Publisher-platforms

Access, abundance and delivering the best ideas

A couple of months ago, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram asked, “As the line between platform and publisher continues to blur, who wins and who loses?” Fortunately, his post failed to answer the question.

I say “fortunately” for a reason. The evolving landscape for authoring, managing and disseminating content is not easily reduced to a binary choice. This is a point I made at some length in reviewing a debate about self-publishing (colloquially, Hugh Howey vs. The World).

In his post, Ingram walks through an A-list gallery of publishing platforms – Twitter, Medium, Gawker, LinkedIn, Facebook, the Huffington Post and Forbes, among them. Emerging players include Sulia, Gawker’s Kinja, Buzzfeed, SB Nation and Bleacher Report. All fall on a continuum between platform and publisher.

To my eye, Ingram makes three related but not mutually supportive points:

  • Writers have benefited from the “democratization of distribution” afforded by platforms
  • Platforms sometimes exclude certain content, making them more like publishers
  • Not everyone knows how or when the exclusion takes place

Cascade down that list and your perspective shifts from writers, to platforms, to readers, a transition that is more than just a handshake across an aisle. Looking at things from more than one perspective is helpful, but you have to be explicit.

Democratization of access doesn’t hurt readers and it may not hurt writers (the ones who were previously not published argue that it helps, right?). Abundance may hurt publishers, especially the ones who live and die on the sale of physical and digital objects, but I’ve offered ways to make even that situation “win-win”.

Opaque curation will hurt readers in the near-term and the platforms that practice it in the long term. But there’s no one answer for how these developments play out globally, which is why it is counterproductive to pick winners and losers, especially now.

Interestingly Forbes’ chief product officer, Lewis Dvorkin, used a comment on Ingram’s post to insist that Forbes.com has “a vigorous vetting process” for contributors. Dvorkin’s objection came across as “We are exclusive. Really.”

His comment made me wonder, “Who is Dvorkin appealing to with this claim?” Does it matter to other writers that Forbes.com rejects 90% of those who apply? It certainly doesn’t matter to readers, who are looking for pertinent content, not a hiring policy.

Maybe it matters to the people running the publisher-platform. If so, that’s a risky mind-set. As Ingram says, we’ve entered a period in which we’ve democratized distribution. The smartest people and the best ideas are not always the ones already in the room, or on the platform.

A bit of disclosure: A Quantum Media colleague, Ava Seave, writes several times a month for Forbes.com, where she has a column that “digs into the details of media business”. One of the smartest people in the room, Ava is also on the platform. I highly recommend taking a look at her work.