Addressing access and distribution, Mathew Ingram asked, “As the line between platform and publisher continues to blur, who wins and who loses?” Fortunately, his post failed to answer the question.
I say “fortunately” for a reason. Authoring, managing and disseminating content is evolving. A binary choice – winners and losers – is not the one to make. I’ve made this point in describing debates about self-publishing (colloquially, Hugh Howey vs. The World).
Publishing platforms (new and newer)
In his post, Ingram walks through an A-list gallery of publishing platforms: Twitter, Medium, Gawker, LinkedIn, Facebook, the Huffington Post and Forbes. Emerging players include Sulia, Gawker’s Kinja, Buzzfeed, SB Nation and Bleacher Report. All fall on a continuum between platform and publisher.
To my eye, Ingram makes three related but not mutually supportive points:
- Writers have benefited from the “democratization of distribution” afforded by platforms
- Platforms sometimes exclude certain content, making them more like publishers
- Not everyone knows how or when the exclusion takes place
Move down the list, and your perspective shifts from writers, to platforms and then to readers. The transition is more than just a handshake across an aisle.
Democratization of access doesn’t hurt readers. It may not hurt writers (the ones who were previously not published argue that it helps, right?). Abundance may hurt publishers, especially the ones who live and die on the sale of physical and digital objects. But, there are ways to make even that situation “win-win”.
Access and the risk in curation
Opaque curation will hurt readers in the near-term and the platforms that practice it in the long term. But there’s no one answer for how these developments play out globally. That makes it counterproductive to pick winners and losers, especially now.
Forbes’ chief product officer, Lewis Dvorkin, used a comment on Ingram’s post to insist that Forbes.com has “a vigorous vetting process” for contributors. Dvorkin’s objection came across as “We are exclusive. Really.”
His comment made me wonder, “Who is Dvorkin appealing to with this claim?” Does it matter to other writers that Forbes.com rejects 90% of those who apply? It certainly doesn’t matter to readers, who are looking for pertinent content, not a hiring policy.
Maybe it matters to the people running the publisher-platform. That’s a risky mind-set. As Ingram says, we’ve entered a period in which we’ve democratized distribution. The smartest people and the best ideas are not always the ones already in the room, or on the platform.