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Summary:

LinkedIn, which just opened up its publishing platform to anyone for free, has one big strength that most of its traditional publishing competitors don’t have, and that should be keeping them awake at night — if they aren’t already

linkedin

We’ve been writing a lot lately about the increasingly blurry lines between platform and publisher, a world in which new-media entities like Twitter and Facebook and Medium — and even brands like Red Bull or Coca-Cola — are competing with traditional outlets for the attention of readers. Now LinkedIn, which was already a significant competitor for many existing publications with its “Influencers” program, is opening up its platform.

As my colleague Lauren Hockenson notes in her post, LinkedIn is now allowing any user to publish posts or articles on the site, and also to follow writers even if the author isn’t already in their network. Previously, writers appeared on the platform by invitation only, typically celebrities like Richard Branson.

There are a host of issues involved with becoming a hybrid of platform and publisher, as Jonathan Glick of Sulia discussed in a recent post about what he called “platishers,” and as I commented in my own post on the topic. But the latest announcement from LinkedIn highlights one thing that makes the company a significant competitor — namely, the fact that it already has an existing business that is more than paying the bills and can subsidize its publishing arm.

A competitor who doesn’t rely on advertising

Magazines

In other words, LinkedIn doesn’t have to rely solely on advertising revenue that is derived from driving traffic to its publishing business, the way many traditional newspaper and magazine publishers do. It has annual revenues of about $1.5 billion, and virtually none of that has anything to do with its publishing operations. Compare that to a company like Forbes, which — despite its aggressive moves into digital publishing, and becoming a kind of open-blogging platform for brands — is still a fairly traditional publishing business, in the sense that it depends primarily on advertising revenue.

Forbes, which is reportedly being shopped around with a price tag of about $400 million, has revenues of around $135 million, according to offering documents that media consultant Ken Doctor wrote about recently. More than 70 percent of that comes from ads, and despite the magazine’s Brand Voice program and other initiatives, its online revenue has not been growing very rapidly, and certainly not enough to offset the decline in print advertising.

In fact, LinkedIn — a business that barely existed 10 years ago — could buy Forbes for cash if it wanted to, since it has more than $2 billion on its books. Whether it would want to or not is a different question, although it does seem to fit with the publishing strategy behind Influencers and LinkedIn Today.

Existing publishers closing at the worst time

In the past, many publishers had unrelated businesses that helped to pay the bills when the media game couldn’t: the Washington Post, for example, used to be able to count on revenue from Kaplan Inc., a chain of for-profit colleges also owned by the Graham family. Then Kaplan also started to decline, and the Grahams eventually had to sell to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Now, many newspapers and magazines are relying on paywalls of one kind or another to supplement their declining revenue base — but they are doing so just as competitors like LinkedIn and Medium and even brand-driven publishing entities are opening up, which is a very risky strategy.

Are there going to be quality issues and other struggles for new publishing platforms like LinkedIn, as there have been for Medium and the Huffington Post? Of course there are. But particularly for LinkedIn, the benefit of having a completely separate business that is generating significant amounts of revenue will give the company a lot more firepower than most of its competitors. Just another thing to keep traditional media awake at night.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users Nan Palmero and The Bitten Word

  1. Nicholas Paredes Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    As a daily Linkedin user, I would suggest that the platform offers many advantages to professional publishing for somebody such as myself. Early on, I used Linkedin as a blog like tool that would post to Twitter at the same time. I simply wanted to post some content.

    Fast forward to where I now wish to write some articles. Not really interested in a blog… Nor am I going to solicit publishers. I also intend on beginning a book. Linkedin gives me a base of readers that are professionally affiliated. It has a broad base, and a transparency to who is reading what I write.

    This is a situation where visibility to my reader is incredibly relevant. I want 100 readers on a regular basis from my extended network. Few people make money from publishing, but reputation pays dividends.

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  2. While this announcement is exciting, I do wonder about what types of articles we’ll seen populating this space. With Medium and HuffPost, things could get a little self-promotional at times, which mucks up the content selection, whereas LinkedIn is a platform specifically-designed for self-promotion. If the content follows that trajectory, you’re going to see a lot of people turned off and tuning out.

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  3. With all of today’s coverage, I almost feel alone in this view, but I feel LinkedIn has completely botched the execution on their content strategy over the past 2 years. They have the audience, they have the legitimacy, yet the terrible user experience, the self-promotional content and comments, and the almost spammy notification and email system have ended with me never looking to LinkedIn as a destination.

