Platforms and publishers: No sign of retreat

This story was originally published by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). See the article here. The author, Pete Brown, is senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and runs the Content Analysis Hub for the Publishers and Platforms project.

Anxiety and uncertainty abound around the future of journalism. The initial promises from social media platforms of revenue for publishers are yet to materialise. Even as traffic rises, monetisation remains a work in progress. Some publishers and industry watchers have started to question the conventional wisdom pushing the pursuit of scale.

In looking more closely at the relationship between platforms and publishers, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that platforms are the dominant partner. Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto last week reminded us that social platforms like Facebook need the words produced by newsrooms to feed its billions of users and generate digital advertising revenue. Publishers rely on social media to exponentially increase the visibility of their work, and to bring in ad dollars via revenue-sharing models that are, slowly, being established.

Research conducted by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism shows publishers wading deeper into the Wild West of social media. During election week alone, the 14 publishers CJR studied made a total of 12,120 posts designed to sit natively on platforms, rather than drive traffic back to their own websites—an average of 866 per publisher.

CJR began tracking publishers’ activity on social platforms nine months ago as part of their ongoing Platforms and Publishers project. Their first week-long study in April 2016 covered nine publishers across 12 social platforms: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, CNN, The Washington Post, Fox News, Vox, Vice News, and BuzzFeed . CJR have repeated this data collection quarterly, and expanded the research to include four additional platforms and five more publishers, including three regional publishers: the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Buzzfeed News, and Vice.

In April 2016, here’s how nine diverse journalism companies were posting across 21 different platforms:

CJR Apr 2016 ()

By February 2017, here’s how this landscape shifted:

CJR Feb 2017 ()

There is no singular trend in the data we collected. Publishers are still experimenting with how best to reach, retain, and monetise their audiences. Meanwhile, the platform landscape is constantly changing: The tech companies behind the social platforms are continually competing to outdo (or replicate) their rivals’ latest innovations as they wage their own battles to keep publishers not just on but in their platforms.

For the full story, including 10 key takeaways (and charts) from the three phases of data collection on platforms and publishers, click here.

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