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Publishers increasingly empowered by and dependent upon platform companies

In a new article, “Dealing with digital intermediaries”, Reuters Institute Director of Research Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and research associate Sarah Anne Ganter examine relations between publishers and platform companies.

The article presents an in-depth case study and shows that publishers’ relationships to platforms are characterised by a tension between (1) short-term, operational, often editorially-led pursuit of the opportunities offered by both search and social to reach people and (2) longer-term strategic worries about whether publishers will become too dependent on platform companies, including concerns over whether they might lose control over their editorial identity, access to user data, and central parts of their revenue models.

On the basis of interviews with senior editorial staff, people from management, and technologists, Nielsen and Ganter show that the way the case organisation handles its relationship with different platforms is shaped by a fear of missing out, by the difficulties of evaluating the risk/reward ratio of engaging with different initiatives developed by platform companies, and by a sense of a profound asymmetry as a large news media organisation which finds itself dealing with far larger platforms.

Ultimately, the analysis suggests that publishers are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful digital platforms largely beyond their control.

The article is published in New Media & Society and available as open access here.