Reinventing media companies in 2021

The Publishers Playbook Newsletter

Welcome to the 8th and final newsletter for 2020! Thank you for reading.

There’s no shortage of colourful commentary on this year – so I’ll skip straight past that. But if there’s one thing I’ve seen from being in the trenches with digital publishers, it’s the importance of agility and running a lean operation.

Those have been the biggest contributing factors for the media operators who have ended this year strong and well positioned for 2021.

Here’s what we’ve been up to as we wrap up 2020…

The Code Company

2020 has been a big year for The Code Company. We’ve been fortunate to expand the team and accelerate our work of building WordPress-powered publishing platforms. It’s exciting to partner with so many media companies as they do great things in Australia and the United States. We were also listed as a WordPress VIP agency and I’m looking forward to sharing some case studies early next year.


Later in 2020, I partnered with former Mumbrella CEO Martin Lane to launch Publisha, an on-demand consultancy for emerging digital publishers. Our aim is to provide ongoing support for media operators on their journey towards sustainability.  We’re looking forward to learning how we can further shape Publisha and help more smaller publishers.

Continuous Reinvention: A Publisher’s Playbook for 2021

To kick off the new year, we’re running our first digital event to help you seize the big opportunities of 2021.  It’s certainly an exciting time to be a publisher. If you’re in any way curious about podcasts, newsletters, regional media, or technology, you’ll no doubt walk away with some practical inspiration.

We realise your time is precious, so we’re modelling the Axios approach of smart brevity and lined up an impressive panel of special guests.Come and watch five 10-minute conversations with publishing trailblazers from Morning Brew to Google News Lab.

RSVP for Free – January 20

Reinvention: My take on 2021

This year has pushed media businesses into one of two buckets: Survival or Getting wiped out.

Getting wiped out is essentially what happened if you proceeded with business-as-usual. Survival called for acceleration and rapid innovation in the face of constant pressure and uncertainty.

With businesses pivoting from face-to-face events to online, e-learning, subscriptions and membership building, evolving digital advertising, newsletters and more, there’s been a lot to do this year.

The Next Media Opportunity and the Future of Work

Amidst all the noise of 2020, there’s been much debate around the shape and size of future media companies. Here are the key themes:

It’s been the year of newsletters. Heck, I’ve even gotten back on the bandwagon after being slack for so long. And the opportunities don’t just lie in free newsletters…

What the Substack revolution has demonstrated is the power and agency that individual writers at media companies wield. From Casey Newton leaving the Verge to the Politico Playbook authors going solo.

The challenge will be how media companies can manage talent and keep them incentivised so they don’t walk out the door. We’re seeing this at the top end of town right now, but no publisher, irrespective of size is immune to having their key talent walk. Related: 2020’s been a breakout year for creators – Axios.

Work Like A Record Label

Writers / creators don’t (typically) want to deal with ads, sales, tech stacks, insurance, payroll, etc. But tools like Substack have made self publishing look so appealing that creatives are enticed to leave a prestigious job and give it a shot.

One of the smartest minds on this topic is Jarrod Dicker of The Washington Post.

The analogy he uses and predicts, is that media companies need to look and work more like record labels, by allowing ‘creators’ to focus on what they do best.

This is an opportunity for the media business to reassert value on top of the current revenue streams by fulfilling a need for creators who should be focused on what they do best: create. The solution is building the platform for talent, pairing both brand reputation and individual reputation, and connecting it all together.

When structured correctly, media companies are the most sustainable to operate. So give this a read, and mull it over.

Chrome is now blocking the ads publishers sell if they don’t meet Google’s standards

Bloated and resource-hogging ads are starting to get blocked in Chrome. If you think back, it was the browsers, not the online media that pushed to end those annoying popup and and various modal boxes for users.

The same is now happening for ads. I’ve actually seen it a few times where Chrome just kills the ad before loading. A positive step forward.

25 Ways to Sign Someone Up For Your Newsletter

Dan Oshinsky always produces really interesting material. If you’re looking to grow your email database (and honestly, it should be in your top 5 priorities for next year) give this a read.

Google Search page experience update to launch May 2021

Google will highlight search results that have a great page experience. Which means sites that suffer from CLS and other metrics are likely to be penalised. It was later reported that the main area of focus is the mobile version of a website.

Bonus link: Layout Shift GIF Generator – to help debug and visualise layout shifts on your site.

Property marketplace Urban buys Property Observer

This year has been full of examples of non-media companies buying niche media operators.

Property marketplace bought Property Observer and folded all its content and (more valuably) its audience, into the Urban platform. A smart move and one we’ll continue to see happening. This is why I love niche and specialist media the most. So many clever ways to slice and dice things.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2021. Some of the challenges of 2020 have resulted in a lot of great strategy work by so many of our clients and the industry as a whole. Next year we’ll start to see the fruits of this.

As most of Australia heads on Christmas/Summer leave this week, this year I’ll be taking the beloved on-call duty for our team, so I won’t be up to anything too exciting.

Have a safe Christmas, relax and recharge for a big 2021!

Ben May

Ben is Managing Director of The Code Company. He is passionate about working with publishers on clever and innovative ways to solve complex problems. He works with The Code Company team on all projects, bringing his perspective and problem solving skills to deliver great outcomes.