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The world of online publishing is constantly evolving. A 20-year-old industry that quickly became more powerful and influential than its older print sibling is undergoing constant disruption by new technologies and changing audience consumption patterns. The perfect storm of 2015 – spiking mobile device penetration, the dominance of social media and the constant connectivity of end users – has set the stage for the rise of a new breed of publishers. Audiences no longer seek and consume the content of a small set of trusted publishers, but rather turn to their social media feeds to find content they stumble upon from a large variety of sources.
From barriers to open borders
Historically, publishers have owned their means of distribution. They operated printing houses and fleets of trucks, radio waves and AM/FM stations, broadcast channels and placement on set top boxes, and, since rise of the internet, they’ve owned website domains. These were serious barriers to entry that prevented competition and earned publishers the long-term loyalty of the audiences they acquired. Today, not only can everyone blog or create a viral video by using technologies they can access in their pockets, but they can easily distribute their creations through social networks that potentially enable them to reach millions of users instantly.
Traditional publishers no longer own exclusive access to consumers. Instead, they have to contend with the virtually endless shelf space of Facebook’s and Twitter’s newsfeeds. Independent authors can create popular content just as easily as the big guys can, and the human-driven editorial process has given way to a heady brew of crowd wisdom and a set of algorithms that prioritize a social network’s editorial and/or commercial considerations. These social feeds have emerged as our primary venues for content discovery.
The modern publisher
The emerging model of ubiquitous publishing completely detaches the publisher from the means of distribution. Publishers should no longer care whether their content is consumed on their own website or app, or on a third party outlet. Traditional publishers may still hope to “own” users, but those with vision are tracking their content views, as opposed to website visits. The difference comes down to business models.
In today’s digital world, publishers can no longer believe that their currency is users. The currencies of today are views and social media shares. The key to not only survival, but success in the digital age, is by finding ways to integrate the content that their most loyal audience members already love with media formats optimized to resonate with today’s content consumers.
The media ecosystem is constantly diversifying and consolidating. There are always going to be waves of democratization and centralization. Today’s content needs to find people wherever they may be, and it needs to spark meaningful conversations. The content itself doesn’t need to change – the platforms and formats in which it is delivered just need to be enhanced to meet the standards of an ever-evolving social and mobile age.
Keys to success in the social media era
Today, we no longer merely consume items of content; we interact and unlock different aspects of it. We discuss it with its creators and our peers. And when we really feel connected to it, we act as its own marketing agents and distributors, because telling the world that we endorse something helps us feel connected to our own fluid public identities.
It doesn’t matter if a publisher wants to appear prominently in your Facebook newsfeed or send you a push via Snapchat. Today’s publishers need to use the latest technological tools, data-driven insights and the right media formats as part of their legacy editorial processes and distribution strategies. In a mobile, digital age where anyone can reach the masses, audiences have become overloaded. As a result, engagement metrics like social sharing of content and attention minutes have come to represent the highest level of brand loyalty that publishers can hope for.
To be clear — playful formats of content are not aimed to be a replacement for in-depth journalism. Long form, investigative journalism coupled with personalised, snackable, interactive and inherently shareable media formats have sparked lively social engagement on some of the world’s biggest conversations. These are the same discussions taking place on college campuses, in town hall meetings and around dinner tables. It may be true that publishers are no longer our content gatekeepers, but finding on-message ways to leverage contemporary media experiences in this hyper-connected, attention deficient world has not only proven doable but also extraordinarily valuable.