What is a Publisher in a Post-Digital Era?

It’s true: the internet changed everything. But one of the things it has changed the most is publishing. It seems like publishing changes just about every week.

When we founded ZEDO, it was easy to define “publisher.” A publisher was an entity that created and distributed content, usually monetizing that content through subscriptions and advertising. Most publishers produced newspapers, magazines, or books. Even in 1999, when publishing had already gone digital, it was still a simple task to find ZEDO’s customers, because we were an ad server to publishers. Now, we have all kinds of new customers that wouldn’t have been publishers in the past — like weather information and dating sites.We were born before the term SSP existed, but we evolved into an SSP, and later to an end to end solution for ATDs. We knew our mission well: to be a partner to publishers.

And we knew who the quality publishers were. Although the internet made it possible for everyone to be a publisher by making a web page, it wasn’t until 2000 when Blogger was founded that individuals began to become publishers in amazing numbers.  Some of those new publishers were actually quite good — their quality rivaled that of traditional journalists. This new development made the supply of content almost infinite and audiences began to fragment accordingly.

Except video audiences. They were still safely sitting in front of the TV, at least until this year. This year, cord-cutting has become  the TV analogue to the end of subscriptions to newspapers. If you can get anything online free, why subscribe to a magazine, or indeed a cable service? That’s why cable operators are unbundling. They have to.

Social media presents yet another challenge. It began to take care of the distribution end of things. If something good happened on the internet, sharing and recommendation sites like Facebook and Twitter could distribute that to an audience in the hundreds of millions, far larger than a publishers’ own site. While that didn’t hurt traditional publishers, it didn’t help them make more money, and Facebook recently launched partnerships with publishers that don’t even involve content appearing on the publishers’ original sites; the content will be published only on Facebook. Buzzfeed, in its own mind, has redefined publisher as “provider of sharable content.”

In the last few months, the video audience, already fragmented by cable and networks, over the top services and social media, had an opportunity to fragment further: Snapchat began its “Discover” streaming video service. While there are plans to monetize this service through advertising, no one is sure how that will work or who will make money. Only two months after Snapchat’s innovation, Meerkat and Pericope have launched, allowing everyone to press a button to produce and distribute live video content to their Twitter friends.

It has been difficult to watch the people formerly known as publishers reel from these changes. Editors who only recently launched Facebook campaigns have had to run to Snapchat, and tell their reporters to get on Periscope.It seems to us that the definition of a publisher has changed. No longer is a publisher a person or company who creates and distributes content; instead, it’s a person or company wildly trying to locate the audience, which is why we’ve evolved as well. We are now a platform that connects both publishers and brands.