News about layoffs in the publishing industry has become an increasingly common event in recent years. Executives are positioning these layoffs as an attempt to optimize their operations to bring greater value to their audience, but the reality is that what we’re witnessing is a seismic shift that hundred year-old companies simply can’t fight against.
In a matter of just one decade everything changed for the global publishing industry, and it’s all thanks to the advancement of Internet technology and the unprecedented rise of the “platforms”.
But what exactly are these so-called “platforms”, and what can they do that the publishing behemoths can’t?
For the purposes of this post, let’s break this broad term down into three distinct sub-categories: social media platforms, publishing platforms, and advertising platforms.
Social media platforms
Historically, publishers ran their entire content supply chain—from research to creation, and publication to distribution. However, when social media platforms first emerged, it seemed like the perfect channel for digital content distribution. These platforms offered massive reach—especially if content went viral.
At first, these platforms proved to be powerful distribution channels that publishers could incorporate as part of their overall strategies, but what began as a nice-to-have add-on quickly became a can’t-live-without.
The efficiency of generating organic traffic quickly got publishers on the social media needle, and problems ensued when social media platforms started altered their algorithms to prioritize user generated content over publisher stories—effectively killing organic reach for businesses.
The grim reality for publishers is that the communities they spent so much spent time carefully cultivating are no longer seeing their content, and this is worsened by the fact that Facebook and other social media sites are where a significant portion of today’s readers get their news. In fact, 63 percent of Facebook’s audience now reports that the platform serves as their primary news source. However, the majority of these news stories aren’t generating clicks—they’re simply being skimmed over, which means that they’re generating no ad revenue on publisher properties.
Facebook’s leap towards becoming a primary news destination on the web is resulting in a diminishing role for publishers, who are effectively becoming content suppliers for the platform that have no say when it comes to the manner in which their content is being displayed or distributed. Case in point: the company’s new “Instant Articles”.
Designed to offer users a smoother experience, Facebook’s Instant Articles effectively disallows exits from Facebook. When users click through to content housed outside of the platform, web pages can be slow to load and lead to frustration, resulting in users closing the app or clicking on another website. Instant Articles rectifies this problem by hosting articles on the platform, keeping customers on its property.
What’s more, Facebook also significantly restricts how many ads publishers can show in its latest offering, and presents a stripped down design that removes important links that may help recirculate traffic to a publisher’s other posts.
There has been no better time for home-grown content artisans. There are an increasing number of musicians who have won Grammys for music produced at home on their laptop, and freelance writers are reaching millions with articles they’ve written from their local coffee shop.
Modern self-publishing platforms have facilitated a democratic, direct two-way relationship between content producers and consumers, allowing them to spend time producing the things they want to produce without being stifled by the restrictions, red tape, and exorbitant costs of traditional production and distribution channels.
Spearheading this movement are platforms like YouTube, WordPress, and Medium—all of which have been credited with facilitating the “democratization of content”.
Each of these publishing platforms allows their community members to freely contribute and publish their own original content. This is in stark contrast to traditional publishers who, for the most part, have not welcomed the democratization of content with open arms, and are instead clinging on to the “good old days” when they owned a content creation monopoly.
Journalists no longer have to rely on publishers to get eyes on their stories—and that’s not good news for the publishers that rely on them to keep their businesses afloat.
The rise of advertising technology has put publishers in a bind. Up until a few years ago, the core differentiator that a publisher could offer its advertisers was its audience, and the desirability of a certain publisher’s audience was enough to justify the premium pricing they were charging.
But with the birth of advertising platforms, advertisers now have the ability to target only audiences or users of interest to them. This meant that they could find the same user anywhere on the web—regardless of whether he or she was reading an article on the country’s largest publisher property, an obscure blog, or a mobile app.
Brands are beginning to understand that, at the end of the day, it’s the same user that interacts with their message, whether this exposure happens on a premium publisher site or otherwise. This is saving costs for advertisers and making it easier for them to reach the right audience, but it’s also putting a downward pressure on publishers’ ad inventory pricing.
Other publisher advertising solutions—such as custom content—are largely going unscathed by the rise of these advertising platforms. But as more and more programmatic technologies designed to aid in the distribution of content emerge, publishers are becoming even more at risk of losing their competitive edge.
The growing power media platforms have over publishers is the consequence of a long chain of events that unfolded in an industry that happened to be going through a period of profound change.
We have entered an era where the creation and distribution of content on a global scale is becoming easier than ever before, and this democratization of content and technology means that in order to survive, publishers need to completely reinvent their business models.
That doesn’t mean to say that traditional publishers have to begin creating newfangled viral content a la Buzzfeed, though. There are many other potential models that have yet to be discovered that will help publishers monetize their content—and we look forward to watching these concepts take shape.