The news industry is at a crossroads. Well, more accurately, it’s been at a crossroads for several years as the major players have struggled to catch up with the digital age. Their failings left the door open for media startups to claim the future.
However, the vast majority of startup publications have struggled for the same reasons that the major publications struggled: it’s tough to offer content for free, pay journalists and make a profit.
A couple of significant players have of course emerged – BuzzFeed and Vice spring to mind – but not one single publication has achieved the market share that Facebook, Amazon or Wikipedia have in their respective sectors.
Ignoring the question of whether that’s a good thing – most people would argue that no one company should govern the press – it raises the question of why a publisher hasn’t achieved a similar level of dominance. The answer is that they are publishers rather than platforms.
Because Facebook, Amazon and Wikipedia are platforms – their content is posted by users rather than by the companies themselves – they can benefit from economies of scale that publishers can’t. In simplistic terms, whereas publications have a central editorial team who publish all the content, platforms can have millions of users posting content.
It’s likely that journalism will follow the same path as retail and social media: it will be dominated by platforms or a single news platform that will build a creative monopoly.
According to PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a creative monopoly is built by a company that is “so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute.” Google search is a prime example.
Once a news platform reaches critical mass, other platforms won’t be able to catch it for many years because it will be able to offer its journalists the best fees and the biggest audience.
It will become the most attractive platform for journalists to publish on, which will deliver the best and biggest library of news in one place, encouraging its readership to grow still further. As the readership grows, the platform will be able to offer even bigger fees, attract more journalists, more content, more readers and so on.
This isn’t to say that the news industry won’t have a huge variety of publications. It will. It’s just that many of those publications will post on the dominant platform because it will give those publications the best chance of earning the most money and building the biggest audience.
Think about Amazon and books. If you want to sell your book, chances are you’ll sell it on Amazon because that’s where people go to buy (and sell) books – notwithstanding the latest fracas between Amazon and publishers.
So, imagine a news platform that spans the world. It’s a neutral framework where users can post content, get paid for posting content and readers can access the content for free. Just like on Facebook, you will have a personal feed that tailors content for you.
The platform will be split according to language and will allow you to filter content according to your interests. If you were Portuguese, for instance, you would see a very different feed to someone in Canada, not least because the content you’d see would be in Portuguese, but the framework you and everyone else would use would be the same.
That’s the future of journalism: one platform with content published by millions of users, including standalone publishers. The race is on.