Twitter is going the way of subscriptions in 2021 — after buying Revue, the company today snapped up Scroll for an undisclosed amount. The acquisition is a smart move — it allows Twitter to play to its strengths — media and media distribution. 

Scroll is a prix fixe media buffet –for $5 a month, readers can view articles, ad-free, from about 300 odd media outlets. The $5 a month subscription is then shared with the publishers. Good idea, but as Scroll founder Tony Haile points out in his blog post announcing the deal, “we’re not moving fast enough.” 

A lot has to do with the media industry and its bureaucratic disfunction. The fact remains that destination viewing of media is becoming a habit only reserved for a fading generation of readers. Discovery, distribution, and consumption of media have taken on a different meaning. And believe it or not — Twitter is smack in the middle of this Venn diagram. 

Twitter, just by incorporating Scroll, can increase its footprint and impact on the media business.

Last year, I wrote a piece — What Twitter could learn from Spotify. In my piece, I outlined a strategy that would help Twitter reinvent itself but also help provide a vital lifeline for not only establishment media but also independent creators. But in doing so, I reasoned that 

Twitter has to be “willing to rethink its entire core application, jettison the past,” and only then can it “create a more relevant, robust, and financially rewarding future.” (I don’t want to repeat myself, so you are better off reading the earlier piece at your leisure.

With Spaces, Revue, and now Scroll, Twitter has started to think different — though if it will be enough for the company to regain its mojo, remains to be seen. It seems the newest recruit, Scroll CEO Tony Haile, does see the bigger picture.

“When you see Spaces, Revue or Scroll, you see Twitter focused on expanding, not encroaching on the value it helps others to create,” he writes on the Scroll blog. “Twitter is marching to the beat of a different drum and knows success will come from a bigger pie not a larger slice.”

In his post announcing the deal, he points out what makes Twitter unique compared to every other big platform — read Facebook. 

“For every other platform, journalism is dispensable. If journalism were to disappear tomorrow their business would carry on much as before,” Haile writes. “Twitter is the only large platform whose success is deeply intertwined with a sustainable journalism ecosystem.” 

And he is right — it is not just journalism in the classic sense. Journalism, as we have known, is changing. Twitter can’t fall into the trap of the media’s past and almost always lean into the future. Whether it is live conversations, podcasts, video streams, photos, newsletters, everything that is media can benefit from Twitter’s taking a cue from that other content company, Spotify. 


PS: Being very self-referential today, I dug up this little piece from 2012:

Over the past few years we have started to see the transformation of media by new technologies, new methods of distribution and newer ways to consume information I have always believed that we’ve got to stop thinking of media as what it was and focus on more of what it could be. In the world of plenty, the only currency is attention and attention is what defines “media.” Zynga is fighting Hollywood for attention (and winning). Instagram is taking moments away from other media. They have attention. There are old companies that are dying and new ones that are being invented. 

What do Nils Frahm, Anne Mueller, Jeannie Schulz, Mary Lattimore and Atli Örvarsson have in common? They are among three dozen artists whose albums I bought last year from Bandcamp, an Oakland, CA-based music service. It was my way of supporting these artists. As I wrote earlier, “we need to figure out how much we value the music and the musicians,” so that “we can use our dollars to encourage them to keep creating.”

And I am not alone. 800,000 customers spent $48.3 million on what Bandcamp calls Bandcamp Fridays — every first Friday of the month, Bandcamp forgoes the 15 percent cut of the digital sales (and 10 percent cut of the physical sales.) All money goes to the artists. Bandcamp Fridays started as a one-off feature on March 20, 2020, it has become a regular feature. In a year since the company has sent $148 million to the artists.

Their success is finally getting the attention it deserves. It has taken almost a year for the media to notice Bandcamp’s progress. There is a fantastic article in Billboard, and of course, much better is an NPR conversation with the co-founder and CEO of the company, my dear friend, Ethan Diamond. Shawn Grunberger is the co-founder and chief technology officer.

Bandcamp is the antithesis of streaming. The company’s value metric is based on helping smaller and independent artists create a way forward for themselves. In comparison, someone like Spotify’s north star metric is time spent on the platform. I am not saying Spotify (or any other streaming platform) isn’t essential — their clever use of machine learning and algorithmic discovery, access to music across devices, and all platforms make them worth using. 

The reality is that we are all addicted to convenience — and streaming platforms make it damn convenient for us to not think about the artists and how they manage to survive. As streaming becomes more pervasive, the sad reality is that every track, every artist, every album is reduced to just data, served up by the algorithm. It only continues to devalue our emotional relationship with the creators.  

For now, the least we can do is fight the good fight and support what you value — by buying music. It is way better than sending tips to artists via PayPal, as Spotify suggests as a way of support. That, to me, feels like digital panhandling, but that’s just me. Even if you listen to it on other platforms, buying music is a better way of expressing your fandom. 

Did you know that Nils Frahm has a new album, Graz? It is worth buying. 

Disclosure: * Bandcamp is backed by True Ventures, where I am a partner.