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Snapchat redesigns Discover and lets you subscribe to your favorite publishers

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Changing the story

Snapchat is redesigning the Stories page in an effort to boost views of publishers' content — and to help build the advertising business that is currently the company's primary revenue stream. The new design, which begins rolling out today, allows publishers to include an image and a headline to promote each day's story. Live Stories, which consist of user contributions from events around the world and are often more popular than publishers' stories, will now live alongside them on both the Stories and Discover page. And for the first time, you can now "subscribe" to publisher channels, which will place unread stories below updates from your friends on the Stories page. (All publishers will still appear on the Discover page whether you subscribe to them or not.)

The redesign marks Snapchat's latest effort to drive users to Discover content after a somewhat underwhelming first year. The company declined to say how many views the 19 publishers on the platform in the United States currently get, though they are believed to vary widely. Cosmopolitan says it gets 20 million views a month from the platform — a significant number, but far from a smash hit, given how expensive it is for publishers to produce a daily show for Snapchat. (Content made for Snapchat cannot easily be put to other uses, thanks to Snapchat's vertical-only video format.) Subscriptions will give Snapchat another metric for evaluating a channel's success — to subscribe or unsubscribe to a channel, tap and hold during a story and dialog box pops up.

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Merging the more popular Live Stories with Discover should help more users find the editorial channels. That's important for publishers, who sell advertising on their channels, and Snapchat, which splits the revenue with them. (Snapchat also sells its own ads on Live Stories.) Snapchat experimented with charging users for features like replaying snaps and getting permanent access to photo and video filters, but the company abandoned those efforts in favor of focusing on its ad business. In its current incarnation, Snapchat is basically a television advertising business recast for a younger generation that lives on its phones. But TV has hit shows. Snapchat's "hits" have tended to be one-day Live Stories, or paid photo and video filters — a Gatorade filter got 100 million views during the Super Bowl.

Discover stories can feel alien to the platform

Snapchat's challenge is to bring more eyeballs to everyday stories produced by its partners. (Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Snapchat; you'll see Verge content in Discover later this year.) It's a tough challenge. Snapchat's messaging features and Live Stories are often raw, intimate, and emotional — the Utah State love story last month was better than most of the movies I've seen in the past year. Discover stories, by contrast, have often felt alien to the platform — text-heavy, overproduced, and devoid of personality. And it's not all the publishers' fault — Snapchat obsesses over small details in Discover stories and frequently asks for changes, according to people who have worked with the company.

Snapchat is still a company on the way up — it reportedly passed Twitter recently in daily active users. Its messaging features and user-generated Live Stories are brilliantly executed. But to siphon more ad dollars away from television, the company has to figure out a way to make publishers' stories feel as vital to Snapchat as users' own contributions. A redesign offers a starting point, but there's still a lot of work to do.