How the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act Would Balance Power in the Media Ecosystem
Publishers used to be a de-facto monopoly. They had printing factories, delivery trucks, and a solid infrastructure in place to control the publishing and distribution of news.
But with the shift to online consumption of news content, the monopoly started to morph into a duopoly of Google and Facebook. Users flocked to big tech to consume content, interact with friends, and conduct searches. The duopoly gained the upper hand against publishers, controlling the way content is distributed and monetized, and acting as a messenger between the media and the end-user.
Today, the News Media Alliance aims to change that.
The proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would provide a temporary safe harbor for online publishers to “collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which their content may be distributed.” Publishers want to regain power over their content, and this law would help in those efforts.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
Hubs and Spokes of the Media Ecosystem
Maybe the idea of the media monopoly is too vague. Let’s instead use a hub-and-spoke metaphor. Historically, publishers have thought of themselves as the news hubs in their respective markets. The spokes of their businesses were the various content forms they aggregated into their hub: news from the wires, classifieds, local reporting, ads, crosswords, etc.
Hubs controlled their spokes and focused less on interaction with other hubs. For example, the LA Times had little to benefit from partnering with, say, the Chicago Tribune. And on those few areas where multiple publishers might have benefited from partnering, any semblance of near-monopolistic “hubs” ganging up together would have caused immediate antitrust concerns.
As a result, the deeply ingrained DNA of the industry is for publishers to not partner heavily with other publishers.
The Shift to the Online World
Alas, in the past 15 years or so, we’ve begun to see a shift in the media market. Physical newspapers have mostly been replaced by their online counterparts, and countless magazines have gone digital-only. Thus, publishers have flipped from being the hubs of their markets to being spokes within the big online platforms, namely Google and Facebook.
The duopoly are now the hubs. And each news source is a small spoke in a system where content is increasingly standardized, regulated, and monetized by those big online platforms.
Publishers must now evolve from acting like hubs, to acting like spokes. In manufacturing terms, they’ve shifted from being the factory owners to being assembly workers in a factory called Google or Facebook.
Introducing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act
When factory owners gang up together to coordinate action, antitrust authorities view that negatively. Not so when the assembly workers inside that same factory decide to unionize.
It’s time for publishers to essentially unionize, in order to better negotiate with the gigantic hubs they now find themselves inside. And the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would be a very welcome start to recognizing and embracing the new order.
Currently, the dominance of the duopoly is hindering and threatening publishers’ ability to build a sustainable and successful digital future for journalism. Big tech is acting as regulators for the publisher-reader relationship, determining which user data is shared, and limiting the breadth of content users see.
This proposed law would ensure that publishers have the leverage to demand more money for their content from Facebook and Google, while also allowing them to determine how their own branding can be used. And let’s not forget the biggest draw of all – the reader data. Publishers will finally have the ability to see what their readers are engaging with outside their owned channels.
A Sustainable Future for Journalism
The media ecosystem needs digital journalism. It’s a fact.
With print editions continuing to migrate to digital-only subscriptions, and consumers’ preference for content on-the-go, we need to build a media ecosystem that works for all parties involved. One where big tech can continue to flourish, but also one where media companies can increase data sharing, revenue, and monetization efforts.
The key is for platforms to understand they need to work with publishers to create an engaging user experience and a strong business model. And the first step towards collaboration is through the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.
Yaron Galai is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Outbrain.
Prior to founding Outbrain, Galai was Co-Founder and SVP of Quigo, Inc., a provider of performance-based marketing solutions for advertisers and premium publishers. He served as CEO of the company for three years until Quigo was acquired by AOL in December 2007.
Galai was also Co-Founder and Vice President of Business Development at Ad4ever, a developer of rich-media, web-based advertising technologies, later acquired by Atlas, a division of aQuantive.
Earlier, he was the Founder of NetWorks Web Design, an SEO and Web Design firm. At NetWorks he oversaw the production and search engine optimization of over 30 websites.