Fort Lee-Based Jerrick Bets on Long-Form Digital Publishing as Alternative to Online Ads – NJ Tech Weekly

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Jerrick Media Holdings
is building significant momentum on a tech bet that promises to offer a better
alternative to the online advertising business.

Since Jerrick’s relaunch, in December 2016,
the Fort Lee-based company’s proprietary long-form digital publishing platform,
Vocal, has
attracted millions of people who have viewed or listened to content from more
than 380,000 writers, musicians, video producers, podcasters and others in the
platform’s 34 topic-specific “communities.” A recent research report on the
firm said that the Vocal platform is expected to more than double its number of
content creators this year.

Vocal Platform

Vocal allows creators to post articles,
videos, music and other content that could garner greater recognition for their
work, and to get paid for it – without charging them any fees. This content
also appeals to advertisers seeking new and innovative ways to market their
products to an engaged and targeted audience.

A few years ago, Jerrick’s executives
felt that the timing was right to begin work on Vocal, which was developed by
teams in New Jersey and Australia. They concluded that digital advertising
techniques, such as banner ads and pop-ups, were wearing thin on consumers, and
that it was only a matter of time before these techniques would reach their peak.

This meant that the company needed a
cost-efficient way to deliver rich content to digital-savvy consumers who want
to be informed and entertained without being constantly bombarded with online sales
pitches.

Jerrick CEO Jeremy Frommer, a former
Wall Street executive who founded the company in 2012 with Hollywood film
producer Rick Schwartz, realized that a platform like Vocal was needed for the
company’s survival. “The definition of a successful technology company is one
that has a platform that it can operate from,” he said.   

Why New Jersey?

Frommer and Schwartz chose to launch
this technology in Fort Lee because of its proximity to New York City,
reasonably priced office space for Jerrick’s 30 employees, and the growing
number of early-stage tech companies in the Fort Lee area. The cofounders have
also taken an active role in fostering the city’s growth as a tech hub by
organizing networking events and other activities.

At Jerrick’s headquarters, employees can
be found working on the platform, which enables creative people to produce content
designed specifically for an audience that’s increasingly tuning out online
advertising. “We were seeing early on that traditional revenue models for
digital media were flawed,” said Justin Maury, Jerrick and Vocal’s head of
product. “We needed to build a product that could solve a growing need, which
was user-generated content.”

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Digital media platforms like Vocal,
Vimeo, Patreon and Medium are viewed as an outgrowth of the consumer backlash
against various forms of digital ads, which have been denounced as intrusive
and ineffective.

In addition, recent studies on digital
publishing platforms have found that they tend to be more effective in building
audience engagement than online advertising. This conclusion is supported by an
industry report that says that branded content creates more than three times as
many sales leads as outbound marketing. Other studies have shown that most
Americans ignore digital advertising.

More people are flocking to digital
content publishing sites because they offer topics that are of interest to
them. This allows both creators and brands to produce diverse content in hopes
of building a large and loyal base of followers that, in turn, will generate
increased interest in these platforms.

The Vocal platform hosts a lot of informational
and entertainment content, including topics on food, sports, cosmetics and controversial
issues such as the cannabis industry and human sexuality. The firm says that blogs
posted on Vocal are read, on average, for more than four minutes, compared with
nearly 40 seconds for blogs posted elsewhere online.

Incentives for Content Producers

To achieve its goal of becoming a
successful digital publishing company, Jerrick offers attractive incentives for
content creators on Vocal.

These include a comprehensive set of
editing tools that will help creators to make their online content visible to a
wider audience through the platform’s search-engine-optimization (SEO) feature.

Vocal also has technology that pays
creators for work that might not be funded elsewhere. The pay rates are
determined by an algorithm that measures audience engagement with their
content, or by an Uber-like feature that allows Vocal’s audience to make
donations, or both.

To ensure quality control of the
platform, humans and automated systems vet “every piece of content before it
gets published,” said Maury, to guard against “fake news” and other
inappropriate content.  

Jerrick also has an in-house studio,
called “Vocal for Brands,” which offers fee-based branded content campaigns on
the platform’s network.

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The company is now public. In the first quarter of 2016, Jerrick’s intellectual
property (IP) and technology, including the Vocal platform, were rolled into
one entity through a reverse merger, thus recasting Jerrick as a publicly
traded tech company.

Going forward, Jerrick is contemplating
charging Vocal creators a monthly subscription fee, starting later this year,
that would entitle them to premium add-on services and features. The company
may also offer a similar subscription fee for brands.  

“Lucky to Learn from Mistakes of Others”

Maury credits some of Vocal’s growth to Jerrick’s
strategy of capitalizing on the missteps of other digital media providers. “We
don’t want to be the first to market, but the second to market. We’ve been
lucky enough to learn from the mistakes of others, and have positioned
ourselves in a way that we can take away a large percentage of market share,”
he said.

The rise of social publishing platforms
like Vocal may weaken the grip of the Facebook/Google ad duopoly on the digital
marketing space. According to an eMarketer report, these tech behemoths
dominate the business, accounting for more than 60 percent of all ad spending
in 2017; and total ad spending is expected to reach $100 billion within the
next few years.

Maury expects that Facebook and Google
will continue to be the biggest players in the industry, at least in the near future,
but upstarts like Vocal are poised to play a greater role in the digital media industry.
“I think there will continue to be a duopoly, but there will be a large amount
of people more interested in an educational type of marketing.”  

While the digital publishing business is
expected to show continued growth in the coming years, Jerrick doesn’t pay much
attention to Vocal’s competitors.

“We’re not particularly competing
against anyone,” said Frommer. “What we are competing for is eyeballs.”

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