Publishers are fantastic resources. For the average web reader, they serve as a functional encyclopedia, offering heaping volumes of diverse content in almost any niche you can imagine. For the average business owner or consultant, they serve as valuable opportunities to build authority, make new connections, and promote the business.
For years, marketers, writers, and readers everywhere have enjoyed the current state of publishing. Writers pitch ideas to publishers, publishers select the best of the best to publish and distribute, and readers reap the benefits, all the while clicking and engaging in a way that makes the writers and the publishers money.
This relationship, however, is built upon a framework of technology, and technology changes rapidly. Within the next five years, I expect to see a handful of radical shifts in the relationships between publishers, writers, and readers, with publisher evolution at the center of everything. Keep watch for these changes to occur by 2020:
Modern publishers are finding it difficult to stand out on their own. The power of adverting on individual sites is beginning to decline, and the level of competition for readers grows bigger every day. There are so many niche sites in operation that there’s virtually no room for any new competitors to emerge, and general sites are constantly at war with one another over visitors.
In response to this (and in response to new technologies), expect to see publishers forming more partnerships with other companies. A good example of this is Facebook’s new “Instant Articles” program, which allows select publishers to feature full-length articles directly on the Facebook app, rather than forcing users to click a link to travel to an external site. This is a natural evolution of a system that favors Facebook syndication—more users read news on Facebook than individual news sources. Within a few years, it may become commonplace for publishers to rely exclusively on partnerships and applications like these to distribute material, abandoning their original “home” sites.
Other partnerships may change the way that people read news, such as introducing paywalls for extra income or leveraging the power of new technologies like wearable devices. Each publisher may seek a different range of partnerships, but one thing’s for certain: by 2020, most publishers will be unable to continue alone and remain profitable at the same time.
Users are becoming more demanding of custom-created content. They have more control over their newsfeeds, search results, and website recommendations, so it’s only natural that eventually they’ll favor publishers that can create a custom stream of content tailor-made for them. How this will happen remains to be seen, but there are a number of promising possibilities on the horizon—for example, Facebook is undergoing a massive overhaul of its newsfeed to cater to individual readers, Netflix uses an algorithm that recommends titles based on ones you’ve seen and reviewed, and automated content generators (which I’ll touch on in the next point) could feasibly create actual content for individual users.
However it comes about, and however publishers choose to take advantage of it, it’s certain that by 2020, we’ll all be reading content that’s more individualized. Writers that can adapt to this approach will be greatly rewarded.
This is perhaps the biggest change that publishers will make, and it’s the most troubling for existing writers taking advantage of the system. New technologies are emerging that make it easier for brands and publishers to produce and syndicate original material—sometimes forgoing the need for a writer altogether.
Take, for instance, the burgeoning trend of AI writing—already, technologists have developed algorithms that can gather up bits of information on simple topics like news and weather, and formulate well-written original articles that present that information. These articles are indistinguishable from those written by humans; you’ve probably even read one without even knowing it! While still years away from completion, the end goal of these projects is to be able to generate sophisticated articles from scratch in an automated, limitless way.
Then you have user-generated content platforms. These are nothing new, and publishers today do rely on some form of user submission, but the future involves casting a wider net, using a system similar to crowdfunding to aggregate material. A good example of this is Twitter’s new Moments feature, which will streamline live posts and videos from emerging news stories or recent events. It’s only a matter of time before publishers begin taking advantage of this system.
Between the two of these threats, it’s not inconceivable that a healthy percentage of publishers will, by 2020, rely almost exclusively on automatically generated “touchless” forms of content. For writers, that’s bad news, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be new opportunities around the corner. For example, it may be possible to wield and “optimize” the articles spun by AI vehicles, or connect user-submitted feeds together with grounding material.
The industry may be changing, but that doesn’t mean it’s dying. With every new challenge is a new opportunity, and with every new feature is a new potential strategy. To remain successful, writers will be forced to adapt their strategies to this new model, and readers will need to adapt to the new modes of presentation—though this will happen more or less naturally due to more publishers getting on board.
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