How to address the existential crisis of digital platforms and publishers

Published: October 19, 2018 1:03 AM

A look at how the existential crisis of digital platforms and publishers can be addressed.

entertainment, consumer marketPublishers have spent close to a century across the world developing core competencies of understanding the consumer and bringing her the daily dose of news, information, entertainment, etc in a format she is comfortable with, at her doorstep at a negligible cost.

Over a period of time, it seems that the distinction between digital platforms and publishers has been lost in translation — and the digital world is just not big enough for the both of them. Their roles are merging in a quagmire of competitiveness.

The biggest ambiguity is whether platforms will end up turning into publishers or will publishers expand to become platforms. If so, who will gobble whom? If size matters, and it almost always does, the answer is quite evident — the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google are today’s tech behemoths that have monies to harness whatever power they desire. But then again, money can’t buy you tricks of a trade that have been fine-tuned over decades.

The dilemma

Publishers have spent close to a century across the world developing core competencies of understanding the consumer and bringing her the daily dose of news, information, entertainment, etc in a format she is comfortable with, at her doorstep at a negligible cost. Platforms may not be able to figure out in a snap the 100 years of knowledge and expertise that media publishers possess.

On the other hand, publishers immensely concerned with the fact that about 80% of all current digital revenue is going to platforms, have concluded that the massive reach platforms provide is the renegade that is making this happen. Their rush to generate mindless page views is turning out to be counter-productive to the exercise of remaining relevant. As a consequence, future growth prospects for both are shrouded in bleakness. Is there even a solution to this dilemma?

In my opinion, a solution can invariably be found in first principles. If both industries ask themselves ‘why’ they came into being in the first place, and what was and continues to remain the original consumer need they were born to fulfil — maybe they can find answers! Platforms came into being to be social connectors. When did these morph into providing news, soliciting for advertising dollars and, heaven help us, advertiser funded content?

The true promisePublishers, on the other hand, need to continue to stay committed to what they are good at — providing authenticated content. And it really doesn’t matter where this content goes (newspaper or e-reader) — the digital screen is just another pipeline. If platforms are social connectors, their content is going to be (and it should be) at best the opinion of friends and family sitting across the dining table — real and genuine all right, but also unauthenticated and unedited.

What publishers on the other hand specialise in is news. Fighting fake news is completely the wrong ball to chase for pure-play digital platforms. It is like fighting rumours, and it is just not possible. News was never the core promise of platforms and thus serving real/validated news is not what they should be trying to achieve. That is best left to publishers.

Platforms can nevertheless rake in revenue by creating and monetising social connections they help uphold. Meanwhile, if publishers break down the walls of insecurity they are cementing around themselves, they can get back to concentrating on what they are known for — providing authentic content. The digital town really can be big enough for the both of us if we focus our aim where we should — to fulfil two very separate needs of consumers — and not at each other. Maybe then we will move out from the Wild West to gentler, more collaborative pastures?

Apurva Purohit is president, Jagran Prakashan

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