Even three years ago, you might have defined Amazon, Google, and Apple as publishers for books, magazines, and videos because they sold their licensed content directly to their audience. However, the role of these large media companies and others has evolved as the adoption of connected devices continues to spread. Not only can you now buy books from Google Books for your computer or connected Android device through Google Play, but Google and other media conglomerates are now serving as platforms with app stores where anyone can publish and monetize applications for their own digital content. Confused? Likely in an effort to encourage device adoption, these companies have had to open their platforms to make popular services available, even if these services compete with their own offerings. For example, Apple has Google Maps on iTunes, Amazon has Netflix on the Kindle, and Google has the Kindle book reader on Google Play. The device companies had no other choice.
Defining Publisher and Platform
It’s important to understand the difference between publishers and platforms when so many companies are now serving both roles. At OneScreen, we define a publisher as a company that makes its licensed or produced content directly available to its audience through its own channels, sites, and applications. For example, NBC Universal is a publisher of 30 Rock and publishes the show on NBC.com and its broadcast and cable channels. Condé Nast is a publisher of popular lifestyle magazines (Vogue, Lucky, Vanity Fair), which are available in digital and print formats through their branded properties. Hulu and Netflix are also publishers, streaming movies and TV shows over connected TVs and devices. A platform, on the other hand, enables a variety of different publishers to distribute their content (or their licensed content) through an “app store,” such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play. These stores enable audiences to shop for apps published by a variety of sources, including Wall Street Journal Live, Hulu, Spotify and Pandora. Sometimes the producer is publishing directly to the consumer, or the publisher is simply publishing what they have licensed from others; and in other times, they have become hybrids of the two (Hulu’s and Netflix’s original programming).
The Content Producers Dilemma
The phenomenon of companies serving as both publisher and platform has created an interesting dilemma for content producers: should they work with these companies as publishers or platforms? And furthermore, is this model going to stick around? Google is a good example of how things get confusing. Through popular apps like Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, and Google Play Books, Google serves its audience as a publisher, providing them with almost any type of content they are searching for, at a price. But they are also providing the platform for any publisher, even those competing with Google Play to publish their applications. The simple answer for producers is to distribute in both ways, which will allow them to reap two-fold monetization rewards and improve syndication efficiency. For instance, treat Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft as publishers that can sell your content directly to their audience, and also as a platform where you will be able to reach into their audience base by publishing your own branded apps.
A Two-Fold Opportunity
With competition as fierce as it is, this opportunity might not always be available, so producers should take advantage now. On top of the confusion factor, it cannot be ignored that these leading companies could prevent competitors from existing on their platforms, serving the customer with only their publishing efforts to keep more of the profits. Trends already seems to be pointing in this direction as evidenced by Apple’s unsuccessful pull of the Google Maps app from its latest operating system in favor of native applications on iOS6. A future where media conglomerates have reinstated the walled gardens of the days before the smart phone does not seem farfetched. With Apple, Amazon, and Google owning the entire vertical stack, anything is possible. Regardless of the long-term outcome, producers have an unprecedented opportunity to work with one company and benefit twice over – something that’s not always easy in our ever increasingly fragmented ecosystem.