10 takeaways from INMA’s global digital platforms-publisher analysis

By Robert Whitehead

McPherson Media Group

Sydney, Australia


Three things struck me after digesting months of research and interviews for INMA’s Digital Platform Initiative, which we ended up titling “How to Decode the Publisher-Platform Relationship.”

The first is the topic is fast approaching a tipping point. (See a summary list of developments below if you’re not convinced).

The second is despite this unprecedented activity, few publishers could explain the detailed issues from their region — let alone those in other parts of the world on the same or similar issues. This report aims to address that knowledge gap.

INMA's report follows a six-month, in-depth study of the global relationship between news media companies and digital platforms.
INMA's report follows a six-month, in-depth study of the global relationship between news media companies and digital platforms.

The third, and perhaps most important, is the various platforms — under attack from regulators in many major markets — are furiously busy with initiatives that don’t line up yet with the priorities of publishers. 

For example, Google has tweaked its algorithms to better the discovery of original journalism in search and news results, but so far won’t budge on the publishers’ top priority that requires legal intervention: payment for news content. And it continues to build its stranglehold on the global advertising technology stack. 

Meanwhile, Apple has started to create a new revenue source for publisher content (via Apple News+ in some markets) but hasn’t budged on the biggest publisher complaint about that tech company: its refusal to drop its “platform tax” on news products or give customers the option to agree to sharing their data.  

And finally, Facebook may well have devised the most publisher-friendly subscription tools of any platform (through Instant Articles), but its initial efforts to address payment through content licensing have stalled with offers for just a handful of big news media companies with the risk of ignoring the rest. 

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Now that we have a full global survey of what the issues are and what the potential solutions that publishers are seeking, we can also call out with confidence that key recent developments head in the right direction. But the report gives as detailed roadmap of how much remains to be done and where the paths could best align. 

If you don’t have the time to digest all of the 20,000-plus words, here’s a pocket guide to 10 developments that underpin why Big Tech’s impact on journalism has become such a big deal: 

  1. Antitrust inquiries: There has been a sharp rise across the world in the number of government antitrust inquiries and other investigations into the activities of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. There are more than 100 inquiries under way, and those inquiries will have a compounding impact on each other.

  2. Regulation: There is broad agreement among major authorities in different regions that these companies have grown too powerful and are not adequately regulated. There is also broad support across the political spectrum to rein in the platforms. 

  3. Coordinating investigations: A global exercise has begun to coordinate investigations and share their research into the issues surrounding the biggest digital platforms.

  4. Business of journalism: Within this, a new theme is the rise of investigations into the platforms’ effect on the business of journalism — with government investigations in the UK and Australia as well as a U.S. Congressional Inquiry. While the platforms’ CEOs back journalism’s foundational role in democracies, their practices are seen in reality to undermine the media businesses’ continued ability to create that quality journalism.

  5. Deterioration in publisher-platform relationships: There has been a marked deterioration in the relationship between publishers and the big platforms, according to a survey of 90 news media companies we undertook for the report. The negativity against the U.S.-based platforms is strongest in Europe.

    European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Verstager is one of the most powerful people addressing digital platforms from a regulatory perspective.
    European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Verstager is one of the most powerful people addressing digital platforms from a regulatory perspective.

  6. Look to Europe: The European Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Verstager, who has led the broadest-scale prosecutions against the platforms, has been re-appointed for five years and will have wider digital powers. Her new term will have profound effects on government responses around the world.
  7. Lobbying on the rise: A majority of news media companies in our survey are now formally lobbying or pushing for changes to the law to curtail the power of the platforms over those creating journalism. 

  8. Paying publishers for content: Payment for use of content by the platforms is the publishers’ top priority for legal changes, and the first signs of solutions are evident ahead of new European copyright laws. Apple and Facebook are creating new products through which to pay selected publishers for content. Microsoft News, Twitter, and Snapchat are also offering payment. (As mentioned, Google has not yet budged). 

  9. Privacy settings and data: Platforms have tightened privacy settings in a way that entrenches the giants’ stranglehold on data. Dark-mode browsing and anonymised registration and purchases have become easier, which hurt a publisher’s data collection for advertising and subscription models. 

  10. Advertising tech chain: Google’s dominance of the advertising technology chain is the next big flashpoint, with various specialist investigations under way. Recent developments include Google removing publishers’ ability to set their own granular pricing in auctions and Google requiring full visibility of bidding in smaller ad exchanges. 

Editor’s note: Need more? The report, authored by Whitehead, is available here to INMA’s nearly 11,000 members and can be purchased by non-members.

About Robert Whitehead

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