“We need more reach.”
“This will get a lot of clicks.”
“The client won’t be happy with these numbers.”
We’ve heard these narratives nonstop since our media careers began more than 15 years ago. They are thought patterns that have been normalized in newsrooms and ad agencies across the world.
And this is just the beginning of the issues with the current state of media.
The truth is this: Web2 media is broken.
The traditional models and ways of doing things in media just don’t work anymore. This behavior did not come out of the blue. So how did we get here?
With the rise of social media, the traffic floodgates opened to media websites. Media companies saw an unprecedented explosion of reach due to these platforms and became addicted to this traffic, which helped fuel the rise of programmatic advertising. This is the technology that powers those annoying banner ads on your favorite media websites, from The New York Times to YouTube. The more people visit your website, the more impressions the ad gets, and the more the platform gets paid.
Funny enough, the very platforms that fueled this business model ended up changing their algorithms after seeing how much revenue they were allowing to leave their ecosystem by encouraging users to click away from Facebook or Twitter onto a separate publisher website. So in 2015, Facebook’s notorious algorithm change decimated the traffic sources for hundreds of media companies to keep more of their traffic inside of Facebook. Due to declining revenue, some media properties even went out of business.
We know this because we’ve lived it. As Editor-In-Chief of SPIN, Matt saw firsthand how traffic does not equate to revenue when the publication was forced to undergo layoffs despite exceeding growth goals. As Director of Innovation and Culture at Elite Daily, Alejandro saw how the publication rode Facebook traffic to a sale to Daily Mail only for traffic to significantly decline after the algorithm change.
As media companies prioritized audience scale over quality and optimized for algorithmic platforms like Facebook and Google, there were a number of alarming developments.
First, media platforms found themselves locked in a clickbait race to the bottom. As algorithms rewarded sensationalist headlines and quick trigger fingers, the quality of coverage declined. The race to be first to a story also produced public embarrassments for major media brands who had to retract factually inaccurate reporting. As credibility eroded, public trust in media reached an all-time low.
Second, people became the product. Programmatic advertising reduced us to eyeballs to be monetized and discarded. In the eyes of publishers, there was no distinction made between the quality and the quantity of an audience. Put simply, we were all diminished to a single metric: traffic. By virtue of working at social media companies, the brightest minds in Silicon Valley ended up building an advertising optimization machine, the likes of which had never been seen before. As a result, publishers began prioritizing their advertisers over their audiences.
Third, as publishers and platforms optimized for advertising revenue, they began to attack our privacy. Platforms began to track users across the web without their explicit consent in order to sell more ads – though technically, users consented by accepting the all-too vague and legally verbose “terms and conditions.”
The rise of tracking users using pixels and cookies invited privacy violations across the web. Platforms could now track users’ every move, click, and keystroke, even beyond their own website, to serve them “better” ads.
Technology has always pushed storytelling forward. The Gutenberg printing press catalyzed the information revolution. The invention of the internet forced print publications to become digital. The rise of the smartphone moved digital media to embrace mobile. Web3 technology is of the same caliber. And with it, we have the chance to build something better.
Centered on an ecosystem of technology products that are decentralized, trustless, permissionless, and interoperable, Web3 technologies have the power to create fairer models that benefit everyone. They return ownership to users, bypass the gatekeepers that control traditional media and social platforms, and allow creators and their communities to share in the value they create.
But significantly, this tokenized revolution will not only change how stories are created and consumed, it also has the power to fundamentally redefine relationships that have been cemented for centuries. This technology can actually help us foster the deeper and more meaningful human relationships we want. This comes down to the difference between audience and community.
Your audience is aware that you exist. They may recognize your brand and see you in their social feeds. They may even attend your events or buy your products. But ultimately, there’s a limit to their participation, and they are largely on the receiving end of the content you produce. As coverage became more homogenous to exploit algorithms, media brands became interchangeable, such that readers have little incentive to choose one over another. In web2, consumers became loyal to the headline, not the brand.
In contrast, community wants to win together. And in web3, more often than not, they actually have a literal stake in doing so. By aligning incentives and rewarding participation by decentralizing ownership and governance, communities are the prime drivers of value creation.
In web3, digital ownership is front and center. For the first time since the origins of the internet, the blockchain allows for root ownership. Now media companies and creators can build community in a digital asset economy as an end in itself and monetize directly by sharing in the value that they create.
We envision a future where digital publishers liberate themselves from the mindless tyranny of clicks, pageviews, and CPMs. Users will no longer be the product being sold in antiquated and exploitative systems; they will be active partners and owners in the content and experiences being created.
Introducing the Now Network
Because of these experiences, we wanted to do things differently from day one. If you visit nftnow.com, you’ll notice there are no banner ads. We refused to implement programmatic advertising because of the misaligned incentives it creates to prioritize advertisers over users, sensationalize coverage, and violate users’ privacy. We believe that media companies shouldn’t serve you ads; they should serve you opportunities.
We also refused to include any pixels and cookies to track our users. Principles like consent matter more to us. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and should be respected across the internet.
The Now Network is our next step in pioneering a community-centric media model and building a creator-friendly future. The Now Pass is the key that unlocks that door. You can learn more about the details and mechanics at nowpass.xyz.
Here’s how the Now Network will begin to share the value being created with our membership community.
Super-serving our community with exclusive content and access
From early access to information and insights to curated private chats where you can connect with experts and other builders in your industry, the Now Network will offer you the tools you need to succeed alongside insider access to web3’s leading minds.
Now Pass holders will also be eligible for exclusive access to our acclaimed IRL and virtual events, including our tentpole events The Gateway, NFT100, and nft now presents, alongside our satellite events around Art Basel Miami, NFT NYC, Frieze LA, ETH Denver, Faena Rose Miami, Jackson Hole, and many more.
Increasing retention and rewarding participation
We believe media should be more than a one-way street. With the Now Pass, community members will be incentivized to engage with content and provide feedback through our reward mechanisms. By realigning incentives and reimagining how a publisher can create and share value in a web3 context, we will encourage deeper, more authentic connections and a greater sense of loyalty.
Decentralizing content creation and curation
We want our community to become co-creators in the stories being told. The Now Network is our first step towards progressive decentralization. We believe this will create a more inclusive and transparent ecosystem to incubate ideas and uplift new voices. We’ll be transitioning some of our most popular content series (ex., Next Up) to a community-curated Token Curated Registries (TCR) model with on-chain voting that empowers our community members to have a say in who and what gets covered.
This is only the beginning
The Now Network will be built over time, not overnight. We are being intentional and taking our time to create something sustainable. This is a first step — a foundation for all of our initiatives in building the future of tokenized media. We may not always get everything right – and that’s okay. Experimentation is a critical part of pioneering a new paradigm. But our commitment to this space is long-term, so we will build in public over the coming months, years, and decades. We invite you to join us in learning, growing, and co-creating this future together.
You’re more than a pageview. It’s time to change the relationship between publishers and their communities.
Matt Medved & Alejandro Navia
Co-Founders of nft now