In July of last year, I drafted an article announcing the end of The Daily Banter. In January of 2018, we saw a severe decline in referral traffic from Facebook. Having dealt with Facebook algorithm changes for many years, we didn’t think too much of it and continued as if it were a usual algorithmic change. But the traffic from Facebook declined again the next month, and the next, and the next, until we had lost roughly 90% of what we would usually see from the world biggest social media platform. Given a large percentage of our traffic came from Facebook, this meant an over drop of about 70% of our overall traffic.
I saw no way for us to survive this huge blow to our distribution given more than 50% of our revenue comes from advertising we make on our traffic, but after some soul searching, decided I would continue publishing the site for as long as we possibly could. We had pledged to our readers we would continue publishing given the terrifying political climate created in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, and we soldiered as best we could.
Sadly, the traffic has never truly recovered, and a year after the Facebook newsfeed changes that wiped out thousands of independent publishers, we have finally succumbed to one of the worst environments for news media outlets in modern history. The Daily Banter, in its current format, cannot continue.
I'd like to explain exactly how this came to be, as I feel I owe our readers an honest and open explanation. I'd also like let our readers know what comes next.
How Facebook Destroyed Us
Over the years, we built a large, vibrant community on Facebook with over 40,000 active followers who shared and engaged with our content on a daily basis. Small publishers are almost completely reliant on social media to build and sustain their audiences, so having access to our followers has been vital to our survival. In 2018 however, Facebook basically closed off that access and our articles now reach a thousand people at best.
Not only have Facebook obliterated our audience, they have radically reduced the advertising rates we get from them. Previously, Facebook filled 80% of the ad space on articles shared via their platform (Facebook Instant Articles). That has gone down to about 60%. Furthermore, Facebook has drastically cut back on ads they run on political sites, so the value of those ads have now plummeted. The ads payout about 50% of what they used to compared to 2017, and that is on 20% less traffic. Given Facebook has taken away 90% of the traffic they sent us, we make next to nothing from them. Imagine you made $10,000 a month at your current job, then suddenly your boss announced you would be making $400 from now on. It has been that severe.
A Slave To Platforms No More
I do not want to turn this into a screed against Facebook given I have written about the destructiveness of the social media giants before. But the power of Facebook (and Google) now represent, at least in my estimation, a grave threat to civil society. They control the distribution of the news and the monetization of it, and are doing everything in their power to maintain their monopoly. They have crushed independent publishers and made large publishers entirely dependent on their goodwill to maintain their business models. And even then, the big players are shedding jobs by the thousand due to the lack of advertising revenue. The legacy media and VC backed giants will likely survive in some form given they are either owned by billionaires or have access to huge funds. The smaller players are simply going to die out, and unless there is a powerful movement to take on the tech giants, all media in America will be owned by ultra wealthy families and investment banks.
The Beginnings Of The Banter: Fighting The Good Fight
I built The Daily Banter as an act of defiance against big corporate media companies. I wanted to prove that independent media could exist despite the fact that most news outlets were owned by a handful of inconceivably large corporations. For a time, we were able to do that. The emergence of the “blogosphere” in the early 2000's was a unique moment in history, and we were a part of the explosion of thousands of small publishers. I fought hard to create a sustainable business model, building our audience through email, then from links to other likeminded sites.
Later, my colleagues and good friends Bob Cesca and Chez Pazienza joined the site and we built a much larger audience, much of it through the emerging social media platforms that allowed us to massively increase our reach. For several years The Daily Banter was not only able to bring on new talent, but pay our writers a decent wage. As Chez once wrote about our unlikely trajectory: "Over the past few years, Banter has done something extraordinary. With just a few regular columnists working their asses off and creating only as much as a few columnists could, the site grew to the point where even though it wasn't a household name, it was still pulling in upwards of five-million hits a month at one point. We broke stories, went to Ferguson, did some genuine good, and took absolutely no prisoners. It was and is the best job I've ever had and I have no doubt my fellow contributors would say the same thing."
We injected ourselves into the national discourse and make the biggest players take note. We have been referenced on almost very major news outlet, from The New York Times to MSNBC and the Washington Post. The internet was, at least for a time, a meritocracy, and as Chez inferred, we thrived based on sheer talent.
The tech companies that enabled us to distribute our content however, have now swallowed the industry and are recreating it to further their own financial interests.
The End of The Banter. Well, Not Quite...
I have spent months and months analyzing the news industry, reading and speaking to insiders about the current trends to see if I could turn things around. Sadly, there is no way for us to survive in its current incarnation — the monopoly is too big and the tech platforms own everything we do. To thrive we would have to publish dozens of articles a day and pay very little to our writers. This is something I cannot in good conscience do. We have always prided ourselves on producing high quality, original think pieces that are extremely well researched and sourced. So we are going to take a radical stand against the tech companies and try something completely different.
Moving forward, The Banter (no longer The Daily Banter) will be published via email. We are partnering with Substack, an email publishing platform that hosts exclusive newsletters by the likes of Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and former Think Progress editor Judd Legum. The team is staying intact, and we will be sending out four long form, in-depth articles in a beautifully designed, ad free newsletter several days a week.
This way, Facebook and Google can never destroy our business model again. The articles won't be formatted to fulfill the irritating criteria the tech monoliths require to have them show up in search engines or on Facebook pages. There will be no ads anywhere on the articles, and we will be focusing entirely on what we do best: writing. It will be more thoughtful, more in depth, and catered only to our core audience who have been reading us and supporting us for years. We want to build a more intimate relationship with our readers, and we feel this is by far the best way to do that. We will publish occasional pieces either on this site, or the blog on Substack, but you will only be able to read everything we do via email, the oldest publishing platform on the web.
To be honest, while I am saddened that this incarnation of the Banter has to die, I am relieved. The fraught navigation of social media algorithms coupled with the relentless pressure to react to every breaking news story has been grinding myself and the team down for some time now. By slowing things down and simplifying we can focus exclusively on the quality. That can only be a good thing, and we hope you'll join us in our new endeavor.
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Goodbye from all of us here at The Daily Banter. We'll see you in your inbox very soon.