Layoffs at Vox, Hires at The Atlantic, Ecommerce Success at GQ

Vox Announces Layoffs, Scales Back Social Video

Vox Media announced it was cutting 50 employees (or about 5% of its workforce), shuffling 12 or so more into new positions, and generally scaling back its social video efforts. Over the last two years or so, Vox had grown its video production team substantially and seemed to be having great success in growing its YouTube audience, but it wasn’t one of those companies that had gotten caught up in that “pivot to video.” That is, Vox Media leadership had been wary of going hard in video at the expense of the written word. So what happened? Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff cited Facebook’s news feed algorithm changes (or rather, “industry changes over the last few months”). Vox video audience was growing regardless, he said in a memo, but those “industry changes” didn’t bode well for continued audience and revenue growth, which called for a rethinking of strategy. From an outside perspective, it sounds like a premature move—Vox video had reportedly done better on YouTube than on Facebook anyway—but maybe there’s more to the story than Bankoff is letting on at the moment and the company is staying ahead of the ball. Or it could be that producing quality video costs a good chunk of change upfront in staffing and resources, and formats like text and podcasts cost less. Vox people have been firing off warnings about the high cost of pivoting to video for a while now.

The Atlantic Is Hiring in Editorial

Meanwhile, The Atlantic announced they’ll be hiring nearly 100 heads in editorial over the next year. That’s a pretty unusual step for a news media company these days, but Atlantic leadership cited 25% year over year increase in website visits and a 13% increase in subscriptions. The company is also enjoying an investment from Emerson Collective, the philanthropic org headed up by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs himself. Emerson Collective holds a majority stake in The Atlantic now (and reportedly the org has had conversations with BuzzFeed, too, about providing them some financial backing). So with this wind in their sails, The Atlantic’s President, Bob Cohn, has announced they’re planning to ramp up coverage of politics, entertainment, tech and more, on all fronts (including print, video, digital/text, audio, and events).

Gothamist, Killed Off by One Wealthy Backer, Revived by Two More

So, in other words, growing your audience is fine, but a wealthy patron can really sweeten the pot. Another case in point: Gothamist, LAist, DCist and DNAInfo have been acquired by public radio stations in their respective local markets (WNYC in New York, KPCC in Pasadena, and WAMU in D.C.). The deal was underwritten by two anonymous donors who ponied up an undisclosed sum of money. The Gothamist/DNAInfo sites were popular with their audiences for their coverage of local news—both for their speedy reporting and their editorial flavor. When DNAInfo’s billionaire CEO Joe Ricketts shuttered the websites in November, seemingly in retaliation to the staff’s move to unionize, it felt like a death in the family to many news junkies in their markets. The news that they’re being revived (Gothamist, LAist and DCist will resume publishing, while DNAInfo’s archives will be maintained without new content being published to the site) was met with much rejoicing here in New York. But you have to wonder: Is this what the business model of media is coming to—super-rich activist backers using media companies in a proxy thumb-wrestling match?

Ecommerce Business Is Good for GQ

AdExchanger took a look at Condé Nast’s commerce business, specifically the level of engagement with “product-related content” on GQ (users who spend time with that content spend more time on the site and are more likely to return than those who don’t). Condé has experienced something of a learning curve with commerce—AdExchanger’s Alison Schiff wrote that one of the big takeaways has been, “It doesn’t necessarily work when the publisher creates the content and sells the stuff.” Condé ditched its own ecommerce platform last year and instead partnered with London-based fashion e-tailer Farfetch. But GQ’s site and newsletter both have options for users to click through and shop for products, and the engagement numbers suggest GQ might have cracked some kind of code, which could lead the way for ecommerce efforts on other Condé properties.

Big Brands Bite Into Blockchain

And, this week in blockchain: AT&T and Bayer are among the large brands turning to blockchain solutions to provide transparency to the ad supply chain. AT&T cited its involvement in programmatic as a factor for turning to blockchain, and Bayer cited its move to address its agency and vendor contracts. Both companies have signed on with blockchain platform Amino Payments, which is integrated with AppNexus and Dstillery.