The rationalization of publishing | 出版工作的合理化

本文写于 Apr 4, 2018

Now that the ad-only experiment has decidedly failed, quality information providers will be able to build strong businesses, and consumers will be better served than ever


It was not a dumb idea. It may have even been the right idea at the time.


That is: With no printing costs and the ability to reach a much larger audience, publishing — the kind that had been traditionally supported by a combination of direct consumer dollars and advertising — could be supported by advertising alone. If so, it would be a huge win/win: Free information for the world and strong businesses with global reach.

也就是说,由于没有印刷成本,而且有能力接触到更多的受众,出版业——传统上靠直接消费者资金和广告支撑的出版业——可以仅靠广告支撑。 如果是这样的话,这将是一个巨大的双赢: 为世界提供免费信息,强大的企业遍及全球。

It wasn’t obvious 20 years ago that by going down that road, publishers — who traditionally differentiated on brand, quality, and audience — were entering a commodity business that would be dominated by software and scale. And, even if it was, was there a better option? Getting money from consumers over the internet wasn’t easy back then. Entering a credit card was a lot of friction, and no one trusted it. Besides, publishers were getting paid. Advertisers still cared about brand and context. And, really, how bad was a little banner ad? It’s not like they were taking over your screen and tracking you across the web. And certainly they weren’t influencing what was getting published. It was an okay trade-off for access to great content (most of which was paid for by print ad money anyway).

20年前,走这条路并不明显,传统上以品牌、质量和受众为中心的出版商们,正在进入一个将由软件和规模主导的大宗商品行业。而且,即使是这样,还有更好的选择吗?当时,通过互联网从消费者那里获得资金并不容易。输入信用卡会产生很多困难,没有人相信它。此外,出版商们也能拿到钱。广告商仍然关心的是品牌和背景。而且,真的,一个小小的横幅广告有多糟糕?这并不像他们占领了你的屏幕 并在整个网络上跟踪你。当然,他们没有影响什么被发表。 这是一个很好的权衡获得优质的内容(其中大部分是由印刷广告支付的钱反正)。

The only thing that went wrong was the inevitable. Business always optimizes for where the money comes from, and advertisers weren’t in it for the public good. Which means they eventually got the better end of the deal, with the rest of us suffering through an experience that was necessarily compromised.

唯一出错的是不可避免的。 商业总是为了钱的来源而优化,而广告商并不是为了公共利益。 这意味着他们最终得到了更好的结果,而我们其他人则经历了一次必然要妥协的经历。

That story has played out. It will continue to play out for years — free, cheaply produced content isn’t disappearing. It will just get worse. But there will also be an abundance of non-free, non-cheaply produced content that an increasingly large and discerning audience is hungry for.

这个故事已经上演了。它将继续上演多年 —— 免费、廉价的内容不会消失。它只是会变得更糟。但也会有大量的非免费、非廉价制作的内容出现,越来越多、越来越多、越来越有眼光的观众对这些内容趋之若鹜。

Look at the renaissance in television — it was driven by a better (non-advertising) business model. Even though there’s still plenty of free, ad-supported TV. A hundred million households pay Netflix alone for delicious, differentiated, ad-free fare. Look at music. At one point, the sky was falling in that industry because everyone was downloading music for free. Yesterday, Spotify went public and is worth $30B, helping the labels bounce back with them.

看看电视业的复兴吧——它是由一种更好的(非广告)商业模式推动的。 尽管仍然有很多免费的,广告支持的电视。 一亿个家庭仅仅为了美味的、差异化的、无广告的节目而付费 Netflix。 看看音乐。 在某种程度上,这个行业的天要塌下来了,因为每个人都在免费下载音乐。 昨天,Spotify 上市了,价值300亿美元,帮助唱片公司重振旗鼓。

With both TV and music, the consumer offering is far superior to anything we had before, and there are more options for creators. (True, musicians at the top aren’t making as much as the glory days — but far more musicians are making some money, and it’s way easier than ever to get your music out to a fanbase.) This is the power of a differentiated, competitive market — increasing quality and convenience for consumers, and riches for the winners.

