At last night’s #ReadWriteMix event at Say Media’s office, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue was in the proverbial hot seat with technology publication ReadWrite’s Editor-in-Chief Owen Thomas. The topic of the conversation centered around the future of the media industry. But unlike previous editions, it didn’t center around Flipboard’s unbundling of its app, nor about its entry into the wearable market, or even about payments and bitcoins. To be clear, none of those things are actually true. However, what was made apparent at the event was Flipboard’s intentions to pull back from the proverbial spotlight and instead cast it on its users, the creators of 10 million magazines on its platform.
Giving power to the people
It’s been nearly 18 months since Flipboard released version 2.0 of its offering. In it, users became able to self-publish their own magazines within the platform. This was the start of the company’s evolution, if you will, whereby it wanted to give the power to the people. You see, previously, everything was curated by Flipboard or a select group of partners — highly exclusive and users just had to deal with it. But, as its CTO Eric Feng shared with me back in March 2013, the company is moving in a direction where users can create their own magazine feed centered around topics, events, or interests that personally matter to them.
As McCue said at the #ReadWriteMix event: “We’re moving towards this…world where content can be atomized and reconstructed around interests or topics that someone’s really passionate about.” He also added something rather poignant that really captures the spirit of his company: Flipboard wants users to take the craftsmanship of narratives to a whole new level.
Helping creators monetize their magazines
In order to accomplish this, Flipboard is probably realizing that it needs to take a step back and not put as much emphasis on itself, but rather put in the foreground its users, the “music makers” and the “dreamer of dreams”, as it were. And to help support its users ability to self-promote their interests, McCue announced that his company is in the early stages of establishing a publisher network, something equivalent to YouTube’s Partner Network.
The concept behind Flipboard’s publisher network is to help content creators and curators monetize their publications/magazines. The platform already inserts full-page ads into select magazines, but right now, Flipboard is the only one seeing that revenue. In the near future, McCue hints that ad revenue-sharing may be a part of this new offering, which will be a boon to those that have conceived of the 10 million magazines. This had been previously available to a select group of publishers, but it seems that Flipboard is going to accelerate it to the masses now. McCue said that his company has paid out $1 million to these select publishers that have created magazines and inserted ads.
It’s worth noting that it could only apply to the ads, not the product listings that became available in November 2013. McCue said that Flipboard currently has no intentions of tapping into that as a possible revenue generator. But there’s also a new ad placement that’ll become available next month — video ads. That’s right…McCue announced that video ads will now be available in magazines, following in the footsteps of Twitter and Facebook. It has already signed up Chanel as its first advertiser and McCue claimed that in a commissioned Nielsen study, Flipboard ads had a better recall than those on television.
McCue says ads in user magazines won’t be placed there just for placement sake — they’ll be done right. Flipboard has made it a duty to put some real thought into how ads will look and appear: “You wouldn’t want to buy Elle magazine without the ads — the ads are as cool as the content. Advertising done right is valuable and compelling.”
No limits, just rich content
During the question and answer part of the evening, McCue was asked if Flipboard would ever impose limits on magazines. He responded no, just the opposite. He wants users to put whatever they want and have their magazines be rich and filled with useful information and content. But Flipboard recognizes that just letting users discover content on their own isn’t enough, thus the reason for the acquisition of Zite.
Through the deal, Flipboard is now able to implement an algorithm that will help users better discover things that maybe relevant to their magazines and interests. McCue states:
“As we thought about how we’d populate this personal magazine, one approach was totally algorithmic, we’d find content and sort it by keyword. But we realized there needed to be a human touch here, and have people who were thoughtful about who were the best sources, and what was the best content.”
He calls this, jokingly, “bionic curation”. From where I sit, Flipboard is shifting away from touting its product and instead putting more emphasis on the creations its users are creating. And somewhere along the way, providing the necessary tools to help guide users to build a better narrative about what they’re so passionate about.
Photos from the #ReadWriteMix event are posted online in my Flickr photostream.