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There’s hope for online media, isn’t there?

16/08/21 by Adam Kershaw

It’s been over twenty years since the rapid digitisation of content began, yet many publishers are still catching up on what exactly has happened and how they adapt their models to the present day.

If you’ve been around media for the past decade, you’ll know at least one publisher lamenting the current situation and delighting in the days before Google and Facebook when things were…simpler. You printed a newspaper, people bought it at newsstands or had it delivered, and brands rushed to get their ads booked months in advance.

But it wasn’t simpler. Those days were never as good as they seem now and all the time spent trying to catch up to the current reality has left little or no bandwidth for publishers to consider and shape their own futures.

Take this new study by Accenture, which found that the appetite for news increased over the past twenty years and there are now more engaged readers in the US than ever before. The study also suggests digitisation has opened up new advertising streams for publishers, many of which remain untapped.

This positive outlook is in direct contrast to what we’ve seen in reality, which is plummeting newsroom headcounts, publications disappearing entirely and mass consolidation.

So what’s going on here?

It’s control. Or rather, the lack of control that publishers believe they have over their futures. History shows us that major advents in technology provide new ways of doing business – new products, new markets, new ways to transact. And history is on the side of the innovators and the disrupters.

A handful of very smart publishers have this in mind. Whether it’s creating content for underserved audiences or embracing new ways to monetise content and deepen engagement with existing audiences – there are signs of a new school emerging.

The defining characteristic of these publishers is they have seized control. They use the major platforms effectively but cautiously, finding new ways to build a direct relationship with the audience on and off platform. And they are uncompromising about their content and how to best serve their audience.

As for the old school, it’s not too late. The data shows the appetite for news is there. It also shows people are willing to pay for content. But the energy is misdirected. The fight is not with the platforms and it’s not with the consumer. It’s within.

Hope for online media rests on publishers embracing the present and building for the future. Those that don’t become the “legacy” publishers of tomorrow. And they’re easy to spot – just look for who fights desperately to maintain the status quo.

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