Publishing Is Dead? Long Live Publishing!

Written on
Feb 23, 2015 
John Philpin CEO of Lyris  |

To misquote Mark Twain “The reports of the death of music have been greatly exaggerated.”

For 20 years - long before the iPod came along – there has been a meme circulating on the Internet that ‘music is dead’. Yet music is not just surviving – it is thriving.

•   True – HOW we listen to and absorb music has radically changed.

•   True – HOW artists make money out of their music has radically changed.

•   True – the music INDUSTRY is dead – but that’s not a bad thing … they got in the way.

•   True – if you don’t pay attention, you will assume that music has hit a low because your music sources will be defined by the ‘bubble’ of ‘what you like’ or ‘what you hear through radio and TV stations owned by corporations’. Oh, and what you hear through websites – increasingly owned by those same corporations.

But … the fact is that we are living in a golden age of massive creativity with people creating and publishing their work directly to their audience. Music of all genres is cutting through the clutter to be listened and claimed. But we – the audience – have to work harder to find it. And we, the audience, have to recognize that to create something like music takes someone’s time, creativity and skill, and it cannot be free.

Now here’s an exercise: Let’s replace ‘music’ in those statements above with publishing equivalents. True – HOW we listen to and absorb news has radically changed. True – HOW writers make money out of their writings and opinion has radically changed. True - … well, you get the idea. And – just like music – if you are paying attention, there is a plethora of solid news, opinions, and columns on all kinds of topics imaginable to be found by the discerning reader.

Publishing is not dead – it is just redefining itself. But ‘Big Publishing’ for the most part is behaving like ‘Big Music.’ Both are attempting to hang on to the model that they know and love because it created so much money for them – not necessarily the creators. ‘Big Music’ continues to drive shows such as ‘The X Factor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice’ – all essentially seeking to keep ‘Big Music’ in control. And the audience laps it up.

Big Publishing, Big Mistakes? Looking into the publishing camp, the story is not that different. Publishers are experimenting with pay-walls to ensure their content is not ‘given away’, cluttering their websites with adverts to help pay for their empires and a host of other tricks that simply make readers go away. This because they seem to confuse what they think they are about with what we think they are about. But that’s another subject.

I am a keen follower of Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame and one of his recent blog posts, Publishers and the Smiling Curve, prompted my own thoughts relating to how publishers’ current business models are too often positioned at the bottom of the value chain. Switching the power from a broadcast/blitz/blast communication style of the traditional media industry to a more considered, engaged, conversational style that embraces dialog that consumers prefer, is where publishers can drive value at the edges. But that is hard.

Ben has since followed up with another blog post surmising that there are two prime business models on the Internet.

1.     You can try to make a little money from a lot of people.

2.     You can try to make a lot of money from a few people.

For publishers that means making pennies on large numbers of subscribers only works if you have large numbers of subscribers. To quote Ben; “it’s the middle that is doomed but things are looking up for the truly differentiated.”

Bottom line …  Publishers have to think differently about their business and their relationships with their audiences. Connected customers are powering a seismic shift in business models and as long as traditional media operates in a linear model of value creation acting like gatekeepers they will be left behind by networks that connect the right content to the right user.

Which brings me to ‘Niche Publishing’. Any business that wants to pursue ‘true differentiation’ needs to establish a product that, in the mind of the consumer, is markedly and undeniably different. Niches don’t scale; they go deep. ‘All you can eat’ strategies are ultimately suited for content that is broadly appealing. For anything with a limited but intensely interested audience, they are nothing but a bad idea. A way to limit your audience and the amount of money to be made.

Niche publishing is growing and profitable. But the question is where does niche publishing go next?

As I often say, the world of the future is not about the brand – it is about us – the customers, the people, the individuals. And as an individual, do I really want to receive lots of different emails, alerts, magazines, newspapers, zines – each one uniquely focused on an interest of mine? Of course not. I am my own system of record. I need to receive communications that are managed, controlled, and orchestrated so that I receive the right content at the right time without overloading me.

Bottom line, ‘Extreme Publishing’ is the future and allows for reliable and consistent content to be sent to me at the right time, to the right place, with the right …. based on my behavior, preferences, device, context … and anything else I (not the publisher) consider to be relevant.

That is what a connected customer communication platform is all about. It is a long journey, but just as Lao Tzu said “every journey starts with a single step”. My question for you is how many steps have you taken?


John Philpin has responsibility for Lyris’ global leadership, business execution, and driving the company’s growth.. Philpin was most recently senior vice president of Engineering at Lyris, leading the design and development of The Lyris’ digital marketing platform to deliver value and meet the highest performance standards for customers worldwide. A British national and U.S. resident, he brings a wealth of experience in business transformation, software, and technology to Lyris, spanning large enterprises including Citibank, General Electric, and Oracle, as well as early-stage technology companies, small businesses, consulting organizations, and governments. Philpin’s ultimate passion is the customer and considers this focus to be core to success. He holds a degree in Mathematics from the University of East Anglia, UK. - See more at:

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