Stuck on sea of dig­i­tal hits & myths

The Bulletin - - Opinion -

BE­WARE of Geeks bear­ing gifts. You should know that al­ready from Geek mythol­ogy, but some never seem to learn.

Re­mem­ber how staff at Odyssey Cor­po­ra­tion came to grief af­ter ac­cept­ing cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­ity from Circe, the owner of Aeaea Lim­ited? Re­mem­ber how Odyssey Corp’s CEO, Odysseus, heeded warn­ings about Circe’s cater­ing and avoided be­ing turned into a pig?

And re­mem­ber how it was only Odysseus’ charm­ing per­son­al­ity that even­tu­ally got Odyssey Corp out of one hell of a mess? It’s a cau­tion­ary tale and you should heed the warn­ing be­cause the Geeks ap­pear to be in a gen­er­ous mood again.

Seem­ingly over­come with largesse, they are of­fer­ing places to tra­di­tional news me­dia on just-launched gal­leys with names like Ap­ple News, Face­book In­stant Ar­ti­cles, Google AMP and Adblock Plus Whitelist. The Geeks say these are the ves­sels that will carry main­stream me­dia away from the mael­strom that is tear­ing old busi­ness mod­els apart.

Bet­ter than that, it looks like a free­bie on a Mediter­ranean cruise ship. You know the deal: Eat and drink all you like, see ex­otic places and meet in­ter­est­ing peo­ple – all in ex­change for a few travel pieces when you get back home.

The Ap­ple News is one of these cruise ships and it has added Aus­tralia to its ports of call. New Zealand has yet to be put on the itin­er­ary but that, no doubt, will hap­pen. The

Aus­tralian told us re­cently that it “…pro­vides a one-stop shop for users to freely view con­tent sub­mit­ted by news providers and some of the big­gest news gather­ers on the planet are mak­ing a por­tion of con­tent avail­able”. Ac­cord­ing to Ap­ple CEO, Tim Cook, it pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to meet 40 mil­lion in­ter­est­ing peo­ple who like their news ag­gre­gated.

Some who have packed their bags to head on board are The

Aus­tralian’s Life sec­tion, Daily Tele­graph, Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, Her­ald Sun, The Age, The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly, ABC, SBS, and The Guardian. It will be a right old knees-up be­cause The New York Times, The Econ­o­mist, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, The In­de­pen­dent, The Ex­press, and The Globe and Mail also are join­ing the cruise.

The Adblock Plus Whitelist sits at the other end of the Geek fleet – not a cruise ship but a res­cue ves­sel. It is a means by which ad­ver­tis­ers can avoid a new form of Geek fire: tech­nol­ogy that blocks ad­ver­tis­ing on web­sites and mo­bile feeds. Pub­lish­ers can buy a ticket on Adblock Plus

Whitelist that (for a price) en­sures cer­tain ad­ver­tise­ments can get through the Geek fire un­scathed – as “ac­cept­able ad­ver­tis­ing” – and make their way onto dig­i­tal plat­forms.

These are but the lat­est in a se­ries of Geek strate­gic moves that have pushed into the ter­ri­tory of news­pa­per pub­lish­ers in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and just about ev­ery­where else.

The lion’s share of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue goes not to tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers but to the likes of Face­book and Google, both of which are heav­ily reliant one way or another on the con­tent that those pub­lish­ers have paid to gen­er­ate.

The Geeks have done a re­mark­able job in per­suad­ing pub­lish­ers that they and their pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing can­not be beaten. So it is bet­ter to join them. That would be no bad thing as long as the ben­e­fits were mu­tual, but the deck is stacked in the Geeks’ favour.

No longer sat­is­fied with sim­ply ap­pro­pri­at­ing con­tent with­out pay­ment, the Geeks are now mar­shalling pub­lish­ers into po­si­tions where they may find them­selves as client states. Is it too far a stretch to imag­ine a time when the gen­er­ous Geeks be­gin to dic­tate the type of con­tent pro­duced by pub­lish­ers in ex­change for re­main­ing on plat­forms whose users run into many mil­lions? A time when user-gen­er­ated ag­gre­ga­tion and search al­go­rithms on some­one else’s plat­form dic­tate ed­i­tors’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing? A time when a whitelist join­ing fee is re­placed by a gen­er­ous cut of the rev­enue on each “ac­cept­able ad­ver­tise­ment” as pro­tec­tion money?

Ar­ro­gance is com­mon trait among the Geeks, a dig­i­tal na­tive sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity. They be­lieve they can dic­tate and they will dic­tate. Pub­lish­ers are de­lud­ing them­selves if they be­lieve they can make de­mands. Oh, they may be able to gain con­ces­sions now but over time their po­si­tions will weaken.

It is a lit­tle – but only a lit­tle – re­as­sur­ing that the NZME, Fair­fax Me­dia, Me­di­aWorks and Tele­vi­sion New Zealand have cre­ated the Kiwi Pre­mium Ad­ver­tis­ing Ex­change (KPEX) to of­fer a pro­gram­matic op­tion for pur­chas­ing on­line ad­ver­tis­ing in­ven­tory across the coun­try’s me­dia busi­nesses. It is the be­gin­ning of a di­rect re­sponse to Google and Face­book but much more needs to be done.

The only de­fence against the Geeks is a grand al­liance of pub­lish­ers who col­lec­tively will be big enough to fight Geek fire with fire. Ri­valry be­tween ti­tles and news me­dia com­pa­nies has to be con­signed to his­tory be­cause there is a more dan­ger­ous en­emy to be faced.

If Geek mythol­ogy doesn’t con­vince you, turn to Rome and Shake­speare’s Julius Cae

sar at the point where Cas­sius ques­tions why Cae­sar is re­garded as a Colos­sus: “The fault, dear Bru­tus, is not in our stars, but in our­selves, that we are un­der­lings”.

The lion’s share of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue goes to Face­book and Google, both of which are heav­ily reliant on the con­tent that tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers have paid to gen­er­ate’

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