    What you call an advantage, the massive revenues around recruiting, I feel will be what prevents them from ever truly being a great content destination. The simple fact is, we all go to LinkedIn to promote ourselves or our businesses. They are hands-down the greatest place, probably in history, to do that.

    The resulting problem is that everything becomes self-promotional. If you’ve ever read a comment thread, it’s not a vibrant discussion around a professional topic. It’s Richard Branson posting something and 1,000 users commenting “great article Mr. Branson” in the hopes that for some reason he’ll engage with them.

    For the most part the Influencer content has felt like a combination of ghost writers for major celebrities, or TED-talk-ish ‘executive leadership’ types that are the pundit class of the business world. Their post announcing this all but encouraged this continued the creation of this self-promotional content. As long as the majority of money comes from recruiting tools, the content will always remain a second class citizen in the organization and it’s quality will reflect that. How many people out there actually go to LinkedIn first thing in the morning to catch up on the world, not to try to make a new connection?

    I don’t understand why instead of trying to replace the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn doesnt finally take down Salesforce.

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    1. I agree 100%. I have never read a LinkedIn recommended article that had any more substance than something you could find on ask.com (maybe some great articles exist, but I haven’t read any). They seem to be incredibly generic and heavily err on the side of white-washed professionalism.

      Further, the comments are terrible. Just a bunch of self-promotion and “fantastic job!” .

      I believe, like you stated, that the very nature of LinkedIn is what will limit its ability to become a great destination for insightful, useful content discovery (other than recruiting). Nobody (the content creators or consumers) wants to come off as a dissenter, rude, or outside the generally accepted ideal of a button-up professional because each of those comments/articles is directly linked to the very profile that may or may not help get them the next job.

      I certainly enjoy that the comment section isn’t a cess pool of trolls and hate, but there has to be some balance.

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  4. Ranjan, your observations were thoughtful and thought-provoking. However, although you appear to interpret LinkedIn’s opening their publishing platform (originally limited to a tiny number of “influencers” – aka bogus gurus hand-picked by LinkedIn itself) as an extension of the spammish content strategy that LinkedIn seems to have followed to date, it could prove to be just the opposite. Both LinkedIn and many industry analysts interpreted this week’s announcement as a move AWAY from limited, promotional-type content, toward more-diverse content that has a greater chance of adding value for the mass of readers (i.e., rather than having value solely for those who publish it, which has been LinkedIn’s content model thus far). I think it is too soon to know which view will turn out to be correct.

    I know exactly what you mean by “a combination of ghost writers for major celebrities, or TED-talk-ish ‘executive leadership’ types that are the pundit class of the business world.” In fact I had a very similar reaction a couple weeks ago when reading a Liz Ryan essay. (Liz Ryan is a syndicated career-advice columnist, who basically does for job-seekers what David Koresh did for those who believed in him. Just about every point she makes is 100% off-base and destructive to the career prospects of any reader clueless enough to act on her advice.) And the thread that followed the exact script you outlined above for Richard Branson: There were literally thousands of comments, most of which blindly praised her article, while adding no insight or elaboration of their own. I didn’t understand why, until I saw your remark above – “…in the hopes that for some reason he (the famous “influencer”) will engage with them.”

    So, my first reaction to LinkedIn’s decision to let any member publish full articles, is that it will erode the dominance of “influencers” and therefore lead to dramatically better quality of what is published there.

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  5. Integration of Profile and Newsfeed creates tremendous distribution flywheel for content.

    If harvested data on Profile is strong (which it is on Linkedin), then distribution for content inside the system is great. The better the data, the a) more granular the distribution and b) the larger the potential distribution network can be.

    Distribution is like drugs for a writer so LinkedIn should do quite well in their efforts.

    Systems under-innovating in Profile (Sulia, Medium, Twitter, etc.) should take a small hit but overall the market for original content will grow 10x over the next 5 years so all players will be fine.

    It’s printing press platforms built on top of WordPress-ish CMSs (page view-driven, ad supported) that will take larger, long-term hits in the overall game of attention.

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  6. I also have some reservations. I belong to several, related, fairly specialist groups on Linked-In and I actually have found some of the related articles, within those groups, quite useful; and they have generated some lively debate within the group. I am mainly interested in specialist Higher Ed Teaching groups.

    The whole of Linked-In is so huge, however, that I wonder if one will be able to distinguish between the well-written insightful article; and so much puffery. I do hope it will not become yet another avenue for “10 Top Tips of Successful …” and similar self-promoting quackery.

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