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The Riptide blog

Publisher as Platform – A Perspective from Jonathan Glick

Jonathan Glick, the founder and CEO of Sulia, wrote a terrific piece on the idea of publisher as platform for Recode today. (Full disclosure: I am on the Sulia Board of Directors.)

Glick begins with a useful little trip down memory lane. He reminds us that for the past decade or so, publishers and platforms have remained distinct:

In the post–America Online era, Internet media brands divided themselves into platforms and publishers. Platforms enabled some mix of discovery and communication, whereas publishers made content.

Google quickly emerged as the main platform of this era, and when the Web 2.0 startups came along — Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube, Reddit, etc. — they followed that Google model. Nobody did both, and there were a lot of strong reasons for this separation.

I might take some exception to that with respect to Yahoo, but they have mostly flailed around at bridging the gap. Now, Glick argues, a whole new generation of companies (Glick calls them “platishers” – an amusing, if awkward, designation) have arisen to bridge this gap. These include the folks at Gawker, Vox, Buzzfeed and Medium.  Glick does a great job explaining – succinctly – what these folks do in a modern publishing context:

The combination of mobile’s small screens and programmatic ad buying has made it clear that successful consumer properties need to have enormous amounts of traffic, and ad units that are essentially content.

The platisher addresses both of these requirements. First, by leveraging partners and users to create content, the platisher can grow much faster than it can by relying on only the newsroom. Second, by enabling marketers to create content, it will be faster to sell, worth much more, and perform much better than banners. And, ideally, the editorial DNA of the platisher — insightful curation, unique content, differentiated brand — makes it a more desirable place for an influential creator or a brand-conscious marketer to publish than just a plain ol’ tech platform.

The other thing he does is confront the engineering issue that is so front-and-center throughout Riptide. As a reminder, many of our interviewees argued forcefully that the publishers missed the boat principally because they lacked engineering talent. The corollary was that tech companies wouldn’t get into content.  According to Glick:

You might notice that most of these reasons were reasons for tech companies not to do content, more than the other way around. But it’s also true that media companies internalized these views and accepted that they should be technology adopters, not inventors. Partner with platforms; don’t try to compete.

And yet, despite this bevy of biases, this now appears to be changing. It’s not just Medium and Gawker. A flurry of well-funded media founders are ignoring the schism and plunging into ambitious projects that embrace the platform as a concept. Suddenly, we have lots of … yes, platishers.

Interesting, in Glick’s analysis, not a single legacy media company is mentioned. No one. Is this an oversight? After all, companies like The New York Times Company now have hundreds of developers. Lots of interesting tech projects are in the works. Can publishers like The Times become platishers?  Should they?

Finally, I wish Jonathan had made some comment about quality. In my recent blog post summarizing David Carr’s recent piece on “platishers” I noted that Carr ended with a question about whether “platishers” could bridge the quality gap. I used Buzzfeed and Business Insider as examples of  companies trying to do that. But I said in the end that no one could yet touch the legacy folks with respect to sheer editorial “muscle.” Will “platishers” get there?

I’d  love to hear Jonathan’s views on these two questions.

  • Jonathan Glick

    Sorry for the delay, Martin. I’m preparing for our board meeting tomorrow, but I want to make sure I answer your questions:

    1. You asked if the NYT is a platisher or could or should become one.

    Now, to back up, my definition of a platisher is either

    a) a publisher who broadly opens up their publishing system to outsiders (celebrities, intellectuals, politicians, other publishers, or brands) to directly create first-order content objects. (By first-order, I mean not just subordinate content objects, like message board comments, but full content, on the same level as the publisher’s own.)

    or

    b) an open platform who employs or otherwise funds editors, curators, writers and other creators to make content for their platform.

    I say ‘either’ because I consider both of these to be essentially the same thing, and facing the same challenges. And it is to address those challenges that I came up with this silly word in the first place. (See http://recode.net/2014/02/07/rise-of-the-platishers/)

    Now, on the question of The New York Times:

    By the definition above, The NYT is certainly *not* a platisher today despite its investment in a world-class engineering and design organization.

    A recent and salient proof for this can be found in the controversy over whether the Times should have published Dylan Farrow’s and then Woody Allen’s (I don’t know what to call them) letters (columns? posts?).

    A platisher, like Sulia or Gawker-Kinja or Buzzfeed or Medium, would have been thrilled to have either of them posting on our platforms. For The New York Times, on the other hand, the idea of publishing content that the NYT’s careful editorial process has not thoroughly examined is terrifying.

    And that, I suppose, is my answer to the question about whether the NYT could or should be a platisher. Which is: Boy, it would be extremely hard.

    The Dylan/Woody affair proves that high-profile people — and I didn’t even mention Mr. Putin — would be delighted to post within the pages of the NYT. So it certainly has the opportunity to pivot this way if that’s what Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Thompson decide. But it seems to me the soul of the Times lies in very different virtues.

    2) So let’s use that as a segue to your second question: Can platishers become *as good* creators of journalism as, say, The New York Times?

    I think that comes down to whether or not funding quality journalism (however we want to define that) is either a) essential for the platisher business model and b) delightful to their owners.

    Assuming the platisher formula sticks, my guess is ‘yes’ to both.

    Having great writers creating great work on your platform is the best possible advertising for the platform. It creates the aura of legitimacy with which every emerging or struggling writer wants to associated and it drives relevant traffic to those writers and their work.

    And if the platisher formula is very successful (a big IF) and these businesses generate significant cash (a bigger IF), I believe the leaders of these companies will use that largess to subsidize even more obscure writers and subjects. Why? Because these are companies that love creativity, they really are. And they want to see more of it in the world.

    Of course, the nascent platishing community has a long way to go before it gets there. :)

  • Informerly

    Would not include Vox Media or Business Insider in the platisher category. Chorus (their CMS which I think everyone on the outside is dying to take a peek at) is only available internally. BI certainly is the king of aggregating others content, but it’s not an open platform anyone can publish on. They’re as much on the publisher end of the spectrum as a NYT or WSJ.

    • Jonathan Glick

      I didn’t include BI. I only included Vox because folks there assured me that SB does indeed have the ability for users to publish directly — although I agree it is less core than (say) Gawker/Kinja.

Posted
February 7, 2014, 12:19 pm