For the world's publishing industry, it's a moment for introspection. Sure, aligning with Apple or Google can help. But the future lies in getting more creative with the content. Image Credit: Supplied

Indulge me for a moment.

Imagine a scenario where someone is creating works of value that are of interest to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of us. Let’s go one step further and think how it’d feel for that work to then be used by another for their own gain, with little compensation being paid back to the content creator.

If you work in media, you don’t need to imagine this scenario. It’s daily life for the thousands of publishers who see their work being widely shared across social media - with little recompense.

The challenge for media publishers today is how to balance the books; over the period 2008-18, newspaper advertising fell by half, from over $100 billion to less than $50 billion, according to Zenith Media. Instead, the ad money rapidly moved to the same digital platforms that benefit from a plethora of content.

Editors are caught in a Catch-22, where they have to let journalists go while pushing their remaining writers to produce ever more content to fill pages.

Shared services

A number of tech players are stepping up to see how they can best support publishers. Apple’s News+ service curates content from over 300 sources and charges US-based subscribers a fee of $9.99 a month for full access. Apple takes half of this fee and the rest is split by publisher based on the number of articles the app’s users read.

Given that the service is estimated to have an audience of 19 million subscribers, that’s a fair amount of money on offer to publishers.

Google is the other major tech name to step into the ring. The search heavyweight launched its News Showcase service in 2020 with a commitment to invest over $1 billion in the program. In addition, Google has also pledged to provide training and funding for news publishers.

Today, Google News Showcase is the largest paid content syndication app globally, is live in more than 22 countries and has agreements with over 2,300 publishers.

Pre-empt government regulations

While both Google and Apple haven’t broken down revenue details, including what they share with publishers, they’re no more than a band aid to a systemic problem in the publishing industry. Some may even argue that these actions are being taken to head off impending legislation from governments throughout the world.

For example, the EU passed new copyright rules in 2019 that would force tech firms to pay publishers for the content that is being shared on their platforms. Even California, the home of Silicon Valley, is following suit and passed a bill that would tax firms for news content.

In truth, the fate of the publishing industry lies in the hands of publishers themselves. For far too long, we’ve been complacent about both the channels we are using to reach our audiences, as well as the content that we are producing.

Those standout brands, the likes of the New York Times and the BBC, have the resources and capabilities to pivot to digital and trial new concepts. What we need is for the industry to step up and share more good stories among publishers, so that they can learn and adopt best practices.

I have faith that the media industry will find the answers. Even in an age of AI, we will always need journalists to understand and interpret events and trends for the rest of us. However, we are running out of time to transform the sector. If we are to revive the editorial fortunes of publishers across the world, we need to look to one another for answers rather than the tech sector.