有了电视和音乐,消费者产品远远优于我们以前拥有的任何产品,而且创作者有更多的选择。 (的确,处于顶端的音乐家赚的钱没有过去那么多,但是现在有更多的音乐家在赚钱,把你的音乐传播给粉丝比以往任何时候都要容易。) 这就是差异化、竞争性市场的力量ーー为消费者提高质量和便利性,为赢家带来财富。

There are three arguments you typically hear against the TV and music/publishing analogy:

对于电视和音乐 / 出版的类比,你通常会听到三种观点:

1) People will pay for entertainment but not information | 人们会为娱乐而不是信息买单

This is silly. It might not be as big as entertainment, but the global demand for information — I’m talking news, journalism, analysis, opinion, essays, instruction, etc. — is not small. There are certainly some people who only will pay for entertainment, but the people who have the most money care about understanding the world and their place in it.

这太愚蠢了。 它可能没有娱乐业那么大,但全球对信息的需求——我说的是新闻、新闻、分析、观点、随笔、教学等等——并不小。 当然,有些人只会为娱乐付钱,但是最有钱的人关心的是如何理解这个世界以及他们在其中的位置。

2) People will pay for audio and video but not text | 人们会为音频和视频付费,但不会为文本付费

This also doesn’t make a lot of sense. People value time, convenience, and quality. People read more than ever. And books are still a multi-billion dollar market.

这也没什么意义。 人们重视时间、方便和质量。 人们比以往更多地阅读。 书籍仍然是一个价值数十亿美元的市场。

3) People won’t pay for what they’ve historically gotten for free | 人们不会为他们过去免费得到的东西付费

This is true and would be a problem if you also assume: They will continue to be able to get it for free and/or the thing they’re asked to pay for is the same as they’d get for free.

这是真的,如果你还假设: 他们将继续能够免费得到它,或者他们被要求付费的东西和他们免费得到的东西是一样的,这将是一个问题。

People are not dumb. But their information diet has been subsidized by print ad revenues and no-longer-sustainable digital CPMs for a lot of years. It will be painful, especially for publishers, to ween off that drug. But supply and demand will kick in. As paywalls go up (and, inevitably, many publishers go out of business), there’s just going to be less great stuff to get for free.


Will people just lower their standards? Perhaps. In fact, our standards have been gradually lowering for years. We’ll read crap on the web we wouldn’t have put up with in print. But as advertising gets replaced with better business models (subscription, inevitably), people will see they can expect more. No one was clamoring to pay more for TV before The Sopranos came around. (People subscribed to HBO for the second-run movies.) No one even imagined such TV. Now we can’t stand to sit through ads or crappy content. The same thing will happen.

人们会降低他们的标准吗? 也许吧。 事实上,我们的标准多年来一直在逐步降低。 我们会在网上阅读那些我们在印刷品上无法忍受的垃圾。 但是,随着更好的商业模式(订阅,不可避免)取代广告,人们会看到他们可以期待更多。 在《黑道家族》出现之前,没有人吵着要多花钱看电视。 (人们订阅了 HBO 的第二轮电影。) 没有人会想到这样的电视节目。 现在我们不能忍受坐着看广告或蹩脚的内容。 同样的事情也会发生。

There is — and probably always will be — a surplus of free content. But that’s like saying there’s a surplus of free food in the dumpster behind the alley. Some of it may be perfectly good, but most of us would rather pay for something more reliable and convenient if we’re able. And many people will pay a lot for something superior.

免费内容现在有——而且可能永远都会有——过剩。 但这就好比说在巷子后面的垃圾桶里有多余的免费食物。 其中一些可能是完美的,但是我们大多数人宁愿支付更可靠和方便的东西,如果我们能够。 而且许多人会为更高级的东西付出很多。

This is the case in media — TV and music, as mentioned, but also video games and radio make billions per year from consumers who can access free alternatives. But it’s also the case in every other market, from coffee to clothes. People choose the level and style they want and are willing to pay for — and providers compete to get their business.

媒体领域的情况就是如此,电视和音乐也是如此,而视频游戏和广播每年从可以获得免费替代品的消费者那里赚取数十亿美元。 但在其他任何一个市场,从咖啡到服装,情况都是如此。 人们可以选择自己想要的水平和风格,并愿意为此付费,而供应商则通过竞争获得自己的业务。

The reason quality — of content and experience — has gone down in publishing, not up, despite the power of competition and technology, is because publishers are competing for advertiser dollars, not audience dollars. Business model is gravity. Once publishers are competing for audience dollars, the product they produce will get dramatically better.

尽管存在竞争和技术的力量,但内容和体验的质量在出版业下降,而不是上升,原因是出版商在争夺广告商的钱,而不是观众的钱。 商业模式就是重力。 一旦出版商开始争夺观众的钱,他们生产的产品将会大大提高。

How it will play out | 结果会怎样

This is not to say that every publisher just needs to start charging a subscription, and people will run for their credit cards. (Monthly recurring revenue FTW 💸!) The average thinking, reading person reads from dozens of sources per month. Even if they were very cheap, there will be subscription fatigue. Cognitively, and economically, people will be able to rationalize a handful of content subscriptions at most (in addition to their 2–3 music/TV subscriptions).

