For publishers it’s a race to beat the adblockers and build audience scale. But will dedicated masthead websites soon go the same way as the newspaper – asks Scott Guthrie
Peckham is changing. The district of south-east London is rejuvenating; reinventing itself. But the change isn’t in everyone’s best interest.
Fadeyi Rukayat has sold Nigerian clothing, jewellery and handbags from her Blenheim Grove stall for 15 years.
But last month Southwark Council told her they wouldn’t be renewing her lease when it falls due on March 31.
Fadeyi along with several other long-standing market stall traders are having their pitches moved out of the area to make room for the redevelopment of Peckham Rye’s art deco railway station.
This story of market stall owners as told by community newspaper Peckham Peculiar has parallels with publishers globally as news outlets struggle to adapt to new business models. A result of the constantly evolving digital landscape.
Attempt to control destiny
It’s a tale of trying to control your destiny in an uncertain and ambiguous world. But as the late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn put it “If you don’t design your own plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Sonia Simone from Copyblogger warns publishers on the pitfalls of building distribution channels that they don’t own: “Don’t build on rented land” she implores. Several media commentators have referred to this phenomenon as a warning against digital sharecropping.
Received wisdom is that publishers should own their media channels. Traditionally mastheads have bundled up stories into newspapers. More recently they’ve bundled up stories into websites.
Little else has changed. Many news outlets have only tinkered with their business models. They still rely on a blend of cover price / subscription and advertising. Publishers have waited for the tipping point. A time when online advertising replaces lost advertising in their newspapers.
But what if that day never arrives?
What if a publisher’s stories all grouped together on a masthead news site has a future as uncomfortable as their news print predecessors – or Fadeyi’s market stall pitch?
In the UK phone company Three is introducing adblocking across its network. If you have a Three mobile phone, you will no longer see ads on the articles and pages you look at on your phone.
Last week, still in the UK, the Independent newspaper announced it was closing its print edition; moving purely online.
The news website as legacy as the newspaper
What if the bigger story is that owning a media masthead website might one day soon be considered a legacy business?
Our online reading habits are different to our offline reading habits. We don’t enter a news site via the home page. We come at it via the side door. We access articles through Twitter and Facebook, via algorithm and social recommendation.
We turn to Google to search for specific stories.
What if publishing’s future lies not with the creators at all but with these gatekeepers. The companies controlling access to advertising revenue and page rank in search?
With its walled garden Facebook already all but owns mobile advertising. It offers publishers both protection from the iron fist of adblocking and entices them with its velvet glove of instant articles. And so many news outlets are turning increasingly to hosting their content directly on the social network’s servers.
But as distribution, advertising and publishing fuse together. What leverage will content creators hold in the future?
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