Henry Bevan explores the ethical dilema faced by those at the mercy of the technology giants.
A month ago at the Digital Book World in New York, New York University professor Scott Galloway said that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google were dragons disrupting the publishing world. They are knocking the ball so far out of the park, eventually they will knock it into another sport. He labelled the Big 4 “the Four Horsemen”.
His fears make sense – Amazon has had 78 percent of year-on-year sales growth, Facebook’s 2015 revenue was more than USD 17 billion and Google is Google; you probably found this blog post using their search engine or are reading on Chrome. It’s safe to say that these companies have a joint monopoly on all things ‘online’, and have made huge changes to the publishing ecosystem.
Apple and Facebook have started to make ground with the Apple News App and Instant Articles. This head-to-head tussle between two giants allows digital publishers the opportunity to publish straight onto systems that have a mass readership. The articles, instead of being lost in the internet jungle, will be published straight into someone’s pocket ready to be found. But, there is a catch.
To sign up with Facebook Instant Articles, publishers have to agree to march to Facebook’s fife when it comes to advertising with 30 percent advertising revenue sold through Facebook going to…well…Facebook. Also, many article formats are not supported on the system, limiting the variety of articles that publishers can use and readers can flick through.
It’s possible that Apple News takes everything a step further than Instant Articles. Apple are drumming up awareness of their Apple News app, and have matched Facebook’s advertising revenue rates. For smaller publishers, this is a potential lifeline and it enables them the chance to play with the big boys.
Amazon is lagging behind in the media publishing stakes but their proliferation of many other markets makes them major distributing players. The idea of these “four horsemen” controlling the media raises many questions about their role as media gatekeepers and the influence these corporations could potentially have on consumers.
The unbundled journalist
The very idea of Instant Articles and Apple News already means journalists and bloggers will influence how they write their article/blog posts. Apple already exercises control of over journalists and limits the mention of rival platforms – mainly Android – on the app store and many journalists are complaining that publishing companies are developing unrivalled consumption control.
But, is this right? Is it right for knowledge to be controlled by giant corporations?
Yes and no. No, because the dominance of these four companies isn’t good for the small businesses, the little publishers of the world because their voices will be drowned out by the sheer volume of traffic that goes towards the tech giants. However, if worked with correctly, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google can be a tool for success as writers can potentially reach a massive audience.
Media outlets have optimised their content to appear high-up on Google for years with journalists filling their introductions with ‘keywords’ to do so. SEO optimisation is one of the reasons the Daily Mail has super-long headlines.
However, Google is using its Accelerated Mobile Pages Project to stick to its “don’t be evil” slogan. Instead of having to join into a partnership with Google, publishers can upload their product to an open source software. Accelerated Mobile Pages reimagines traditional HTML into something snappier. By taking part in Google’s initiative, publishers will see their articles pushed up the Google search results and the faster rendering will theoretically lead to more page views and ad views.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages potentially offers a less controlling option to Apple and Facebook’s offerings. Digital publishing may be being taken over by the “the four horsemen” but it’s not all doom and gloom.
Header image © theDurrrrian via deviantart