What next now the news media has lost

The infrastructure is complete. Image by Miroslav Petrasko

You can see the future coming.

Meanwhile The New York Times reports that 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook as the death of traditional advertising sales gathers pace.

Capturing the castle

Image from Connect the Dots 101

Search and social platforms long ago captured the advertising market, not because of content but because they knew how to build and segment audiences, and they knew how to build useful tools for advertisers.

News organisations did neither well.

News organisations thought they were content companies, and discovered too late that they needed to be technology companies.

Social media companies thought they were technology companies, and are discovering they need to be content companies.

Join the dots.

Medium completes the new news infrastucture

Medium, meanwhile, positioned themselves in this space early on: a technology company with a focus on content, making early acquisitions and partnerships in that space.

This month they made another move: courting publishers with custom tools and “two new ways that publishers can opt in to earn revenue on Medium”: promoted stories; and membership.

The infrastructure for the future of news is complete…

3 responses to losing the game

Image by Karlo Moharic

…The question is: what are publishers going to do with it?

Some legacy organisations will continue to play the same game they have always played, trying to compete on scale by commoditising and optimising content and, indeed, advertising itself through real-time and programmatic. They don’t control the infrastructure.

Some are trying to change the rules of the game by offering different metrics of engagement and attention and different formats such as native advertising. They don’t control the infrastructure.

And some are weaning themselves off the advertising habit: trying to build alternative revenue streams around membership, subscriptions and events. The challenge is to change the content to match the strategy: news organisations are built on models — and, equally importantly, cultures — that make content to sell advertising, not content to sell memberships or events, or to engage users.

As Joshua Topolsky put it the very day this piece was published:

“Your problem is that you make shit. A lot of shit. Cheap shit. And no one cares about you or your cheap shit. And an increasingly aware, connected, and mutable audience is onto your cheap shit. They don’t want your cheap shit. They want the good shit. And they will go to find it somewhere. Hell, they’ll even pay for it.”

Whose infrastructure?

There is still an opportunity to build — if you can justify it. Image by Jrtok

There was a time when news startups had the advantage of not having to maintain legacy costs like printing, paper and distribution.

Now we are entering an era where startups have the advantage of not having to maintain legacy costs like, well: a website.

Much has been made of the newspaper New Day‘s decision to have “no website”, but it does have a website: it just happens to start with facebook.com.

From 2016, if you want to run an advertising-based content business online, you increasingly face a choice whether to build on the infrastructure of Facebook’s Instant Articles (and maybe Apple News).

But also, if you want to run a membership-based content business online, you may increasingly face a choice whether to build on the infrastructure of Medium (and maybe Beacon).

A fourth response to losing

Google’s algorithm prioritises search results using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Above I listed 3 responses by publishers to losing the advertising game. There is a fourth response, but it involves a significant shift in perspective.

From 2016, publishers will increasingly need to justify why they need a website at all (and not just code it for Google AMP).

To do that, they will need to move beyond content and towards products and services, just as they already do when considering an app, an email newsletter or, increasingly, a bot.

Techmeme is an old fashioned example of this: a technology as much as a content proposition. MySociety’s services and technologies are journalistic projects at their core. The Texas Tribune, ProPublica, RBI and Haymarket all offer data services. Men’s Fitness Cover Model Body Plan and similar spin-off apps are products.

These examples point the way to a future which is already here, just unevenly distributed.

The Facebook/Google/Medium takeover is not the end of the open web, but rather the beginning of journalism which is genuinely of the internet and not merely on the web.

If publishers can see the opportunity, we have quite a future ahead.

This post was first published on the Online Journalism Blog. Subscribe there to be notified when new posts are published.