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Summary:

The publishing world continues to expand, with high-end group shopping service Gilt Groupe launching its own cooking magazine and the New York Times Library releasing a magazine-style iPad app. As the tools to publish become cheaper and cheaper, brands are becoming publishers in their own right.

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As if newspapers and magazine publishers didn’t have enough problems already, what with declining advertising revenue and the difficulty of getting readers to pay via iPad apps and paywalls, the number of competitors they face is expanding almost daily — and it’s not just aggregators like The Huffington Post. High-end group shopping service Gilt Groupe has just launched its own cooking magazine, and the New York Public Library has launched an interesting iPad app that also has a very magazine-like feel. As the tools to publish become cheaper and cheaper, brands are effectively becoming publishers in their own right.

The Gilt Groupe offering, which is called Gilt Taste, is interesting in part because it is targeted at a very specific market: namely, the high-end food afficionado. It looks and reads like a high-quality food or recipe-based magazine that might come from a regular publisher, but it is obviously designed to help promote offers from the Gilt Groupe (which recently closed a $138-million financing that values the company at $1 billion). It’s more than just a catalog, however — Gilt hired the former editor of Gourmet magazine to run it, and it clearly wants to be the equal of any traditional food magazine.

It’s not unusual to have specialty retailers or marketing groups put together a magazine to target a mailing list — American Express and other similar entities publish their own controlled-circulation publications, for example. But while Gilt Groupe has a massive mailing list of its own, filled with people who have expressed interest in buying its high-end discount items, it theoretically has even broader reach via the web, and through apps if it chooses to do that — and it doesn’t charge for them, the way some traditional publications do, because the whole thing is an ad. And it can produce as many similar publications devoted to specific niches (travel, etc.) as it wants with little increase in cost.

Even the New York Public Library has created its own digital magazine, although this happens to be a magazine filled with content about the World Fair in 1939 (other issues will be released in the future, the library said). The iPad app — which is called Biblion — was produced as a way of promoting interest in the library in an age when digital formats are taking over from print (Amazon said it is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover or paperback books combined). And as Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic notes, it is a stunning looking magazine, one that traditional publishes might want to imitate.

Evidence of the ease with which magazine-like experiences can be created by just about anyone are all around us: Flipboard is effectively a new kind of iPad magazine created from Twitter and Facebook and RSS feeds, and it is starting to include traditional media content as well, such as content from Oprah Winfrey’s network and other publishers. Paper.li, which generates a kind of personalized newspaper website from your Twitter feeds, just announced some new features — including the ability to blend multiple accounts or feeds from Twitter — and the addition of Huffington Post publisher Eric Hippeau to its board.

What’s the next step in the blurring of the lines between brands and marketing and media and publishing? Mitch Joel, a social-media consultant and author, says that it could be brands hiring their own journalists and putting out their own publications — filled not with canned marketing messages but actual content. Already, Forbes magazine and other media outlets are running brand-produced content alongside their traditional editorial, and companies like SAY Media are effectively devoted to producing that kind of content or helping brands do it themselves.

So when everyone is a publisher, how do we know what to believe and what not to believe? How do we know when something is a marketing message and when it isn’t? The short answer is that we don’t. For better or worse, everything is media now.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Ed Yourdon

  1. Flipboard and Gilt are aggregators. Either manually or curated, it gives the user access to lots of different information all in one place. What would be the benefit of, say Bloomingdales, making their own iPad app? How many smartphone owners would download it? I bet only hardcore buyers who dig that brand, but I imagine Bloomingdales would want to tap the massive Gilt list even more. Not that they can’t or won’t do both, but its hard to imagine most brands would invest in trying to get eyeballs on their own.

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  2. gregorylent Friday, May 20, 2011

    news has become just another entertainment medium … dilution. brands as publishers, the same … dilution. ALL media is suspect. and thereby without value …

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  3. Initially, the evolution of low cost digital media publishing tools was the key driver of this phenomenon, Mathew, but it’s not the only reason.

    Today, savvy B2B marketers can create much more substantive content on their own than by using the legacy trade magazines in their primary markets. Frankly, the editorial talent at many trade publications is not what it used to be — due to budget cuts and lost advertising revenue.

    Moreover, self-published content is more effective because it enables the brand to insert useful backlinks — within the editorial — to related product or service information on the corporate website.

    Trade journals and business magazines rarely link to external source content on company websites. So, it’s also much more effective for SEO to self-publish your content than rely on traditional media sites — where the staff writers often lack the skill and motivation to use the latest online publishing and syndication techniques.

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  4. That was the stupidest article I’ve ever read

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  5. Newspapers and journalists are in a new era where they are required to up their skill sets and explore the dynamics of new media. Conversation is a new game where the big players understand its inner workings.

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  6. You nailed it Matt. Publishers who do not take brands as serious competitors for online budgets are doomed.

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  7. If we go back to the year 2000, how many big Brands were creating communities of interest? GM with curve.com , Pet lover community from X Pet brand. Only a few survive to today (Babycentre.com which was built by someone else and bought by J & J) for some very fundamental reasons that you have to have a serious business model underneath them to make it sustainable. So while I believe that Brands as publishers has huge potential to drive business, I think large corporations need to be very wise as to how they execute this strategy within the context of their overall business.

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  8. Mathew, good post, one copy desk note from my wireless cave in Taiwan: there is an atomic typo in your piece that spellcheck could not find or see because the word is in fact spelled correctly but it is used in the wrong form. Can you fix it online ASAP for the archives? Danny, proofreader to the stars:

    CAN YOU SPOT THE ATOMIC TYPO? An atomic typo is a typo that spellcheck cannot find or SEE because the word that is wrong is in fact spelled correctly, it’s just that it’s the wrong word. OOPS.

    Hint: IT IS HERE BELOW SOMEWHERE…IN THE LAST SENTENCE OF THIS GRAF….HERE: “one that traditional publishers might want to imitate.”

    [Even the New York Public Library has created its own digital magazine, although this happens to be a magazine filled with content about the World Fair in 1939 (other issues will be released in the future, the library said). The iPad app — which is called Biblion — was produced as a way of promoting interest in the library in an age when digital formats are taking over from print (Amazon said it is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover or paperback books combined). And as Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic notes, it is a stunning looking magazine, one that traditional publishes might want to imitate.]

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  9. The world is definitely getting smaller because of technology…not to mention getting dangerous too.

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