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Bitcoin bull market sparks boom in crypto news media

Fortune logo Fortune 1/18/2021 Jeff John Roberts
© Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Since launching in 2018, a Brooklyn firm called Blockworks has pulled off a rare feat in the battered media industry: Building a profitable, independent company. The firm found success by building a podcast network that caters to the cryptocurrency world, featuring shows like the “Pomp Podcast,” hosted by a popular startup entrepreneur.

Now the Blockworks founders, Jason Yanowitz and Michael Ippolito, are doubling down on their media ambitions with an eponymous news site they describe as “Bloomberg meets Morning Brew.” The pair sees a convergence between the traditional world of Wall Street and the upstart fintech and crypto industries—and believes they can build an audience at that intersection.

“We identified an institutional niche where there’s a lack of quality information on these topics,” said Ippolito, citing how the CEO of security firm Microstrategy—which last year bought $250 million in Bitcoin for its corporate treasury—resorted to showing his board YouTube videos to explain his crypto plans.

Blockworks is just the latest arrival in the increasingly crowded field of crypto media. The site joins The Block, which offers a mix of news and research aimed at institutional investors, and Decrypt, whose coverage includes the emerging crypto field of “decentralized finance” or DeFi.

The presence of these news sites has meant the coverage of the current crypto boom (or bubble, if you prefer) is different than earlier ones. In the past, two early trade publications, Coindesk and CoinTelegraph, covered the ins and outs of the industry alongside a handful of bloggers—including Ryan Selkis (aka Two-Bit Idiot) who went on to found another crypto media and research firm, Messari.

Ben Schiller, a managing editor at Coindesk, notes another difference from previous booms in that there has been less hype in the mainstream press about crypto. This has been the case even as Bitcoin prices smash records, and as banks and corporations have embraced it like never before.

According to Schiller, the current boom means there’s room for the various publications to carve out different niches for themselves. But he adds that some will fold or get acquired if they’re unable to establish solid business foundations in the coming years.

Schiller knows this firsthand. For more than a year, he helmed a short-lived crypto publication called Breaker Magazine that shut down abruptly in 2019. Despite publishing several lauded investigative pieces, Breaker never found a business strategy to complement its reporting.

The founders of Blockworks, which made a modest profit on $3.5 million of revenue last year, believe they have found a viable strategy by focusing on producing media and information content for businesses.

“I agree the media industry is broadly fraught, but there’s pockets doing quite well. We found an unsexy but profitable niche in B2B,” said Ippolito, who adds Blockworks will initially support its five-person editorial team by selling ads, but is exploring other revenue streams.

While Blockworks believes it’s hits on a successful strategy, the perils of launching a media business are great as ever. The pandemic has largely wiped out the live-events industry, which had become a key revenue pillar for media companies of all stripes. While media outlets have reinvented many of their events as virtual ones, the earnings from ticket sales and sponsorships are paltry in comparison, and many would-be attendees are experiencing Zoom fatigue.

Then there are social media platforms, which have gobbled most of the ad revenue that used to flow to news companies. Schiller notes that crypto media companies have to compete with these platforms not only for money, but for clout and attention.

He points out that many influential figures in crypto—echoing a trend in the broader tech industry—are reluctant to use media outlets as intermediaries, preferring instead to speak to the public directly on platforms like Twitter and Medium.

In the face of such challenges, the best hope for some of the smaller players may be to get absorbed into the financial media empires of Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal. But Lara O’Reilly, an editor who covers the media industry at Business Insider, notes that the big companies may prefer to poach the talent of the crypto minnows rather than pay to acquire them outright.

O’Reilly added that the smaller companies could be appealing targets to big B2B publishers looking for new verticals, or finding a way forward by banding together.

“It’s probably likely some of the smaller crypto media companies will merge, particularly if they serve slightly different audiences and don’t share too many of the same advertisers,” she said in an email to Fortune.

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This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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