The Platform

There’s an idea that’s been percolating in the news industry for a while now, the Platform. I see it as our collective response to Facebook. The social network became our public square, and combined with the news industry’s business model disruption, the role of journalism on Facebook is marginal at best.

We’ve seen the Platform in a few incarnations. CoPress. Nick Denton, Kinja, Gawker, the Lafayette Project – the furthest we’ve seen the concept go so far. Spirited Media could have been a contender, but less likely now with the Gannett investment. Facebook wishes it could step into this space but Zuckerberg needs the news media for now. Medium took too much VC to approach product development in the maker-friendly way that will be required for success. The Chorus Suite represents the walled garden approach. Jeff Bezos, Jarrod Dicker, Shailesh Prakash, and ARC certainly see the opportunity, and their sales efforts seem to be heating up.

The Platform connects the makers and consumers of content. Different people have described the idea in different ways. Shopify for News (Noah Chestnut) and Nation Builder for Publishers (me) are two examples based in the startup world. Nick Denton has described the platform as breaking down the distinctions between content creators and consumers. On the consumer side, Netflix for News (Austin Smith) is a moniker.

The Platform, to me, embodies a product and an ethos.

Its first principle is that a content creator or journalist should be able to begin distributing content digitally with a system that supports the full news lifecycle: planning, composing, editing, producing, distributing, monetizing, measuring, and engaging.

The hypothesis is that the Batavian’s one-man band model of hyperlocal/hyperinterest journalism is not the best path forward, and contrary to popular belief that local doesn’t scale, the intelligent provisioning of customer relationship management, analytics, programmatic advertising, and subscription/event management tools would allow a conglomerate to manage the publications in a more profitable way than any individual outlet could by itself. I’m not sure what the specific revenue model should be – rev share? franchise fee? SAAS? owned & operated or partnership? – but the strategy seems sensible to me. Direct sales are most at risk for any outlet moving from local sales to conglomerate, but I believe that can be partially mitigated by introducing more SMB-friendly private marketplaces. Geo-targeting and AR should be fair game too.

On the consumer side, the Platform is qualitatively better than legacy news products. Personalization usually plays a role. Sources go direct and user generated content probably play a role. Membership/subscription fees & events gotta be on the table. Ads should generally be better targeted and better produced than most display inventory. Maybe even no ads.

The idea draws from Doc Searls’ Cluetrain Manifesto (markets are conversations) and some of Dave Winer’s thoughts about diversifying the publishing industry.

The goal would be to recreate Gannett for the digital age by focusing ruthlessly on technology execution and enabling editors – publisher as a service. The Platform. Whaddya think?

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