Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Ozy Ozy Ozy

Speaking of fragile CEOs, if you have not yet read this week’s Ben Smith column in the New York Times, I promise it is worth making time for. In a nutshell, there’s this media company called Ozy that believes it is more popular than there is any evidence for to an egregious degree. There might be an FBI investigation into a specific incident where its cofounder apparently impersonated a YouTube executive. It is, if nothing else, an entertaining article.

Ozy CEO Carlos Watson claims this piece is a “ridiculous hitjob”. But while he says the impersonation incident was a result of a mental health issue, he offers little counterpoint to the seemingly trumped-up audience metrics.

Joshua Benton, of Nieman Lab, used the article as a jumping-off point to examine Ozy’s frequent claim that it finds up-and-coming talents before anyone else. This, too, seems to be bullshit — and, as Benton shows, it is alarming how often the company’s claims seem to be approvingly echoed by others — but I wanted to explore one tangental detail:

Let me twist my media decoder ring for a second. “Subscribers” is a term that can mean two things: “people who pay for regular access to your product” or “people whose email address we have.” Ozy’s number isn’t the former. They now claim 25 million “subscribers,” meaning they have a database with that many email addresses.

Watson twice claims 26 million in the same email that he claims 25 million, but never mind. I spend a lot of time on the web and also could not remember the last time one of its articles made its way into my orbit. I searched my Pinboard and could only find a single link I had saved from the site: a story about the then-author of Merriam Webster’s Twitter account.

The reason I am mentioning this is, despite its near-irrelevance in my head, the Ozy brand still rung a bell. I could not figure out why until I saw a tweet from Mike Masnick sharing Smith’s story:

This story is absolutely bonkers. Separately, I’ll note that until I read this story I had never even heard of OZY, but I just checked and somehow I’m subscribed to what appears to be all of its email newsletters (all routed directly into my spam folder).

I also checked and found that I was subscribed to email from Ozy between 2015 and 2018. I do not remember subscribing or unsubscribing, but I found that the earliest emails I received were co-branded with Wired. And I do remember subscribing to Wired. I wonder if this helps explain how Ozy built its list of 25–26 million subscribers.