It’s an exciting time for independent publishers and creators. Demand for unique and differentiated content has never been greater, and a range of new tools, technologies and platforms has emerged to help them build and monetize content-based products and businesses.
But as the number of options continues to grow, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for publishers to identify which tools will best equip them for long-term success and which are simply capitalizing on short-lived trends, tactics, and audience behaviors. New companies are popping up on a weekly basis, many claiming to have “cracked the code” on growth and monetization with products and tools oriented around highly prescriptive approaches, or tied to specific formats, mediums and distribution mechanisms. “This model has worked for others, so it will work for you too,” the pitch often goes.
In practice, cookie-cutter approaches to publishing businesses rarely end well, even if they prove effective in the short-term. Every publisher and product is unique, and every audience has its own distinct needs and dynamics. For any publisher looking to build a sustainable long-term business, flexibility is therefore essential. Tools that limit their options to predefined models and approaches – intentionally or otherwise – should be approached with caution.
Tools that are heavily optimized towards specific tactics and models often wind up limiting the long-term potential of publishers’ businesses for a few key reasons:
Every publisher, product and audience is different
No two pieces of content are alike, no two subscription products are the same, and the needs and interests of audiences invariably differ. As a result, specific tactics, formats and approaches that work well for one publisher can rarely be ported to the next with the same level of success. Tools tied to single formats (such as text or video), or specific distribution methods (such as email) can limit the ability for publishers to cater to the needs and interests of their specific audiences.
Audience behaviors change quickly
What resonates with an audience one day might change by the next. As long-term publishers will attest, the landscape is constantly changing around them. Audiences that previously gravitated to email newsletters might soon crave audio, video, or connections with their peers via community features. These changes are also heavily influenced by factors outside of publishers’ control, including shifts in technology and changes in the ways audience members live their daily lives. Effective tools should empower content businesses to quickly adapt to new needs and possibilities, rather than simply optimizing to audience behaviors of the moment.
Business models evolve
Over time, publishing businesses must evolve to meet changes in audience needs and capitalize on new opportunities. Those that start out selling subscriptions might extend their offerings to one-off digital products, consulting sessions, events tickets, or monetizing their output via sponsorships and other partnerships. Many publishers quickly outgrow tools and platforms that force them to adopt specific monetization strategies and limit their ability to experiment with new revenue streams.
Long-term strategies trump short-term tactics
The most successful publishing businesses are typically underpinned by long-term strategies and missions. They’re focused primarily on how to deliver unique value for their audiences over the long-haul, rather than flipping from one tactic to the next in search of quick wins or shortcuts to growth. Adaptability is important, but preoccupation with short-term tactics can distract publishers and creators from their overarching missions and value propositions, quickly begin to dictate the nature of their content and products, and undermine efforts to differentiate and stand out from the crowd.
Interests aren’t always aligned
Companies offering publisher tools have their own business models and priorities to consider in addition to their customers’. In an ideal scenario the interests of both parties are well-aligned, but that isn’t always the case. Some tools and platforms push publishers towards specific models and tactics primarily in service of their own interests and needs, or to reinforce their own worldviews and missions. Publishers and creators should consider the business models of potential partners – and how well they align with their own interests and goals – before embarking on relationships. This may mean choosing partners that charge slightly more for their products and tools, but many publishers ultimately find they get what they pay for.
Switching tools and platforms can be a headache
If and when a publisher decides a tool or platform is no longer right for their needs, migrating to a new provider can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. This can leave publisher dissatisfied with the tools they’re using, but “trapped” with them for longer than they’d like. For any growing business, being hemmed in or limited by a tool they’ve invested a significant amount of time, money and effort in can be a frustrating experience.