Sad news reached Haggerston Times’ inbox last Friday that Tech City Insider is set to close after 5 uninterrupted years covering the entrepreneurial tech business sector in the UK.
A short email message (as opposed to the usual weekly mail shot comprising of 10-15 articles covering all things entrepreneur and tech related) informed subscribers that despite the “inspirational journey” the TCI had taken readers on, the party was set to end here as “the business has not returned the revenue necessary to support a viable future.”
Editor Julian Blake and reporter Toni Peters are presumably moving on to pastures new, thanked by parent company C21 media for their part in profiling more than 500 startup’s as part of the publication’s Tech Nation 200 strand, and the company also thanks “supporters” including City University London, Grant Thornton, Natwest and WP Engine, without who , they say, “this day would have come much sooner”.
It comes across as a pretty honest statement which doesn’t pull any punches. TCI didn’t generate enough revenues and so it has been pulled. But where does the blame lie and is this incident indicative of a wider trend? Let’s look at the evidence.
People don’t enjoy reading about tech / entrepreneurs?
This doesn’t seem likely, and the stats don’t bear it out, however it does seem as though not enough people enjoyed reading about tech and entrepreneurs in Tech City Insider. According to Similarweb.com, about as accurate an indicator of how visited a website is that you will find online, Tech City Insider’s readership had actually been growing impressively, from around 8k visits pcm in Dec ’15 to nearly 20k in March ’16, before dropping back to around 11k last month – a slump, perhaps, that persuaded TCI’s owners to pull the plug.
Admittedly, even 15k visits per month is pretty small fry in the arena of tech publications; the HT has paid close attention to TCI’s stats after targeting it as the first publication we could potentially outperform in terms of views. But niche publications covering very early stage startups or less well publicised events and developments will only be interesting to a very few people, influential though they may be. Lots of views = good publication is not a reliable formula in most people’s books.
As you will see from the stats below, the big publications attract colossal online readerships (naturally they publish far more articles), but smaller sites like the Daily Memo demonstrate how popular independent tech publications can be; similarweb shows their circulation attracting just over 100k uniques per month, having peaked at nearly 300k in April last year.
The Daily Memo is edited by ex-Tech City News editor Alex Wood, a site that narrowly outperforms it with around 150k unique visitors each month, again according to similarweb. Both sites rely heavily on email, sending subscribers mail shots daily, or in Tech City News’ case, often emailing up to 3 times per day. Emails to subscribers featuring lists of top stories and small excerpts or summaries from the likes of Business Insider, The FT, Tech Crunch and others are becoming more and more prevalent as consumers are increasingly time-poor and their attention more and more craved by publishers and their sponsors.
The Market is too competitive / tough on the smaller players?
Today, every big daily newspaper has a tech section and usually a small business / entrepreneur section also; the Times, the Telegraph, Guardian, even the red tops. And then there are the real big boys; Tech Crunch, led in Europe by the pugnacious editor-at-large Mike Butcher pulls in 40m uniques per month, The Register UK 12m, The Verge more than 60m. To be fair, The Verge and Tech Crunch readers are mostly based in the US.
Safe to say then, that tech news has an online audience big enough to make it globally significant and one of the internet’s favourite topics, be it IoT, the sharing / subscription economy, Fin-tech, Apps, mobile, etc. etc.
Smaller publications can’t get the sponsors?
Probably this is one of the biggest concerns that smaller, more niche publications have. But having said that, because tech is a young, disruptive industry almost every large corporate has made an effort to infiltrate the scene.
Most accountancy firms and many consultants (KPMG, PWC, Smith & Williamson, Capco) have deployed teams whose remit is simply to integrate within the tech community, by running events, providing mentoring or office space, running incubators and through sponsoring newsletters and tech publications. Rackspace, Softlayer, law firms like Pinsent Masons – the list goes on and is pretty exhaustive.
Often these kinds of firms aren’t worried about immediately seeing a ROI, because they want to connect with influencers who down the line will build companies worth millions or even billions, at which point they will cash in big time.
So no, it’s not always about a lack of sponsorship either.
The market is saturated, overheated and there are just too many niche players to choose from
It’s true anyone with an interest in the tech startup scene is spoilt for choice. There are how many events taking place next during London Tech Week? 500+? How many Meetup groups (literally thousands), how many incubators (70+). So the minute you lose a slight bit of momentum or enthusiasm you won’t want to be looking over your shoulder because the world, her husband, their dog and all of your closest competitors twice removed will be right up in your grill.
The media company behind / responsible for your publication loses interest
I think we may have cracked it – a big publishing agency like Dennis publishing or Emap for example can afford to try different things, run them at a loss for a while, then cut off funding to the worst performing sites, no matter how good their content or how close they are to an exploding readership. It’s similar to how a VC might handle a portfolio of early stage startup’s. They can’t afford to be sentimental – and they won’t be.
So there you go – publications which cover startups, like startups themselves, die out for many reasons and new ones spring up to replace them. There is probably some kind of core number of publications which can be maintained at any one time. It’s not a strict “one in, one out policy” but it’s best to try and get your timings right. In the meantime, we enjoy all the different publications and their reporting for different reasons.
The Daily Memo is sharp and playful, Tech City News is excellent for news on fundraisings, Business Insider always has a scoop, the FT does in-depth well, The Telegraph is pragmatic…etc etc etc.
And if you like your news aggregated / curated, check out Techmeme. Very cool. If only London had a publication like that. Watch this space, we may have some big news for you ; )