I’m going to be annoying with the Cannes reminders, but we have a lot going on that week. It’s a nice step for building The Rebooting into “more than just a newsletter” (and podcast). There’s now a landing page with the various activities we have planned, including The New Attention Economy event with Kerv, a cocktail party at the Kerv Cafe, a live cocktails and conversation podcast at the Dotdash Meredith Villa with CEO Neil Vogel, and a publishing leaders dinner we’re doing at this amazing place in the hills above Cannes.
Thanks to much to Michelle Fernandez, who has led the way in making this a reality, Mike Shields from Next in Media for helping collaborating on content, and to Kerv, Sovrn and Dotdash Meredith for their partnership. (We are still open to partnerships; get in touch.) Now we just have to figure out how to get a massive inflatable astronaut through French customs.
The decline and fall of the webpage
The webpage has long been the atomic unit of the internet. For publishers, the webpage was the starting point of what they made, even as user patterns shifted to make the homepage less important, the side doors of search and social distribution funneled ultimately to the page. It was on the page that publishers made most of their money.
The webpage is long out of date. Web 2.0 saw an influx of use of Ajax and other tech to gussy up webpages to make them less static and more dynamic. An unfortunate phase kicked off by Snowfall saw publishers try to make webpages more “immersive” and clunky and unintuitive. The distributed media craze saw publishers try to skip the page to go find audiences on platforms, or “fish where the fish are,” as executives loved to say.
For all its shortcomings, the page has been good to publishers, a reliable workhorse that provided a palette that allowed for the several forms of monetization, perhaps too many judging from how the user experience on many sites has gone.
As Google eliminated all credible competition, search became a mostly reliable distribution channel. The bargain was always for publishers to play by Google’s rules, then make money from ads that very often ran through Google’s ad stack and let them wet their beak. It was a roundabout way of paying tribute to the king. Nobody likes taxes, but if someone controls the distribution, you pay up.
That’s breaking. Google’s demo of its new AI-fueled search engine heralds a new phase of search that will throw the page’s central role in publishing strategies into question. For all its innovation, the search experience isn’t all that radically different from the “10 blue links” of the early 2000s. We are still scrolling through a bunch of links, clicking, hitting the back button, repeating. ChatGPT, and Microsoft’s moves to integrate AI into Bing, is forcing Google to dance, and publishers are left in the lurch.
Some of the issue is simply real estate. Search has not been a zero-sum game. There are clear winners, but being on page 2 would still notch some good traffic. Publishers could always find pockets where they could compete. Many publishers see up to half of their traffic coming from search. Search has long been a reliable hustle, dating back to “What time does the Super Bowl start” optimizations.
From Google’s demos, what’s clear is less traffic will go to publishers. The move from links to “citations” should scare publishers, and the visitors that do arrive at publisher sites will expect different, more dynamic experiences than the current static pages cluttered with overlapping display ads, autoplay videos, pleas to sign up for newsletters, register, subscribe and allow desktop notifications.
I know there’s probably a moratorium on quoting Jonah Peretti as an oracle of media, but this part of BuzzFeed’s recent inventor day strikes me as sensible:
Over the next few years, generative AI will replace the majority of static content, and audiences will begin to expect all content to be curated and dynamic with embedded intelligence. AI will lead to new formats that are more gamified, more personalized, and more interactive.
The webpage will not go away, of course, but it stands to reason that it too will undergo a radical change, and secular decline in importance, as search enters a new phase. More publishers will seek to center their strategies on safer grounds in audio, video, events and direct delivery vehicles like email. More publishers will become content providers to platforms. The middle will suffer as the long tail becomes the infinite tail.
For more on the future of pages, check out this week’s episode of People vs Algorithms, where we also discuss Google’s brand risk from AI hallucinations and more.
The State of Commerce Content 2023
As we near H2 (yes, June is two weeks away), now is the time to reflect. Use Impact.com’s new research to discover:
- How commerce content revenue will grow this year
- Which forms of content continue to prove successful
- The challenges publishers continue to face + how they can be addressed
“In the media business, change is the only constant”
Last week, I was in Chicago to attend the Omeda OX6 conference, where I recorded a live version of The Rebooting Show podcast. Jessica Sibley, CEO of Time, joined me to discuss her first six months at the century-old brand. Among the issues we discussed:
- The benefits of being a “legacy” brand
- The importance of a brand clearly standing for something
- Why taking down a paywall was right for Time’s strategy
- How Time is building a diversified business strategy
- Why commerce content needs to sit alongside the newsroom, not in it
- Why she believes in an in-office culture
Check out the full discussion. Thank you to Omeda for the support – and a great event.