Publishers push for scale on platforms like Facebook, but dislike the loss of ownership

Publishers v. platforms

In a preface to a report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University that examined the relationship between news organizations and platform companies — including Apple, Facebook, Google and Snapchat — one statement addressed the issue publishers face as content is distributed across increasingly more platforms: “The question of who owns the user highlights the biggest tension at the heart of the relationship between publishers and platforms. Is a reader of The New York Times on Facebook a New York Times reader, or a Facebook user reading The New York Times?”

So why do publishers continue to distribute content on platforms other than their own? In a word: scale.

“They’re getting their content in front of audiences who want to consume it [in a social media] experience, said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next (DCN). Eyeballs are one thing, but economically, “it’s a zero-sum game when you back out of Facebook and Google. [Those platforms are] taking almost all the growth [in digital advertising]. The effect of the duopoly right now isn’t healthy [for publishers].”

Consumers are spending more time reading news content on social networks, and publishers have followed them there, in the process exposing more readers to their content and generating more interest in their media brands — but also creating a new set of challenges, according to eMarketer.

Publishers were betting that content distributed across platforms such as Facebook, Google and syndicated sites like Yahoo would drive traffic back to their own sites — boosting readership, and along with it, the value of their content, the report suggests.

“In experiments with Facebook’s Instant Articles, Google’s AMP and Snapchat’s Discover platform, the notion was that readers would be enticed by the depth of reporting and high production values that they would look for more of the same on the publishers’ sites,” said Patricia Orsini, eMarketer analyst and author of the new report, “Media’s Digital Challenge: Publisher Strategies for Monetizing Content Across Platforms.” (The full report is available only to eMarketer PRO subscribers.)

“Instead, readers spent more time with those platforms, and therefore boosted revenue to those platforms,” she said.

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