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What’s been happening in the world of digital publishing over the last week? Here’s your weekly round-up of news, announcements, product launches, and more.

Social media

News on Twitter: Consumed by Most Users and Trusted by Many

News plays a prominent role on Twitter. Overall, 23% of Americans use Twitter, and roughly seven-in-ten U.S. Twitter users (69%) say they get news on the site, according to a new Pew Research Center study that surveyed 2,548 Twitter users from May 17 to 31, 2021. As with so many other attitudes toward the media, however, significant partisan splits exist. Read more

Why it matters: As the debate on the role of social media in spreading “fake news” heats up and the degree to which these platforms should be held accountable, this research gives a better understanding of how various segments of the population interact with platforms and the extent to which they rely on them for news consumption.

Audience development and engagement

Google News Initiative: These 25 publishers want to know their communities

The third North America Innovation Challenge has selected 25 projects out of 190 from Canada and the U.S. to receive a share of more than $3.2 million USD to help build their ideas that address the need for research in local news. Read more

Why it matters: As local newsrooms have been slowly on the decline for years now due to the harsh competition from global publishers, there have been various efforts to bring local publishers back to live. How do you balance readership/subscription/monetization needs with the on-the-ground research and news delivery?

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‘100 is the Minimum’—Axios Local Expands to 11 New Cities

Axios Local is going bicoastal. The city-based network of free, local newsletters announced Thursday morning that it is expanding to 11 new locations, bringing its total number of cities to 25, proving that a lean, centralized model to local news is viable. The program, which began last December when Axios acquired the Charlotte Agenda, is on pace to net $5 million in revenue by the end of 2021, according to chief financial officer Fabricio Drummond. It plans to expand to another 25 cities and net $10 million in revenue by the end of 2022, Drummond said. Read more

Why it matters: It’s about making local news profitable: “By staffing a skeleton crew of two reporters per city and centralizing operations and business functions, the program has expanded as legacy news operations continue to shrink. Axios Local plans to continue its proliferation and aims to establish outposts in at least 100 cities.”

Advertising and monetization

Substack says it has more than 1 million paid subscriptions

Substack on Monday said there are more than 1 million paid subscriptions to publications on its platform, up from about 250,000 last December. Read more

Why it matters: As the article points out, Substack’s growth underscores the willingness of audiences to pay for content from their favorite writers directly — a trend that’s been expedited by the pandemic.

The end of “click to subscribe, call to cancel”? One of the news industry’s favorite retention tactics is illegal, FTC says

A study of 526 news organizations in the United States found that only 41% make it easy for people to cancel subscriptions online, and more than half trained customer service reps in tactics to dissuade customers who call to unsubscribe. The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, recently made it clear that it sees the practice as 1) one of several “dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscriptions” and 2) straight-up illegal. The FTC vowed to ramp up enforcement on companies that fail to provide an “easy and simple” cancellation process, including an option that’s “at least as easy” as the one to subscribe. Read more

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Why it matters: Since most U.S. news organizations don’t give readers an easy way to cancel online, once a law, this will catch many publishers off-guard as they will see a decline in their subscription revenue.

Spotify’s new Podcast Subscriptions expand to global markets

Just a few months after launching support for podcast subscriptions to U.S. creators, Spotify today is making the service available to creators in global markets. The company says the service, which allows creators to mark episodes as “subscriber-only” content, will now become available in 33 new markets worldwide. Read more

Why it matters: As explained in the article, when podcast subscriptions publicly launched in the U.S., Spotify had introduced a couple of key changes to how the service worked. Before, creators had only been able to choose from one of three price points for their paid shows. But Spotify heard from creators they wanted more pricing flexibility, so it revamped pricing with the introduction of 20 price point options for creators to choose from, starting as low as $0.49 and increasing to as much as $150.

Facebook makes it easier for advertisers to avoid sensitive topics

Facebook on Thursday said it is expanding the controls it gives advertisers to make it easier for them to limit the types of News Feed content their ads show up next to. Excludable categories include news and politics, tragedy and conflict and debated social issues. Read more

Why it matters: As the author points out, the move is part of a wider effort by Facebook to help advertisers avoid misinformation, hate speech or other content that may not be deemed “brand safe.”

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Tech

Writer’s automated style guide for anyone to write online brings in $21M A round

For any company, organization, or even individual writer, maintaining a consistent voice is a constant challenge. Writer is a startup aiming to provide a solution with an intelligent integrated style guide that goes beyond mere error checking. Following a $5M seed last year, the company has now raised a $21M A round to continue growing and improving its service. Read more

Why it matters:This piece of tech helps not just keep copy clean, but also make sure companies are taking action on things like, for example, inclusive language. A company may not have considered it worth formalizing in its style guide how to use gender-neutral language, or how to refer to various groups in the preferred manner, but it’s built into Writer if you want it — just check a few boxes and now all your company’s copy will be written more inclusively in line with recommendations from experts.

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