Publishers, Social Networks, And The Loss Of News Identity

Publishers, Social Networks, And The Loss Of News Identity
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The publishing world is being dominated by social media companies, leaving the traditional publishers floundering. In this opinion piece, Jordan Kretchmer, CEO and founder of Livefyre argues what publishers need to do now.

It’s time that publishers got a wakeup call. Our digital-first world is being appropriated by social giants Apple, Facebook and Snapchat. This appropriation has changed the way we access news. Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and Snapchat Discover are all muscling in on publishers’ most valuable asset – their content. Although these platforms are yet to partner with any Australian outlets, it’s only a matter of time before the industry here follows in the footsteps of the US market.

The way we consume news has changed. Recent Roy Morgan figures paint a bleak picture of declining readership in Australian publications in print and online. This is likely due in part to the rise of social sites – a third of Australians accessed news at least once a day from social networks in 2014.

Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and Snapchat Discover are all platforms that poach publisher-owned content to house on their properties, and they’re offering no remuneration for that content. When did a publisher’s content become a commodity?

There are precedents for the fair monetisation of digital content. Spotify has paid over $2 billion in royalties to music labels and artists in order to stream their services. Amazon Prime spent $1.3 billion on Prime Instant Video, an amount including both funding for original productions and licensing for third-party content. And yet, the social giants of Facebook, Apple and Snapchat are offering publishers nothing to use their content inside the walls of their platform.

So where did publishers go wrong? They’ve made a series of bad decisions that have led to this state of affairs — most remarkably, handing over the keys to their content distribution, which means outsourcing their commercial and intellectual property to leased platforms.

A fine line between an illusion and reality

Although these more integrated, commercial social news channels are yet to hit Australian shores, there’s been a great deal of buzz surrounding this potential shift in the landscape, and when it might happen here. Within this discourse, however, publishers are forgetting the most important aspect of these new products: that no matter what the platform, or what the deal, they all take control, content and identity away from publishers.There are other implications of passing over your content to social channels, including:

  • Enjoying a temporary audience: Social platforms may give publishers access to a broad audience, but the problem is that it’s the platform’s audience, not the publisher’s. The role of the publisher is continually downplayed until they’re no longer a significant factor. The news becomes Facebook’s or Apple’s news. Creating and investing in an audience on a third-party platform means that ultimately, those individuals are devoted to the platform, not the publisher.
  • Loss of identity: Providing content straight to these external platforms means that they hold the power to decide what content people see, and how they see it. Think about this: what happens when every publisher is optimising its content for the same audience on the same platform, with the same advertisers? You end up with generic material. Suddenly a consumer is targeted with similar articles at the same time, from publishers as previously varied as The Australian Financial Review and Buzzfeed.
  • Their platform, their terms: Say goodbye to brand loyalty. Each one of these platforms, just like publishers, has its own distinct personality. In order to publish content within their walls, there’s a certain level of assimilation that publishers have to succumb to. Whether it’s a custom layout or targeted content — this is where a publisher’s content becomes a commodity rather than a valued piece of collateral.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Right now, publishers are sitting at a historical crossroads. Take back their identity, or hand it over completely. Imagine a world where social giants have absorbed every ounce of a publisher’s identity. Say goodbye to The Australian. No more Sydney Morning Herald.

Content is a publisher’s bread and butter. It is the ultimate goal of a publisher to be the place that readers visit to view content, as it results in loyalty, community, and revenue. A reader who takes the time to visit a publisher on purpose every day is significantly more valuable than the fair-weather readers driven by social channels.

Whilst creating effective content to distribute and developing an audience strategy takes time, money and effort, this crucial investment is how publishers can truly own their content, their audience and their future. Whether you’re talking about Facebook, Snapchat, or Apple, depending on a third party network to distribute and own your content means gambling with a fixed dealer.

Publishers should be serving their own purpose, and creating their own offering; channelling people back to their own websites, rather than outsourcing it for free to third parties. However, the rise of the social giants has taught us that readers want two-way interaction with their news channels. They want to be able to comment on, share, and garner opinions from their peers about the news. Publishers can encourage this debate, build communities, and bring social content onto their website, making it the go-to place for loyal readers’ news, discussions, and content.

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