Big Tech in transition
Tech's next chapter is unclear
Thanks to everyone who wrote in after my two-year review post. I’m interested in getting more feedback about a future Rebooting membership – and please let me know if you’d be interested in invitations to upcoming Rebooting events. Finally, I have some open sponsorship slots coming up in December if anyone is looking to reach those building sustainable publishing businesses. Check out the sales kit and get in touch.
Big thanks to Omeda for sponsoring this week’s issue. If you’re looking to get a handle on your first-party data strategy, Omeda is a partner to check out. We’re also doing a lunch event next month in New York for publishers so let me know through the form if you’d like an invite.
Welcome to the first-party data era
The digital advertising industry is shifting. The demand for privacy protection is at an all-time high, with laws and data restrictions by Apple and Google forcing changes to the age-old challenge of getting the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. While much is unclear about the new rules of the road, it is clear that first-party data will play a central role. The challenge for all publishers is to lay the foundations for a sustainable data strategy that will allow them to benefit from these changes by using the trust they've built up with their audiences to understand them better. Omeda, the full-stack marketing technology platform for managing first-party data, has compiled a guide for publishers navigating this new environment, laying out the five W’s of first-party data along with best practices all publishers should use to benefit from this sea change.
Tech’s next act
Many parts of life feel stuck in the in-between now, not of the past but not quite to what comes next. Nobody knows whether to use the past tense for the pandemic. We’re clearly moving away from the long era of neoliberalism and globalization. But who knows what’s next.
The tech industry is in the same position. Most things move in cycles, and tech has gone through a long cycle of expansion that appears at the end. What comes next – Web3? Artificial intelligence? – is still unclear. Whatever comes next, it will be unlike the past era, when the tech industry was mostly seen as a force of progress, building tools that brought people together, allowed access to bountiful information, and gave us immense computing power wherever we are. I always found Silicon Valley both a triumph of engineering and marketing. The sheen has worn off. Big tech is no longer taken at its word and is by default under scrutiny from regulators, legislators, journalists and possibly even regular people uncomfortable with private entities wielding so much societal impact. Elon Musk’s early bumbling efforts at Twitter, including bringing in the All-In podcast to run the company, belie the myth of singular genius peddled by Silicon Valley’s PR machine.
Part of the issue lies in how complex the world has become and technology along with it. Consumer tech of the past cycle felt like toys that became something more. Toys are easy to like. There were always those warning these toys could become tools of oppression, but there were in the minority. Those days are over.
I had a pair of podcast conversations touching on these issues. On the People vs Algorithms podcast, Troy Young, Alex Schleifer and I discussed how old divides between optimism and pessimism are giving way to a shared, if divergent, catastrophism. It seems harder than ever, in this in-between time, to see a future that isn’t all good or all bad. History teaches us that humanity usually muddles through. The smart money is on the same happening now, despite all the very real and pressing challenges around us. I suspect the narrative around the tech industry will normalize too. It isn’t all good or all bad, like most things it’s a grab bag. Check out the episode on Apple and Spotify
Also, for this week’s episode of The Rebooting Show, I spoke to Alex Kantrowitz, the founder of Big Technology, an independent publication focused on the immense impact of tech companies on business, politics and society. Alex and I have known each other for many years, going back to when he wrote a few freelance pieces for me and then declined my job offer. Instead, he went to BuzzFeed News, where he covered technology out of San Francisco. He wrote a book on the tech industry called “Always Day One” and became one of the early trailblazers to decamp to Substack in 2020. Since then, Big Technology has amassed nearly 100,000 subscribers.
We spoke about his independent journey – and plans to start a paid tier to his newsletter – as well as the state of the tech industry at this pivotal time. Some highlights:
Why a lot of the meltdown in tech valuations is a function of the Federal Reserve
How Apple got away with kneecapping tech rivals under the guise of privacy
Whether warning signs are blinking for the digital advertising industry
Mark Zuckerberg’s bold bet on the metaverse
Generative AI as a legitimate contender for the New New Thing
Betting on yourself after seeing journalism businesses struggle
What’s your five-word speech?
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The law of supply and demand tends to take hold. It’s no surprise that as the sheer amount of content grows, and fragmentation increases, the relative value of individual pieces fall. The disaggregation of media is deflationary in the long run. The music industry is likely a guide to the future, where limitless content – some created by humans and much by AI – makes “hits” and “stars” ever rarer.
Meet the new boss. Publishers complained for years about the power of the duopoly, only to see signs of it finally weakening, due to privacy restrictions cutting into the effectiveness and measurability of targeted ads. Wouldn’t you know it, the money ended up flowing to other tech companies and retailers, not publishers.
One impact of the changing economics of ad targeting is that many top-tier publishers will turn off open programmatic. Publishers have more options now to use ad space to promote their own consumer products, whether subscriptions, events or otherwise. Bloomberg Media will cut off third-party ad networks and exchanges to create what CEO Scott Havens calls “a modern digital experience that supports this “audience first” mentality and creates an optimal environment for our trusted brand partners to reach the world’s most influential leaders.” More will follow.
The Economist has a great podcast out that charts the life and rise of Xi Jingping, one of the most consequential leaders of our time – and believer in the saying “hide your strength, bide your time.”
The Piano Academy Live is tomorrow from 10am to 5pmEDT. I’m speaking at 11am about the limits of optimization and advantages of treating people like people. There are many other great sessions, with speakers from Slate, Harvard Business Review, The Toledo Blade and more. If you’re a publisher with a direct revenue business, this is a good event to get into the weeds. Sign up (for free) here.
The Media School at Indiana University in Bloomington has two open roles for senior lecturers in advertising. The expected start date is Aug. 31, 2023. Apply here.
Aging Media is on the hunt for an executive editor. I’m a big fan of the approach John Yedniak and his team are taking to a massive and growing business sector. This is a role that stretches across the company’s five brands. More here.
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