The World Publishing Expo in Berlin is so big, filling one of those huge Messe exhibition halls the Germans are so good at building, the variety of topics covered here in the last three days has been broad.

Yet at the heart of almost all the presentations, panels and speeches there have been just a handful of dominant debates that the media business has been grappling with for years amd still can’t solve.

Platforms vs people

One of the few fresh phrases I’ve heard here is “desktop is the new print”, a reference to the decline of time spent on laptops and PCs as consumers shift to mobile. But should we prioritise a particular platform and focus on the specific revenue streams and consumer habits that accompany it? Or do we focus on the consumer’s relationship with our content, follow them wherever they go and develop business models around making money from individuals?

Print has a future vs print doesn’t have a future

That there’s a stage here called “the power of print” shows where the organisers stand on this. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the many print technology stands. But do you milk print for everything it still has to give? Or do you do your best to accelerate the abandonment of what is still a major source of revenue in order to reduce your costs to a level that matches the digital income of the future?

Should pay vs won’t pay

We’ve been having this one for years, but the battle lines are still firmly drawn. Is your content fundamentally valuable enough and valued enough that consumers should and will pay? Or has the paid content horse bolted to the extent that the majority of consumers will never again consider news something they have to pay for? 

Holding the line vs a leap of faith

Do you abandon your current business model and focus on building something you hope will be completely in tune with consumer demand in the future, as La Presse in Canada is doing? Or do you rely on your existing revenue streams to provide room to develop new, complimentary revenue streams to replace those that are shrinking? This goes well beyond print. It’s a question digital businesses are increasingly facing.

 

All these debates are valuable. Getting it right will determine which companies are still around in ten years time. 

But no one has addressed the fundamental challenge presented by digital technology and the internet that will decide whether any of the companies are here in 30 years time. What role will media companies play in a world where we no longer have a monopoly on the medium used to share stories, information and ideas?