The Future of Media: Brands Are Publishers Now Too

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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

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