter Score recently, and re-read Byron Sharp’s takedown of Fred Reichheld’s shoddy work behind NPS from the Winter 2008 issue of Marketing Research. The most recent form 3685 was printed on page 28. Note the the total distribution of 4,164 copies. I think the circulation has only gotten smaller.

Imagine how many people read research publications–full of boring math–versus those that watch GaryVee videos, which are supposedly about marketing. Any wonder our industry is in its current state?

Takeaway: Be the former and read primary research. Ignore charlatans like GaryVee and Shingy.  And win.

Posted in Data, Education, Marketing, Strategy | Tagged , , ,

First Mile Problems

I was recently interviewed by Tim Furey, CEO of MarketBridge, on The Last Mile Podcast. Among our discussion of SAC, CAC, LTV, ROI, other three-letter acronyms, we also spent time on “first mile” marketing problems.

As a practicing performance/direct response marketer, I’ve always first asked myself or my clients a few strategic, or “first mile” questions. Questions like:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What is your allowable?
  • What is your objective with this campaign, product launch, etc?
  • What does success look like?

I’ve had senior product managers, or product marketing leads respond with blank stares when I ask these questions. As a classically-­trained direct mail (OK–I’m a “junk mail” guy), I learned to start with the allowable. Knowing unit economics and fixed or overhead costs, won’t guarantee a winning campaign or new channel test. But at least you won’t be in the situation of losing money on every sale, but making it up in volume.

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Posted in Direct Response, Marketing, Media, Philosophy, Rants, Strategy, Tactics | Tagged , , ,

At the End

For years my policy when I was sick was that if I could get vertical, I went to the office. One time, about twenty years ago, I got into the office just fine. I then spent the next two hours mustering the strength to get into the car to go back home to bed. It was obviously a flawed personal policy, that came out of duty to my job.

I’ve spent the last couple of days fighting the flu–wisely, from my bed–and handling enormous grief in our family at the loss of my brother-in-law on Sunday. To not be able to console my wife for fear of getting her sick troubles me terribly. The possibility of being unable to attend my brother-in-law’s service to pay proper respect to a great man left me sleepless last night.

On Saturday my sister-in-law advised us that he wouldn’t have long to live. When we arrived at the hospital, we found family and friends, in various stages of grief and numbness. There wasn’t anything any of us could do, only offer support.

No CEO or executive from one of the companies he worked for was there. No demanding client that he gave up holiday time with family. No former bosses who expected him to drag himself into work sick. Only family.

Now how important is that meeting or Powerpoint again?

When my brother-in-law passed away early Sunday, his wife was by his side. I hope to be as lucky. Godspeed, John.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged | 3 Comments

Buy direct

There’s only one correct way to buy ads, and that’s direct from the publisher. If you buy any other way you’ll pay too much in adtech tax or get scammed buying something that’s not what you think it is. Probably both.

Posted in digital marketing, fraud, Media | Tagged ,

Ads on blogs

I just had a chance to check my blog. Here’s the type of quality ad that gets served on blogs like mine.

Do you know if the creative is automatically generated by some brilliant AI? Or have you ever really looked at your site transparency report? If not, why not?

Fun idea: Do the above at an impromptu meeting with your CEO and CFO. At least you’ll get to spend more time with your family over the holidays!

Posted in digital marketing, Direct Response, Marketing, Media, Tactics | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Ads back on temporarily

I just turned the WordPress WordAds monetization tool back on. Doing a little test.

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2.8 billion years of evolution, down the drain

Someday, as expressed in this article by Shelly Palmer, AI and technology will be so good it will be impossible to tell truth from fakes. In other words, we won’t be able to trust our eyes and ears any more.

That evolved skill of being able to tell reality from fantasy will be made redundant by silicon and some algorithms. “I’ll believe it when I see it” will become literally true.

We don’t use our ears and eyes when we buy digital advertising. Instead, we think we’re clever by using adtech algorithms to try to optimize (fancy jargon for outsmart) the opaque business that is ad buying.

Except your adtech team is team B, at best. It’s safer and smarter to assume that Team A–team ad fraud–is already using AI and machine learning to outsmart you. After all, they don’t even need to fool your eyes and ears. Only your second-rate ad tech.

Think I’m being overly critical? If you buy anything on any ad network, look at your site transparency report today. I mean really look at it.

Posted in fraud, Marketing, Media | Tagged , , , , , ,

The silence of the fake influencers and lack-of-thought leaders is deafening…

The Malcolm Auld Blog

Those who have read my missives or attended my seminars, are aware I’ve been calling out the online zealots and their snake-oil since the invention of the information superhighway. So here’s today’s polite rant.

The internet and all it brings, is one of the most positive developments in the marketing industry. Yet the industry has been infested with dodgy, dishonest and downright diabolical deceivers, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Though it’s been quite comforting to have a number of industry heavyweights step into the fray these last couple of years and join the cause for honesty and integrity in digital marketing.

But something struck me recently. Given the public revelation about the major players in the digital media landscape, and their lack of ethics around privacy, data usage and the real number of users, something was missing. To recap:

  • Facecrook – data dishonesty, deletion of almost…

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