Destination or distributed, or not….

So what’s new about the news that all the digital big boys are suddenly launching big news initiatives.

In April, Google launched  their “€150m Innovation Fund for the European news sector to “encourage and financially support fresh thinking in the practice of digital journalism”.

The project now boasts 11 founding partners including The Financial Times, El Pais, Die Zeit an openly skeptical Guardian Absentees include News Corp and Axel Springer,  and “over 1,000 interested parties” in from the start, including a wide range of new entrants. A good move by Google? You bet.

Meanwhile Facebook have launched “Instant Articles” which enables publishers to “distribute any type of article, from daily news to long-form features. Instant Articles integrate seamlessly with your current workflow, using existing production tools. 

“Publishers are in control. You decide what to publish. Sell ads in your articles and keep the revenue, or take advantage of Facebook Audience Network to maximize total revenue. 

“Watch autoplay video come alive as you scroll through the article. See where it all happened with interactive maps. Hear the author’s voice with embedded audio captions.”

Providing it’s on Facebook of course.

Then there are Twitter’s “Moments” – aimed at attracting content from publishers and the twitterati. Their proposition suggests:  “Tapping on the new lightning bolt tab on your phone opens a list of Moments that matter now. As new stories emerge throughout the day, we continue to update this list.”

By “Lightening Bolt” they mean “human curated news” of content (which seems somewhat counter productive in this automated age) from the likes of Buzzfeed, Fox News, Getty Images, Mashable, NASA, New York Times, Vogue and the Washington Post.

All in 160 Characters…. but then I’ve never been a Twitterer.

Most recently Apple’s “News App” hopes to “make newspapers and magazines relevant in an era of smartphones and tablets”. It promises “beautiful content from the world’s greatest sources, personalised for you… You’ll no longer need to move from app to app to stay informed”. So far, in the UK, the concept has enticed The Guardian, The Telegraph, Mail Online, Financial Times, Sky News and others.

This is code for a concept I tried to roll out about ten years ago, where someone could subscribe to an online new-stand and pick out articles across a range of different media, who can choose whatever pricing model they want, from free to pay per word, to full subscription, and beyond.

That was when the industry was three times the size it is now…. If only….

Anyway, blame my cynicism on my Presbyterian upbringing. One rich man opening his arms to a troubled child is a blessing. Four turning up at the same time is  either a Bethlehem moment, or a patsy shoot.

I’ve long believed that Google’s intentions are honorable, being a long proponent of Google News as a positive generator of audience (though I used to worry they’d start charging for traffic). Other than creating a pool of projects in which they can further invest from their fortunes, this is a good initiative, good for publishers, and new entrants, and good for the competitive market.

But my biggest concern is that publishers are moving from a destination model to a distributed model.

Rather than being a branded source of knowledge, through Facebook and Twitter, et al, traditional publishers are taking an easy route to an audience at the expense of brand value dilution. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Microsoft and Google indulge in print and TV advertising. They recognise their own weakness is they are media for engagement not for branding.

In March 2012 I wrongly wrote, during the leadup to Facebook’s IPO that the company was already past the peak of its product life-cycle. For a year after their launch, its share price skulked well below that at launch. Since then it has enjoyed a meteoric rise. Meanwhile Twitter has floundered, perhaps reflecting the early dip of business evolution, but I never got the 160 concept.

As for Apple. I’ve abandoned my MacBook and iPhone, because I don’t like their ever more-evasive walled garden. Not somewhere I believe to be either as a consumer or a publisher.

My sense, as these massive predators move in, is that a distributed model will never be as sustainable as a destination model. It’s fine to use these other channels as a promotional devices, but as soon as they become your destination, you’re dead. Given the increasing levels of walled-gardening, and the very sinister need for users to provide their most valuable personal secrets as a price of access, relying on any of these options as a long term solution, is a bad strategic move.

As publishers continue to redefine their viable long-term model, these new offers of partnership have some appeal. But ultimately the brand will prevail. Well promoted. Nurtured. Continuously improved. But always in control.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.