A colleague recently pointed me to an interesting article about content publishing and web intents. The article led to some interesting discussions.
The biggest issue we discussed, which was also something with which I disagreed, was the idea that publishers’ product could be something other than content.
And let’s not forget that publishers like Medium and Circa are technology companies first, publishers second, because they approach content as a product first and foremost.
I come from a world steeped in publishing – where the focus is first and foremost on the stories you’re telling through content. The product you’re producing is the content itself, and you work with talent (writers, both copy-focused and otherwise) to produce a product worth marketing.
A technology company, on the other hand, would focus more on the platform than the stories being told upon it. Medium is a technology company – their product is the publishing platform writers use to publish their content. The actual publisher in this case is also the writer – Medium is not the publisher.
That Medium and similar platforms are called publishers frustrates the conversation a bit. Take one of Medium’s competitors for example – WordPress. If anyone were to argue that WordPress itself was a publisher, rather than a tool to empower publishers, I’d call them insane.
The second point of discussion was who exactly qualified as a publisher. While content curation often qualifies as publishing, the idea that websites like BuzzFeed qualify as publishers when they specialize almost exclusively in curation triggered a bit of debate.
When you look at publishing, you have to consider for whom the value is being created. In the case of sites like Medium, value is being created for writers who achieve exposure and for readers who can participate in the conversation.
What value is produced from watching two puppies meet a cat or taking a quiz to learn what childhood book you’re the most like?
When you look at the real content strategy of curation sites, you can easily see they’re aiming to create viral content that a) pulls in traffic and b) entertains those visitors enough that they in turn share the content with their own personal networks. It’s an ad strategy, pure and simple.
If you’re in business to sell ads, your product is visitor eyeballs – not the content those eyes are consuming. I would argue this does not make you a publishers.
I loathe advertising that breaks the layout or readability of a site. In-line block ads that force text wrapping frustrate me to no end.
A newer trend in native advertising, though, addressed ad-haters like me while still bringing in ad revenue for a site.
Many publishers have pinned their hopes on “native advertising” to be their savior to combat the decline in effectiveness of banner advertisements, by creating new ad units and flexible content that will perform better because they are more in line with a user’s experience with the site.
If you have to advertise, I’d rather you did so with sponsored content that otherwise fits within the context and flow of your existing content. 1 I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion that native ads are less effective than regular banner ads, but I do agree that content editors/curators need to recognize there’s little difference between an ad call in a banner and one in a block of prose.
Streams of Content
The final point we’ve discussed is on the evolution of web publishing from creating static pages to building dynamic streams of content. The article quotes another fantastic piece by Anil Dash:
Users have decided they want streams, but most media companies are insisting on publishing more and more pages. And the systems which publish the web are designed to keep making pages, not to make customized streams.
I’ve seen this developing trend in web design, and I really like it. The idea of streams is fraught with exciting new challenges – how do you embed “evergreen” content in a dynamic, temporal stream? – and wonderful new ideas in the landscape of the web. I’ve had a content strategy around this idea for quite a while, 2 and I’m looking forward to seeing how others leverage the changing trends as well.
My prediction: this trend will drastically impact the fabric of the Internet and digital publishing within the next 5 years. We’ll stop seeing static websites (or even quasi-dynamic blogs) and see a massive shift to much more dynamic, customizable, app-like content platforms.
How do you see publishing? How do you qualify publishers already in the market? What do you think the future holds for us?