这并不是说每个出版商都需要开始收取订阅费,人们就会去申请他们的信用卡。 (每月经常性收入 FTW!) 一般来说,思考和阅读的人每个月都会阅读几十种资源。 即使他们非常便宜,也会有订阅疲劳。 从认知上和经济上来说,人们最多只能合理化一小部分内容订阅(除了2-3个音乐 / 电视订阅)。

Outlets that are very big in terms of content volume/frequency or that have superfans will be able to make subscriptions work — see NYT and The New Yorker. Or that have very low costs and a niche audience — see Stratechery.

就内容容量 / 频率而言非常庞大的媒体或拥有超级粉丝的媒体将能够实现订阅服务ーー参见《纽约时报》和《纽约客》(The New Yorker)。 或者那些成本非常低、受众众众多的公司ーー参见 stratechary。

That leaves out the vast majority of publishers in the world. If everyone had a digital wallet in their browser and was willing to do micropayments as they cruise around the web, that might be a solution. But that’s very unlikely. And, it’s not clear how to design that to create a healthy feedback loop (i.e., keep click bait and popularity from being rewarded over quality).

这就把世界上绝大多数的出版商排除在外了。 如果每个人在浏览器中都有一个数字钱包,并且愿意在浏览网页时进行微支付,那么这可能是一个解决方案。 但这种可能性很小。 而且,如何设计一个健康的反馈回路也不是很清楚(例如,保持点击诱饵和流行度不会因为质量而受到奖励)。

There is a likely solution, though. And it’s, again, demonstrated by other media types. There’s a reason we don’t subscribe to TV shows or our favorite bands individually: 1) It would be a pain in the butt. 2) It would be a much worse deal. We pay for bundles, which give us access to lots of options. It’s great, and it will be great for published content, as well.


There won’t be a Spotify of publishing — with literally everything you want. But there will be a Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, etc. — each with a substantial amount of things you want. You might also have your superfan subscriptions (Patreon-based individuals), and your company-expensed subscriptions (The Information), but most consumers will have one or two of the big bundles.

不会有一个出版的Spotify —— 有你想要的一切。但会有一个Netflix和Hulu和亚马逊等 —— 每一个都有相当数量的你想要的东西。你可能也会有你的超级粉丝订阅(基于 Patreon 的个人),和你的公司付费订阅(The Information),但大多数消费者都会有一两个大的套餐。

Publishers generally don’t like this idea, but I think it will actually be good for creators, as well as consumers. In the same way that Spotify gets a lot more money from consumers to record labels and musicians than they could on their own. Netflix does the same for studios and show producers. Both pay for marketing, discovery, and technology infrastructure that allows creators to do their job. (The fact that small publishers have to be experts in technology, and distribution, and, now, funnel optimization, is a huge drain.)

出版商通常不喜欢这个想法,但我认为它实际上对创作者和消费者都有好处。 同样的道理,Spotify 从消费者那里得到了比他们自己能得到的更多的钱,从唱片公司和音乐人那里。 对电影公司和节目制作人也是如此。 两者都支付市场营销、发现和技术基础设施,让创造者做他们的工作。 (事实上,小型出版商必须是技术、分销以及现在的漏斗优化方面的专家,这是一个巨大的消耗。)

Who will offer these bundles? Well, Apple just bought one. So far, Google and Facebook are talking about helping publishers charge subscriptions individually, but I’d expect a bundle down the road as publishers get comfortable with it. Startups like Blendle are developing alternatives. And of course, Medium has a growing bundle of thousands of independent writers and publishers. In the end, the best convenience and value for the consumer will win.

谁来提供这些套餐? 嗯,苹果刚刚买了一个。 到目前为止,谷歌和 Facebook 正在讨论帮助出版商单独收取订阅费,但我预计随着出版商逐渐适应这种做法,未来会有一个捆绑套餐。 像 Blendle 这样的创业公司正在开发替代品。 当然,Medium 拥有成千上万的独立作家和出版商。 最终,为消费者带来最大的便利和价值才是最终的赢家。

And at the same time, writers and publishers who offer high-value, differentiated content that competes for its ability to drive revenue from consumers, not just eyeballs, will win, as well.

This is a world I’m looking forward to.