The never-ending doom spiral is back

Read to the end for a good meme

Where Are We In The Subscription Death Cycle?

Every 4.5 months since 2019, I’ve read that the subscription age will soon be over, if it’s not already. Sometimes it’s just email newsletter subscriptions, sometimes it’s just subscriptions for news content, and sometimes it’s all subscriptions everywhere. We are currently in the midst of another one of these cycles and, yeah, things look pretty grim.

Semafor’s Ben Smith debated the longevity of the subscription model with The Messenger’s former chief growth officer and ur-viral news blogger Neetzan Zimmerman this week. Axios has a one-two punch of stories, as well, revealing that Substack is experimenting with selling ads on certain podcasts and, also, a much more grim overview of the media industry right now titled, “The Great Subscription Reversal”. Also, this week, Fox and Warner Bros. announced they’re basically reinventing a shared cable package for ESPN.

Of course, all of this sounds bad if you ignore a bunch of other stuff. Netflix had an outrageously profitable quarter after leaning even further into subscriptions. As did The New York Times. Nebula, a Patreon-like paywall platform made for and by YouTubers, is profitable. As is Dropout, the paywalled streaming service built by former College Humor employees. Defector made $3.7 million in subscription revenue last year. And even Spotify subscriptions are up!

Even more so than tech monopolies gobbling up audiences and advertising, the real existential crisis for the media business since the turn of the millennium has been a pathological inability to imagine more than one kind of business model at a time. Once a little money starts coming in — venture capital, branded advertising, platform rev share, licensing, subscriptions — news organizations decide it’s the only way to make money. And then they all start moaning about how it “can’t save news” if it doesn’t universally apply to every outlet. And this never-ending doom spiral is especially funny when news orgs start whining about subscriptions because I don’t even think subscriptions are one, single business model. As someone who has lived primarily off subscription-based income for the last three years (thank you 🥰), I actually think there are three: binge, access, and parasocial. They overlap with each other — and, honestly, a good subscription business consistently offers all three — but none of them really behave the same way.

For instance, a few years ago, I learned that the binge model works best for me. I paywall more content, whether it’s in weekend digests, my Discord server, or at ticketed live events. You pay me, you get more. After talking to other newsletter writers that paywall scoops, or access, however, I discovered that they tend to have much bigger spikes in paid conversions, but their churn tends to be worse than mine. Which makes sense, they get a good scoop, readers pay the monthly fee to read it, and bounce. At the same time, I will (probably) never have the kind of consistent subscriber growth of a YouTuber on Nebula or a podcast on Patreon because I’m not a niche internet celebrity (yet (I don’t think)). I don’t command a massive internet army of fans, but I also don’t have to, you know, shower and look presentable to make content lol. Seems like a fair trade off.

When I read that news outlets like TechCrunch or The Washington Post are struggling with subscriptions, my first thought isn’t “it’s all over.” My first thought is, “did subscriptions fit their business model or vice versa?” I never used TechCrunch+, the site’s subscription vertical, but I did come across an interview with the site’s former managing editor Danny Crichton, who blamed the failure of at least one iteration of the program on a lack of good freelancers and the fact staff writers couldn’t take time out of their schedules to write huge paywalled features. I’m sorry, but why on Earth would you be, one, paywalling freelancers your audience, assumedly, has no connection with and, two, paywalling massive features written as, essentially, an afterthought?

And this doesn’t just apply to news outlets. You can run through any kind of subscription business and play this game. I’m a big fan of the podcaster Michael Hobbes and on Patreon he offers additional episodes of his current show If Books Could Kill. Which is smart because his free episodes are good and they don’t come out every week and I, personally, want to hear more. A friend of mine, last year, bought a subscription to Dropout and preceded to watch all 21 seasons of their of tabletop RPG show Dimension 20 and then kept the subscription because Dropout uses a lot of the same actors and he followed them to other Dropout shows and now he’s a fan. See how easy that is?

