The future of publishing is not good for readers who want ‘quality content’

At the Stifel Nicolaus Wiesel Partners Internet and Media Conference in sunny New York. Some things that people said that made me think, Part 2.

Next Generation Publishing and Advertising

Listening to a very high-powered, high-quality panel discussion about next generation publishing, one thing really struck me. While the future of publishing is obviously digital, this isn’t necessarily good for readers.

I don’t disagree with anything that the panelists are saying – the discussion is about traffic, ‘engagement’, working with platforms including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – the usual stuff. These people are super smart and highly focused. What I find a little bit depressing is the utter focus on advertising as the driver of the business model.

These were the leaders of significant digital publishing businesses:

  • Tyler Goldman, CEO, Buzz Media
  • Deanna Brown, CEO, Federated Media Publishing
  • Peyman Nilforoush, CEO, NetShelter Technology Media
  • Greg Strakosch, CEO, TechTarget
  • Ben Elowitz, CEO, WetPaint

Together their businesses have well over 200,000,000 unique visitors a month and by any measure, engagement is significant Federated Media for example has over 1,600,000,000 (1.6 Billion) page views per month. It was a pleasure listening to them debate the issues they face. I learned a huge amount but it also left me feeling down on the future of publishing from the perspective of the consumer.

All of these businesses are almost completely dependent on advertising. Of course, they can profile their users better as they engage and they get to know them better and this will drive up the price of the advertising that they pay but the primary driver for each business is basically volume of traffic.

I asked the panel what they were doing, if anything, to explore other business models – subscription, ecommerce etc – that might encourage the generation of higher quality content that they could make higher margins from. It sounds like the traffic driven advertising model is just going to get stronger and stronger and this will of course incentivise the production of ‘quality content‘ where ‘quality content‘ is measured in terms of the number of people that view, engage with, and link to the content.

Apart from some comments about looking at using some of the data that they are generating, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of perceived value in other business models.

One panelist, paraphrased, summed up the general feeling quite nicely:

“We think any publishing business should consider multiple revenue models but the advertising opportunity is so huge, we would be silly to focus on anything else.”

For now at least, the prevailing digital publishing orthodoxy seems to be that ‘quality content leads to engagement and eyeballs = revenue. As anyone that has ever accidentally stumbled on the Daily Mail Website can attest, traffic and advertising revenue do not incentive the production of quality content.


3 responses to “The future of publishing is not good for readers who want ‘quality content’”

  1. Dana Oshiro says:

    Hey Mark,

    Interesting article. Full disclosure, I work at NetShelter and it’s my job to analyze tech stories for engagements across 30 different signals including comments, shares and trackbacks. That being said, I’m also a writer and know the need to separate ad buy from editorial assignments and the writing process. To be honest, I don’t think ads lead most professional editorial because the person cutting the deals is different than the person writing the day-to-day content. I’ve always made roughly the same amount as a writer regardless of what I’ve written. But as someone who wants to be heard, I do look at the number of comments and shares on my articles. This let me know if I’m relevant or if I’m just throwing noise into the ether. To me, quality content is a story worth reading and sharing. The BLN has this, and whether or not you want to measure it, people like me are sharing the articles. To me, that’s a mark of quality. I guess I’m curious to hear from you, how do you know you’ve produced quality content if not from your audience’s reaction? This isn’t meant to be antagonistic at all. I’m just curious to hear your thoughts.

  2. Dana,

    Thanks for dropping by. comments like that are one way that I measure the quality of my blog though to be honest, we don’t sell advertising so are much less interested in volume. I am also very pleased when people I know and respect say nice things – Geoffrey Moore said this was a ‘Great read’ – That means more to me than 100,000 empty page views.

    At the conference I was at, all of the speakers, super smart people, were happy to agree that volume of traffic was single biggest driver for them. Traffic is driven by provocative headlines, going for the popular view in my opinion.

    Why don’t you write a guest piece on other ways of valuing content? 🙂

  3. Dana Oshiro says:

    I absolutely will. Just email me with details on article length etc.