The end of publishing

Sorry publishers. Nothing you do will matter when the hegemons disintermediate us.

Sorry for the $5 word, but it works in this situation. Thomas Chaffee, Chief Executive Officer at ePublishing, used it in his presentation at BIMS last week, and it's exactly the right word.

Chaffee reviewed a lot of the ways our data gets moved around and shared. By "our" data, I mean our own personal information, but I also mean company assets — our subscriber data.

If you have ads on your site, or if you allow social shares or logins, or any number of other things, then you're letting the hegemons know exactly who your customers are. (Sometimes you might be sharing your data without even knowing it. There are some WordPress plugins that send data back to the mother ship.)

"So what?" you ask. "They already know who everybody is."

True, but here's why it matters.

You make money by monetizing an audience. What's going to happen if the hegemons do it better and cut you out? (If they "disintermediate" you.)

They've already indexed all your intellectual property. They already know your audience. In fact, they know your audience better than you do.

What stops them from running all your articles through an artificial intelligence routine that can write the article better — e.g., more finely focused to specific people and interests — than you could ever do?

Computers are already writing news stories. It won't be long before they can write whatever you produce. And they'll be able to make thousands of different versions of each story for every preference, bias and special need. They can tailor the story to your audience in a way you could never hope to. 

You already know that search results vary by person. My results are customized to me, and your search results are customized to you. Once the hegemon has its own version of your intellectual property, customized specifically to a particular audience, they can steer your audience to their version of the story through search results, news feeds, and so on.

In that environment, what happens to publishers? 

Yes, it sounds dreadful and very discouraging from the publisher's point of view. But there may yet be two rays of sunshine in this growing gloom.

First, the computers might take a while before they're able to do this. I might even be able to retire.

Second, personality can be a benefit, so focusing on the relationship between the author and the reader might delay the AIpocalypse. That is, until AI can have a better personality than we can. 

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