There have been some very clear stages in the long evolution of content delivery, and thus the relationship between advertising and publishing. We’re about to enter its Third Age. This will continue to revolutionize the agency/publisher model, and the changes will be significant. It’s best explained by examining the growing difference between creation and distribution.

The idea of industry paradigm shifts can sometimes seem clichéd, particularly in the digital world where a new era is seemingly proclaimed every few minutes. However, it’s clear that in the publishing industry we have been through a sea change in the way our business works. Moreover, I would argue, it seems that this change is not the end of the matter. Even as the shift from traditional to ‘new’ news continues, the first rumblings of a new paradigm – a third way – is beginning to emerge from the murk.

Let’s examine the model through time. In the beginning – we’ll call this Publishing 1.0 for convenience – we had the newspaper and then, after a few hundred years, broadcast media. These outlets had a team of professional journalists creating high-quality, edited content for one-way distribution to a more or less mass audience. In this era monetisation was simple; you sold your product for money to the end user and you generated income by selling access to that audience to your advertisers. Over time the media agency emerged to orchestrate the conversations between clients and publishers, and drive a hard bargain on the basis of volume.

Because quality was high, space on the page was finite and alternative channels to reaching that audience limited; advertising rates remained at a level which could support the industry. And then along came the web. In the second era of publishing – which I shall unsurprisingly call Publishing 2.0 – many of the assumptions of Publishing 1.0 were shattered. Journalists were no longer necessarily professional. Information flow was no longer one way. Perhaps most importantly, real estate became infinite.

Publishing 2.0

All of this fundamentally changed the way that consumers and publishers engaged with news content. On the positive side, Publishing 2.0 empowered individuals around the world with a voice of their own, and gave people the ability for people to discuss and question the news they were reading. On the downside, it fundamentally undermined the business model that made high-quality news content a viable product. Agencies saw their own business models change, as media space became treated more and more like a commodity the agencies turned to new revenue streams: research and data, strategic marketing planning, digital and the publishers themselves. And it’s the latter that has changed everything – because before digital content creation and distribution went hand in hand, now the two are disintermediated and distribution is generating more advertising revenue than content creation.

This conundrum is what I truly believe will drive the beginning of a new era, the start of Publishing 3.0. Consumers are beginning to recognise the limitations of what the web has done to the publishing industry and are beginning to appreciate some of the benefits of the Publishing 1.0 model. People are, increasingly, willing to pay for high-quality content and readers are recognising the value of curation and editing in making an enjoyable entertainment experience. This desire for quality, content and performance, is what is driving the consumer take-up of ad blockers. Moreover, the value of publishing brands – once seen as dinosaurs in the web age – is once again on the up as the search for truth and reliability in content underlines their value.

Publishing 3.0

The new era of publishing will be characterized by building a potent combination depth of knowledge and communities of interest, clustered around 4 key pillars:

  • Authority: Uncertainty and constant change creates the need for publishing brands to assert confident leadership and a strong point of view for its audience to align itself with. It’s about being brave enough to be clearly differentiated, stand out and invite your audiences to join in, turning them into loyal fans, followers and friends. Publishers need to share in the beliefs of their audience, and openly and actively promote change in the world
  • Utility:  Publishing 3.0 is all about editing, aggregating, providing commentary, creating utility, being easy to consume/buy/use/find. Fuelled by the power of data – every reader has different habits, preferences, needs and likes
  • Sociability: a strong publishing brand should have a strong and intriguing personality. Publishers need to celebrate the journalists and creators at the heart of their product. They need to think beyond publishing schedules and instead create serendipitous experiences, catch people off guard, provoke thoughts and emotions, re-create memories, be ready for dialogue, listen first and then respond
  • Agility: Speed is become as important a publishing tool as production quality. Publishers should not be ashamed to follow the crowd, and make the most of changing social and cultural climates. Publishing 3.0 is about collaboration, serendipity and spontaneity every single day

Publishers will work with advertisers to align brands and audiences through information, data, technology and crucially relationships. Publishers are no longer selling mass audiences, but trust, relevance, investigation and challenge. As for agencies it’s time for them to reconsider the value exchange and work with Publishers and Advertisers to support and create a high value content industry maximizing the distribution opportunity available through the digital giants.

For consumers to have turned to ad blockers means that we are a long way from the mutually beneficial triumvirate that flourished in Publishing 1.0 and its time for agencies and publishers alike to acknowledge and appreciate and value the power of both context and content for advertising effectiveness.

This is no small change. As Jeff Jarvis has so eloquently put it in his recent essay Death to the Mass: “What has died is the mass-media business model — injuring, perhaps mortally, a host of institutions it symbiotically supported: publishing, broadcasting, mass marketing, mass production, political parties, possibly even our notion of a nation. We are coming at last to the end of the Gutenberg Age.”

As an industry it is time for us to consider our role in this new society. If we believe in journalism, investigation, stunning photography, and deep specialist knowledge then we have to put our money where our mouth is. Advertisers should consider the role of content beyond the audience, and publishers must use all their available tools to measure its effect. I believe Publishing 3.0 has a bright future ahead, watch this space.


Abba has worked on both sides of the media industry, most recently running Creative Solutions and Commercial Strategy for The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, and previously leading the Planning Department at Universal Mccann, working on brands such as Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Hovis.