The Publishing Industrial Complex is Dead. Long Live the Publishers!


When Fred Wilson wrote about Simplified Content Marketing, he got hundreds of comments, many of them saying essentially that this was nothing new.

They are wrong.

There’s something really dramatically new going on, but the shift is so massive, so tectonic, that it’s a little hard to even see while being in the middle of it. It’s like the end of the Cold War—Moscow had peristroika in 1985, but the Military Industrial Complex in the United States didn’t really change course for another decade or so.

So it is now with what I call the Publishing Industrial Complex.

What do I mean by that? Some background:

There’s a great old quote that says, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Back when the only way you could publish was to buy a piece of equipment that cost more than an office building, that meant something.

Then there was a big change in publishing that’s well understood. As the price of a “press” came down to essentially zero, anyone could be a publisher.

(I’d like to think that Matt Mullenweg—my .tt neighbor—was inspired in part by that quote when he founded WordPress.)

Still, as big as that change is, it’s not the massive shift that I’m talking about. The people that published in the old days did so with the idea that they were the publishers.

Then, people said newspapers would die with the advent of radio. Again with TV, they said radio and newspapers would die. And again with the Internet, everybody says everything will die except for sharks and cockroaches.

Anyway, some newspapers did die, but most of them and most TV and radio stations are still around. They should be honored because all the new entries are trying to emulate the publishing model that newspapers created. Craigslist, Demand Media, and even mommy blogs may seem to be totally different from the New York Times, but all have the same model: Create something that people will want to look at and then try to monetize those people.

Even Facebook is a publisher. That may not have been obvious before, but the social network recently started to charge people to reach their own followers. Facebook owns that “press” and is free to charge whatever it wants to its readers. It doesn’t matter that a company spent millions to build up a Facebook following and may even have a staff creating Facebook content. It doesn’t matter because all that content is being monetized by Facebook, which is the publisher and has the freedom to charge whatever it wants.

Google is also a part of the Publishing Industrial Complex. They publish stuff (gmail, search results, etc.) and then monetize you, the person who looks at what they publish. Google brings in more than $100 million a day, and more than 95 percent of that money is in advertising.

So from Facebook through the New York Times and down to the all-advertising papers stacked in the corner of a laundromat, all are a part of the Publishing Industrial Complex. And all of them are doomed. (Well, maybe not Google, and certainly not Xconomy, but all the others for sure.)


We are all publishers now.

Under the publishing model there were publishers, and then there were those who participated in someone else’s publishing. You might buy advertising; you might hire a PR agent to get “earned media.” The participation varies, but the process is always the same with publishers gaining an audience and you working with the publishers, most often by giving them money for access to a part of their audience. THAT is what’s changing.

Here’s a concrete example: There’s a husband-and-wife-run deck-building business I know in my hometown of Denver. If they had started their business 20 years ago they would have spent essentially all their marketing budget with the Publishing Industrial Complex—probably the phone book and perhaps the local newspaper. Now they spend essentially zero with other publishers. They do, however, spend money to become publishers. They hire my company, BlogMutt, to help them write blog posts that they publish themselves.

They do that for two main reasons, SEO and currency. They get leads from search, and their search results are killer because of their regular blog posts. Also they get a lot of business from referrals, but they know they are not the only ones being recommended. If someone recommends them to a prospect, and that prospect also gets another recommendation from another friend, the prospect is going to check both of them out online. If one deck company has lots of interesting, current posts and the other has a page that may or may not have changed for years, the more current deck company will get the sale.

The deck guys are publishers now.

One other example: Let’s say Pepsi is worried about public sentiment about some piece of legislation that could really increase their costs. In the old days they’d hire lobbyists and PR agents. They still do, but those PR agents, if they are smart, will either produce in-house or go to a high-end content shop like Contently and come up with white papers and reports and whatever else it takes to move the needle. If the content is good enough, the old media will come looking for it. Pepsi isn’t begging for or paying for coverage from publishers because Pepsi is a publisher.

One last example: VCs. It wasn’t that long ago that perhaps the pinnacle achievement for a VC would be standing on the NYSE just behind the CEO ringing the opening bell for an IPO, and having that moment captured in a photo published by the Wall Street Journal. I guarantee you every time that happened that newspaper clip would get framed and would hang prominently in that VC’s office. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but from the perspective of data it is exactly one data point, and it comes via someone else doing the publishing.

Now take a look at Fred Wilson. I’m sure he wouldn’t be opposed to such a clip and maybe he has one, but he’s not relying on an external publisher for validation, or for data. Fred has real data—number of uniques, where they come from, how many retweets, how many links from other blogs, etc. He has all that because he’s a publisher now.

That’s the tectonic shift. We are all publishers now.

Scott Yates is founder and CEO of BlogMutt, a Boulder-based startup that finds writers to create content for the blogs of clients. BlogMutt launched in 2010 and closed a seed funding round in late 2012. Follow @scodtt

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5 responses to “The Publishing Industrial Complex is Dead. Long Live the Publishers!”

  1. Agree with your insights!

  2. HM Mac says:

    That’s a very exciting perspective to consider. Even I am a publisher.

  3. I’ve been in “content marketing” for a long time and had a recent startup doing that.

    Content marketing used to be called “thought leadership marketing”. Now, there’s more of it. But the answer is not in the quantity, rather the quality of it.

    Online Content Marketing is neither old nor new. It has evolved. And the saying “everyone is a publisher” is about 4 year old at least, perhaps even longer.

    This article is full of hype which isn’t useful. There’s nothing tectonic, revolutionary or earth-shaking. It’s just evolutionary. And at the end of the day, most content marketing ends-up looking like in-bound marketing.