Publishers need to flex their muscles in battle with tech giants, publishing panel warns

Publishers should flex their muscles as they deal with the internet’s titans although there are more technological threats looming for the industry, the audience at Mumbrella’s Publish conference’s opening panel heard.

ABC Audiences’ social media strategist Flip Prior, warned “we are not ready for the technological onslaught that is about to hit us,” while The Australian’s Nicholas Gray argued Australian publishers have some leverage against today’s threats from the social media giants.

Image courtesy of Eric Lobbecke, The Australian

“There’s no question that the election of Donald Trump was a key re-assessment moment,” said Gray. “I think all of those titans in their public statements are taking their responsibilities more seriously.”

Gray told the audience of the ‘Burning Platforms? The Future of Publishers’ Relationships with the Social and Search Giants’ session how the last 10 years has been a mixed experience for publishers.

“The past decade has been the best and worst of times, the worst because our business model has been put under existential threat,” he said. “The best because news is consumed more often through more sources.”

Matt Rowley, chief revenue officer of Fairfax’s Australian Metro Publishing and co-founder of Allure Media, described the existential threat: “It’s become increasingly clear that effectively outsourcing product and audience development to a platform doesn’t yield results.

“We tried click bait, long form, short form, vertical video, live video and it hasn’t converted commercially.

“The inescapable answer for Fairfax is that we have to singularly focus on our own user experience – product, tech, content and commercial all together. All of them together.”

ABC’s Prior observed the range of channels are another obstacle for content creators: “We’re all grappling with the facts people have a plethora of devices competing for their attention.”

The ABC has found opportunities with the various platforms, said Prior: “Apple news is attracting audiences that might otherwise not come to the ABC.”

News bulletins on Facebook Messenger are working well for the national broadcaster, she continued, as the organisation also experiments with how to use the social media and mobile channels for local news and emergency service announcements.

There are, however, more changes to come she warned: “Machine learning is going to hit us like a freight train.”

Despite the threats facing journalists, The Australian’s Gray was optimistic, noting the attitude of the tech titans is changing as Google, YouTube and Facebook slowly wake up to the fact they are actually publishing platforms.

Gray maintains the strongest revenue stream for publishers is subscriptions and is encouraged both Facebook and Google are now listening to the industry.

Moderator Alex Hayes with from (l to r) Flip Prior, Matt Rowley, Nicholas Gray, JJ Eastwood and Simon Crerar

Huffington Post Australia boss, JJ Eastwood, pointed out it is possible to build audience through platforms like Facebook, Google and Pinterest but noted that the game of engaging audiences is changing as the services themselves evolve.

Despite those changes, some basics remain, said Eastwood: “A few fundamentals will always hold true, and that’s fair and accurate and balanced journalism and producing content that informs and entertains.”

Fairfax’s Rowley summed up the challenges facing publishers:”We need to create new experiences worth seeking out, to give people even more reason to move out of their social feeds and to find the truth or satisfy their curiosity.

“The market will rediscover where true value is and find audiences built on trust. We just have to help them find it.”


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