Home The Sell Sider Salon’s Plan For Media Growth: Test Everything And Everyone

Salon’s Plan For Media Growth: Test Everything And Everyone


A publisher’s job nowadays is “to be a systems integrator and experimenter,” said Ryan Nathanson, COO of Salon Media Group, a news and culture publisher known for liberal commentary.

That’s been Nathanson’s approach since taking the reins of Salon’s operations a year ago.

The company has explored new payment and supply chain vendors, for example, including multiple blockchain-based beta programs. Salon is also releasing products with zero or negligible revenue, including an OTT app and an ad blocker that gives access to content in exchange for Salon mining cryptocurrency from users’ browser computing power.

“We don’t think of it as placing bets,” Nathanson said.

Some revenue streams may grow from meaningless to incremental, he said, and regardless the idea is to constantly pursue business signals to make better important decisions for the company.

The OTT app is ad-free and free to download, for instance, but if it can translate Salon’s popular social videos and interview features into even a small OTT audience, that could be a good indicator the company should invest more in its video network, Salon TV.

“There’s a danger in having so much momentum in one direction that you don’t experiment and learn new things,” he said.

AdExchanger spoke with Nathanson.

AdExchanger: Can you describe the strategy behind the cryptomining feature and any early results or insights?

RYAN NATHANSON: The idea behind the cryptomining feature is that with ad-blocker traffic, we’re getting no money or sometimes turning traffic away if they don’t agree to whitelist the site.

People may not want to see ads, but they’ll consider another kind of value exchange. We want to offer as many options to users who, for one reason or another, block ads.


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I can tell you that people coming to the site with ad blockers [about a quarter of Salon’s overall traffic] are opting in to mining, and those that do tend to consume about four or five times more content than the average reader.

Is the typical site session more lucrative with ads turned on or if someone participates in the cryptocurrency program?

The de facto value exchange is still advertising which makes the supply of that revenue greater and easier to access than a new technology like digital currency. But that it isn’t necessarily the case moving forward.

If it was a more standardized process – like it was a regular option for the publisher value exchange – that would mean more computing power and more effective mining.

We’re also making a long-term bet, in a sense, on the cryptocurrency Monero that we’re mining. Though if dynamics or the market changed we could change the currencies we’re mining.

We haven’t transferred any into fiat yet, at least. As a public company it’s interesting, because right now it’s an asset like an investment, but at some point, it’ll be converted to fiat and fall under revenue.

And you’re also looking at other non-currency blockchain technology. Can you describe the work there?

We are. One big issue is fraud and domain spoofing, which have weighed heavily on CPMs for lots of publishers with real inventory.

For us and most publishers, it’s not a critical individual issue. I know The New York Times and some other big media companies have run tests showing millions going to spoofed inventory. What I’d like to see other publishers do is to participate in solving issues that may not affect themselves as greatly as it does the rest of the industry. Doing so solves systemic issues that in the end do affect all publishers.

Just this month we entered beta for campaigns with Rebel AI. So, they’re working with an agency for demand, and then they get the DSP and SSP to agree to take the tags from Rebel AI and serve it to us and a small number of other publishers in the test. So, the exchange vendors only see the ad tag like usual, but for the publisher and the buyer, there’s real transparency.

I can’t speak to that yet, but if we can do what we set out to do with the beta program it’ll be a game changer.

In addition, reconciliation has been an issue in the ad ecosystem. We’re participating in another closed beta program called AdLedger that aims to use blockchain-based technology to make all ad transactions transparent for constituents across the ad delivery ecosystem between advertiser and publisher.

While the results of these betas will help prove out whether they are valid solutions, our main goal in participating is to support those who believe in trying new things and fixing real challenges.

Where else are you applying that idea of constant experimentation and integration?

There are smartphone, tablet and OTT apps we’ve launched this month. The app products are part of broader changes we’re making around our subscription and payment strategies.

We’ve started working with a Europe-based company, LaterPay. There were things we were interested in trying from the European publisher market. Micropayments, for instance, are much better developed in Europe.

With LaterPay, users can access articles or content for a day, and after they’ve consumed a certain amount of content, they get a message, and it’s sort of an honor system if they pay. But what we’ve seen is about 75% of readers do pay, and that’s a much better user experience than having someone pay 25 cents or something every time they show up.

We’re also working with vendors on private marketplaces so, say, for some brands that don’t want to advertise against political content, we can break out categories like science or innovation.

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