About Little Things closing down and the problem with scale
One of the biggest stories for news media so far in 2018 is Facebook changing its algorithm to de-emphasize third party site content in favour of posts from friends and family. As of last week, the first major casualty of this change has been Little Things closing down due to a drop in traffic:
You may not know Little Things as a brand but you’ve seen its feel-good content all over Facebook. They built a business to live almost entirely on Facebook and accepted the risks.
Scale and quality going in opposite directions
One of the most amazing opportunities of the internet has been the ability to develop a niche product in ways you couldn’t do before. If you do a great job and find an audience, you can develop a successful and sustainable business that continues to grow. For a small media company, that’s the dream. For everyone else there is still intense pressure to build scale even in niche subjects. The unspoken truth — that few are willing to admit — is that as the audience scales, the quality of that audience goes down.
40 million uniques wasn’t enough?
Maybe the most interesting part of the Digiday article is at the bottom where it notes that Little Things’ comScore traffic had declined to 40 million from 58 million since last May. A 31 percent drop in 10 months is absolutely a major blow but they decided to shutter a site that recorded 40 million uniques?? Even if it dropped by another half, that would still be an audience most in media would kill for. The fact that it’s not enough is the saddest takeaway of all.
The big opportunity still remaining on Facebook is…
Local news. At the same time the social network has committed to fewer major news stories in your feed, it has put a big focus on local news. Some openly wonder if this too will be another disaster-in-waiting until Facebook decides to change its mind again. But that attitude misses the most obvious fact: local news is all about family and friends. Talking to a senior partner rep at Facebook recently, he said they created brand pages to appease brands. But the platform at its core is still a person network. In his words, “people follow people” and local news is all about the people closest to you in your community.
We need more like Little Things, not less. I don’t believe that they gamed an algorithm but instead found a way to produce great content that has broad appeal. The big challenge for everyone in the industry is to develop a solid means of distribution and discovery.