But I know most journalists — and all editors — hate acknowledging the existence of online creators, even if they could learn a bunch of stuff from them that could help them save their businesses. So I’ll use a mainstream media example here of an outlet that, I think, has all three of these subscription models working pretty well: Bloomberg. I, personally, subscribed because I’m part of the Matt Levine hive (parasocial). But I keep subscribing because they offer a lot more content behind their paywall (binge) and thanks to the Bloomberg terminal, they are also extremely fast breaking certain kinds of news (access).

A media company doesn’t need to do all three at once, though. Just figure out what people will pay for and do more of that. Or don’t! Don’t use subscriptions at all if you don’t want to make the kind of content people will pay for. Go publish the time the Super Bowl’s on or whatever idk.

Also, while I’ve got you here, think about subscribing to Garbage Day. It’s $5 a month or $45 a year and you get more of everything. Hit the green button below to check it out.

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What’s on today?

Every day has one thing up for sale. Whatever it is, it’s the best deal anywhere for that thing.

So what is it today? Just go look.

Yes, we could tell you here. Instead of a distorted photo, we could just show it to you. Instead of saying it’s “a big ol’ thing for moving stuff around” we could just give you the name and the price.

But that’s not how works - we’ve got a whole write-up, we’ve got a community discussing the pros and cons, we’ll share a price comp link from Amazon, stats about how many we’ve sold and where…it’s a whole thing. And it’s easier to just go to to see what we’re talking about.

The VTuber Drama Market Effect

—by Adam Bumas

VTubers — or streamers that use virtual avatars — are a big enough business that they have dedicated agencies, promotion, and now, even scandals. This week, one VTuber was fired by her agency, which caused such a big backlash that it’s now tanked the company’s stock price.

This was shared in the Garbage Day Discord by user Lita. I’d like to thank them, along with users Lakshata and Mo, for helping me understand what I was looking at in the graph below. 

That chart is the stock price for ANYCOLOR, the parent company of Nijisanji, an agency that manages and signs experienced VTubers. In theory, it works just like a record contract. The company gets new talent with established fanbases and the streamers get a whole corporate and media apparatus to manage and promote them.

Since these are VTubers, though, the contract also means they get brand new faces and names using proprietary face-capture software, which adds a fun cyberpunk-dystopian touch to the whole thing. Especially when you consider they look like this:


But it also makes the drama hard to talk about and take seriously. Making matters worse, Nijisanji calls their VTubers “Livers” (as in “livestream,” but I can’t help but read it as the organ) and follows the common J-pop practice of calling it a “graduation” when someone stops performing.

On Monday, Nijisanji fired Selen Tatsuki, probably their biggest English-language Liver, who won two VTuber Awards last year. Yes, there are awards for this sort of thing. The company cited multiple breaches of contract, and blamed her for the leave of absence she had taken since late December. She then responded on X by revealing she took the leave because she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt, and accused the company of mismanagement, lack of communication, and bullying.

The end result is that Selen Tatsuki now no longer exists and the performer behind the avatar has returned to her old VTuber persona, Dokibird.

Even though this is a situation that’s required literal investor reports, it’s still one you can file under our long-held philosophy that “all drama is mod drama”. It’s also a useful illustration of how different managing streamers is to managing pop Idols. VTubers, regardless of their avatars, are much more connected to their audiences and their audiences will follow them. And, yeah, the Nijisanji community will probably shrink, though, ultimately, stay popular enough for this whole song and dance to happen again in a while, with different names and faces. Ones that, of course, change when they “graduate”.

Speaking of subscriptions! YouTube TV is now one of the most popular pay-TV programs in the US. It has over 8 million subscribers even though it costs an astonishing $73 a month.

There’s a bunch of other fascinating insights in the platform’s new blog post, “Letter from the YouTube CEO: 4 Big bets for 2024,” which they put out this week. Shorts is getting around 70 billion views daily (the algorithm and interface push them pretty relentlessly). There’s been a 400% increase in creators that get the majority of their views on TV screens. And YouTube’s native creator subscription feature, memberships, is thriving, as well.

