This morning, employees at the millennial-focused digital news site Mic were called into a meeting where its CEO, Chris Altchek, informed them that most of the staff was being laid off, according to Recode. The company had about 100 employees; reports say between 60 and 70 were let go.
This comes after news broke yesterday that Mic was trying to sell itself to the Bustle Media Group. Bustle reportedly said it would only consider taking maybe half of the company. The New York Post reports that the deal is set to be finalized today, with a price of less than $5 million–which is significantly less than the “mid hundreds of millions” of dollars valuation the company was reported to have in 2017.
I reached out to both Altchek and Bustle for comment and will update if I hear back.
This turn of events could very well be considered the climax to the “pivot to video” media strategy we’ve been witnessing for almost two years. Mic was once one of the buzziest and fastest-growing digital media brands out there. It had a voice that catered to the younger generation, and it purported to be focused on the social platforms that attracted these millennial eyeballs.
Mic’s strategy was especially dependent on Facebook and video. It produced its own shows, did live programming, and reallocated resources so that most of its content would exist with social platforms in mind. For a short time, this seemed like a way for media companies to stay alive: Facebook was wooing these publishers with big dollar amounts to create native content. Companies like Mic, meanwhile, began laying off editorial staff in the name of bulking up video content. The idea was that this would give rise to new media consumption patterns; people preferred videos! Not long, boring articles!
But that’s not what happened. Facebook soon began pressing the brake pedal, no longer willing to finance these operations. And the companies that put all their resources into this media began to see a decline in their engagement numbers. Mic isn’t the only one to fall at the wayside because it took Facebook at its word. Others like Vocativ, Upworthy, Little Things, and even bigger operations like Vice Media have all been hit hard.
Mic‘s ultimate sin was its platform reliance. Facebook presented itself as the place where Mic could meet its audience. But the publisher never bargained for what would happen if it lost the platform’s support.
We’re now entering into another era of digital publishing: the post-pivot world. Publishers are still struggling, and they’re always looking for new ways to bring in a quick buck. But as Mic proves, submitting to the whim of another entity, one whose interests don’t align with yours, will only lead to ultimate catastrophe down the line.
Of course, the people most hurt by today’s news aren’t the founders. Instead, it’s the dozens of workers who were laid off. Altchek and his cofounder, Jake Horowitz, made the choice today to fire the entire team while they stay on and try to rebuild what’s left. (Reports say both will continue working for the company after the sale.) Many media pundits will surely focus on the business’s demise, but the real tragedy is the people who lost their steady paychecks.