An oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, 1980 to the present

A project of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

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.

February 7, 2014, 12:19 pm