Elsewhere, YouTube has revamped its Twitch-like “clips” section, where creators can feature moments from within larger livestreams. Also, while we’re talking about YouTube, I’d be remiss to not recommend this fascinating piece in The Atlantic covering a new study about the actual size of the platform. It’s real big.

All of this is enough to make you wonder if TikTok can keep up. In fact, Gizmodo recently published a piece looking at that very question, now that the short-form video app has found itself in a three-front war, going after Amazon with e-commerce, Google with Search, and, most recently, YouTube with long, horizontal videos. On Monday, I compared YouTube and TikTok to Facebook and Twitter in the early 2010s and just like Facebook circa 2013, YouTube has become very aggressive about absorbing the novel features of its competitors. Which seems like a much more solid strategy that trying to transform into three different companies at once.

Fake MrBeast Is All Over Facebook

Facebook/Cravina Eventos

A reader named Danny spotted deepfake-ish MrBeast Reels on Facebook and sent them to me so I could take a look. One page that seems to be running a lot of them is a Brazilian events company called Cravina Eventos that either had their page hacked or decided to start advertising gambling mobile games. Another page running fake MrBeast Reels is a German page called Lucky World, which uses MrBeast as its profile picture and is nothing but spam for casino games.

Interestingly enough, both ads that were sent to me are for the same game, Sweet Bonanza, which was created by a Maltese company called Pragmatic Play. I haven’t found any hard connection between the scam videos and Pragmatic Play, but it’s weird it’s the same app in both.

Yesterday, Meta’s chief apologizer, Nick Clegg announced that AI-generated images would start being labeled on the company’s platforms, but these Reels don’t use AI-generated imagery. Instead, they use a (bad) audio clone of MrBeast and dub over parts of his videos and interviews to make it sound like he’s hawking Sweet Bonanza. Not that you even really need the AI audio because Meta’s Reels still default play with the sound off and they’re subtitled.

Though, I doubt the new AI labels would even matter if they applied here, seeing as how Meta didn’t remove a video posted last fall that used similar manipulated video techniques to make President Biden look like a pedophile.

Bluesky Is Officially Open

Now we’re finally going to find out whether Bluesky has a shot. The site, much to its detriment, I think, has been invite-only for the last year. Which has given it an insularity that I find both deeply annoying and fairly useless. A real “why would I want to be in a group chat with a bunch of clearly unwell people I don’t know?” kind of vibe. Logging in feels like going to a weird high school reunion for the 2018 midterm elections. Or like a group therapy session for former social media managers idk.

I also don’t really use it much because I think the mobile app is still really clunky.

All that said, there are some nifty features that Bluesky has managed to come up with. You can customize different feeds, it has pretty sophisticated moderation tools, and some of the better Peak Twitter shitposters are on there. Though, it still suffers from the same problem that Threads suffers from, which is that most of its users are white people who mainly work in tech and media. Twitter would have never become Twitter if not for Black Twitter.

There’s also the question of whether or not any text-based app — or text at all — can survive on the new internet. Which is why, if I were designing an app where people wrote words, I would spend less time solving the question of “what made Twitter ‘good’?” And instead try and answer the question of, “how do you make an app where reading and writing is as fun and immediately gratifying as filming and watching TikTok videos?” Which neither Bluesky or Threads seem to be asking.

This Is The Best (And Most Reasonable) Palworld Summary I’ve Seen So Far

If you’re still struggling to understand what all the Palworld hoopla is about, I think this video from the YouTube channel gmedley does a good job putting together a rough timeline.

Now that the dust has settled and the fears of AI and Pokémon copyright infringement have mostly been dispelled, it turns out the real story is actually much more interesting. A fairly small company built what is now one of the most popular games of all time, largely by accident. Everything that could have gone wrong pretty much did and through the power of sheer dumb luck they ended up with not just a playable game, but one that is genuinely fun, even in early access.

Feels Like There Just Has To Be A Better Way To Get Around St. Louis

P.S. here’s a good meme.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***


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