Publisher’s cannot just rely on producing great content anymore–they need a delivery platform that keeps readers engaged and active. Even if a publisher solves the difficult problem of sourcing traffic, their long-term success will largely depend on factors beyond what the editorial chair can offer. In short, content is a necessary condition, but no longer a sufficient one. LA Times or Wired or fill-in-the-blank can fail, despite producing quality content in high demand.
The reason for this shift is three fold and self reinforcing: (1) increased production of similar competing content with a (2) constantly evolving traffic source pipeline on top of (3) decreasing costs of delivery and entry. No matter how unique and niche your content may be, I bet I’ll find an alternative. With low cost delivery, if that competing content is only marginally better than yours, you will lose 100% of your audience (ceteris paribus).
Of course, not all things ever remain equal in real life, so you might still enjoy an edge in how you source your traffic. Great! But how stable is that traffic pipeline? Facebook or Google can tweak their algo to suddenly favor your competitor for whatever reason. Worse yet, you can bet that your competitor will use the same (or better) technique for sourcing traffic as soon as they learn it.
Will your readership find its way to you when a 3rd party is matching them with marginally better or even marginally worse competing content?
In this way, content becomes a commodity and traffic sourcing an arbitrage zero-sum game. If a publisher wants to future-proof their success and build valuation into it’s business, I propose that they need to build on these three pillars:
Authentic Engagement: Building a true relationship with the user and all the players in your platform & publication. Also, creating an environment where users can interact about your content with each other. Their connection with each other will exist because of and around some factor regarding your offering. That’s important to foster.
Content Matching: Whether it’s active or passive content matching, users now expect to see personalized curation with minimal effort on their part. Whatever that entails, your platform must answer.
Content Repurposing: Whenever a user shares your content, they are already in some small way repurposing it. We no longer share our thoughts on twitter and Facebook, we show them through shares. While 5 years ago I might have written, “I hate Trump!” Today I simply share an article that closely aligns with my view. All my shares mean something. The most successful publishers of the future will find a way to utilize their content for easy repurposing at scale–shares and beyond.