(Part 1 of a series, Part 2 is here)
Ask most media professionals to define “publishing” and they’ll most likely resort to something akin to the standard dictionary entry: “The business of issuing printed matter.”
By that definition, publishing ain’t much of a growth business.
But here at FM, we’d like to recapture what we believe is the essence of the term. To us, publishing means something far more than putting words and images to paper. Back when paper and printing presses revolutionized how humans communicated, we ended up conflating two very important concepts. One was the message – what was being said, and in what context. The second was the medium – the transport for that message. The two became seen as the same thing in printed matter, and the traditional definition of publishing was born.
It’s not an accident that we identified the message (what is being said) with the medium (how that message gets into our minds). After all, before print, all we poor humans had as a medium was our voices. Back then, with apologies to McLuhan, the medium truly was the message.
Think of publishing as speaking – a conversation – it’s clear that publishing means far more than printing. Publishing means connecting a community through the art and science of communication. And nowhere is publishing more vibrant – and conversational – than through the medium we’ve come to call the Internet.
The Early Web
A brief (and admittedly simplified) history of publishing on the Web helps put that vibrance into context, and provides context for why we at FM believe that in the age of digital media, every brand must become a publisher.
Cast your mind back to the early web – the mid 1990s, when Yahoo was literally a directory of links, and the hottest thing on the web was a site called “Cool Site of the Day.” Back in those heady days, the web was all about putting up a site declaring your presence – thousands of new “brochures” sprang up each week, from corporate websites to personal journals to “new media” sites which translated traditional print models like magazines to the Web format.
The thing that made this new “brochureweb” so cool was the link – the ability to add context and connection between each individual “piece of printed matter” on the web. Add to linking the ability to comment upon that link – what’s known in academic publishing as “annotation” – and a revolution in publishing was born.
Note the big names in this early web – the companies that became extremely valuable – Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, Excite. What did they all have in common? You guessed it: They all took the “noise” of the early brochureweb and filtered it for signals. By commenting on and curating all those new web pages, then declaring which were worth our time, they all became important (and highly valuable) brands on the web. They were the web’s first meta-publishers.
But publishing on the web didn’t evolve to a new level until sophisticated search engine burst onto the scene in the late 1990s, changing forever our understanding of how media works.
Search – in particular Google, driven as it was by the magical signal of link influence – made nearly every static website available, findable, and ranked. Suddely it wasn’t enough to simply find great links and curate them, you had to do more. Because search made every piece of content findable, content itself was loosed from the chains of portal-based distribution – it mattered less where content was (the home page of a portal), and more what that content was and who thought it was worth paying attention to (ie who linked to you, who was “talking about you”).
We’re now in the midst of a second and related sea change in how publishing works: social media. We are today with social media where we where with search nearly ten years ago – at the starting blocks.
And to bring this short history to the point: social media and search directly impact Brands. In Part 2, we’ll dive into how, and why in the age of conversational media, Brands must become Publishers.
(As with most of my writing, I consider this to be a draft, with you, the reader and community, as the editor. So please use comments or email to tell me your thoughts!)