The folly of publisher alliances vs. the duopoly

This week’s non-Trump news in media was the concerted effort by major newspaper companies to pressure Google and Facebook. The idea: an antitrust exemption to allow competitors to form a united front in wringing concessions from the duopoly.

Many have panned the idea, and rightfully so, seeing as it’s too little, too late. Publisher alliances nearly always fail — I can’t think of one that’s worked — as competitors have competing interests. But perhaps the biggest argument against this approach: The problems newspaper companies have had with adjusting to the digital world are not new.

News publishers coasted for too long on cozy monopolies. The boogeyman used to be Craigslist for wiping out their classifieds business. Then, it was Google for aggregating news headlines, and now, it’s Facebook’s turn to join Google. But the real struggle for publishers has been sacrificing dual revenue streams to embrace the “content is free” model internet utopians preach.

The ironic part: Two of the three companies that can solve this problem for publishers are Google and Facebook (Amazon, too). It’s still too hard to pay for news. The Trump bump publishers have seen is starting to dissipate, but it showed that the idea that people won’t pay for news is wrong. The Information is proving there is a market for subscriptions for differentiated content. Obviously, we believe in this with Digiday+, and we’re focused on how we can build more in-depth exclusive content while continuing to publish our daily reporting freely. (We’re hiring a researcher, by the way.)

The flip side of the argument is that many small publishers just love the duopoly. Never has it been easier to produce content that can find an audience. Yes, it’s harder to make money, but nobody went into journalism because it’s an easy business. Here’s our co-executive editor Lucia Moses on the dynamic:

“Facebook and Google are finding an ally in a somewhat surprising corner in the media industry — local publishers. Local Media Consortium, with some 1,700 titles across the U.S., is at odds with the News Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, whose membership includes The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and which is seeking a legal exemption so it can negotiate collectively with the duopoly. The LMC quickly responded that it sees the tech giants as partners, not adversaries. Perhaps it’s worried that the Silicon Valley overlords will paint them with a broad brush. In any case, it shows how hard it’ll be for the industry to coalesce, given how differently its own members see things.”

Coming up: the Big Ideas issue
You should have gotten our summer issue of Digiday magazine, featuring our Changemakers. For the fall issue, we’re going to attack “big ideas” to change the future of media and marketing. Our edit team is going to profile those pursuing these big ideas and highlight some of the ways media and marketing can fundamentally change — ideally for the better. The issue will also feature the Glossy 50, our sister publication Glossy’s list of those driving change in fashion, luxury and beauty.

Next Digiday+ town hall: Deep Focus’ Ian Schafer
Our next Slack town hall will feature Deep Focus founder Ian Schafer on Thursday, July 20 at 1 p.m. ET. Ian is a longtime fixture in digital media, and I want to get his take on issues like whether Brandless — the startup selling $3 consumer goods — has a chance, Snapchat’s potential as a media distributor and whether we’re in an OTT bubble.

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