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Self-employed in publishing

Build or borrow: Making the most of digital distribution platforms

Last week, Apple announced partnerships with 50 publications across 18 publishers, who had all signed up to provide content for the new Apple News app. The platform will aim to provide the best digital news reading service available, in a move to commit to the mobile-first world of technology that we now live in. There is an increasing pressure on the publishing industry to embrace new technologies such as this. In recent years, we’ve had to fundamentally reassess how we distribute and monetize our content, and continue to do so as new platforms like Apple News present themselves. But how can we best use these technologies to our advantage?

Is DIY really the best option?

Other industries have seen great success with alternate distribution models. Subscription services like Spotify, for example, have revolutionized the music industry, both in good ways and bad. While it is easier for independent artists to gain recognition, the rise of Spotify and similar subscription models has also compromised income streams for artists across the board. In an attempt to imitate these subscription models’ successes, and perhaps to preempt and nullify some of their compromises on revenue streams, several publishers have started up their own subscription services, both digitally and in print. Similar attempts have been made where individual publishers, large and small, have endeavoured to create their own eReading platforms. The truth is, however, that while such attempts have met with varying degrees of success, none of these in-house DIY distribution models have been runaway hits with readers in the same way that other, larger, cross-publisher platforms have been.

The benefits of borrowing

The biggest successes for digital distribution have been from retailers that are not affiliated with any single publisher, such as Amazon’s Kindle platform or Smashwords’ subscription service. This may at first look like a failing on publishing’s side, but on closer inspection it’s actually just the same for other industries. One of the reasons that subscription services such as Spotify or Apple Music in the music industry have been so successful is that they are able to offer content regardless of the music label it was produced by. Listeners are not interested in one artist alone, or even one label, they just want to listen to music that they like – wherever it comes from! The same is true of books and articles: the publisher is almost invisible to the majority of readers, they just care about enjoying the book and finding more like it, regardless of the source. Cross-publisher platforms are therefore far more likely to meet with success, as they can sell all content, not just one particular set.

The small print

The difficulty for publishers moving forwards is how best to monetize their content using these digital models. The Apple News app promises publishers the opportunity to manage advertising on their articles and keep 100% of the revenue from that. A generous offer, yet they remain vague about how much data on access and reading habits they will share with the publisher – key information if the publishers are going to be able to continue creating relevant content that reaches the right readership. Partnering with other companies always requires a bit of negotiation, especially when it comes to distribution, yet despite these teething problems, it seems that cross-publisher models are here to stay. What’s more, offering a stronger track record of success and an infinitely smaller initial financial layout, they increasingly appear to be the more sensible option.

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