The problem with everyone funding platforms: Nobody funds content.

News platforms are a dime a dozen. There is always someone new who comes along and claims that their new product is going to “solve” news or change the way we consume it. For the most part, these services and platforms aggregate the news that is being produced and turn it into a more easily consumable format.

Apple News. Google News. Nuzzle. About a hundred others you haven’t even heard of yet. The last AWS roadshow I was at in Sydney, I met three different entrepreneurs all working on basically the same news aggregate platform. Everyone wants to be the one who builds the platform that replaces the way we traditionally consume media. Shit, even Facebook wants to be that platform.

The same is happening for all other content. Netflix, Spotify and every other platform that comes tossing along with the bold promise of “changing how we think about X.”

It’ll eventually happen for video games too. People want to build the platform that puts them between the content creators and the content consumers.

Okay, that’s fair enough. There’s obviously going to be money in being the winning platform that captures the majority traffic share and becomes the dominant way to consume media. There’s a clear benefit there for whoever builds that. Unfortunately, I’m seeing a problem.

Content based businesses — new media publications, record companies, film production companies — are running out of cash. Their business models of subscriptions, paywalls, purchased content and streaming fluctuate between two points: struggling and totally fucked.

And that means we’re going to get more platforms, serving us more content, of a lower quality.

The content organisations are dying out. There is no way to argue with this. Even Buzzfeed, the golden child of new media, is on its way out. Back in 2015, They missed their projections by 32% — and slashed their 2016 revenue forecast from $500m to $250m. Things only got worse from that point, and the channel recently shuttered their Australian and UK offices.

Here’s where we get to the problem. The more we introduce platforms and channels that are meant to replace the original content creators as distributors and turn them solely into production houses, the more we dilute their income. And when that income is diluted, there are four major effects:

  1. Content creators take less risks, and produce more generally appealing content of a lower quality in order to appeal to a wider audience.
  2. Content creators cut their losses and produce less content overall.
  3. Major content creators go out of business as their revenue streams cease to support their infrastructure and size.
  4. Entrepreneurs, watching financial gains plummet, avoid founding new content creation houses, meaning that fewer companies appear to replace the ones that die.

All of this is one big fucking problem for the aggregators, the platforms and the services who began the dilution in the first place. They are going to be faced with less and less quality content from fewer and fewer quality creators. And that pushes them into a corner.

That’s the corner where they have no real option but to turn to the wider public as content creating individuals, rather than go through organisations. There’s so much content out there being produced by individuals, and a lot of it is going to be good. But none of it has serious brand credibility, curation, or a guarantee of quality.

There’s enough user generated content out there, that the platforms will survive. They might even thrive, with less money having to be paid to organisations, and a fraction of those costs going to individuals instead. But the overall quality of the news, the media and content is going to drop — because the organisations we have relied on to curate, cultivate and develop content won’t exist.

I know this is largely inevitable — an a lot of these content creation organisations have brought it on themselves by failing to innovate and anticipate change. I’m not in any way advocating for preserving companies who haven’t preserved themselves.

But I do think it’s worth considering the effect that disruptive platforms have on the media, and the way they’re contributing to the disintegrating quality of what we consume. Particularly when the impact is cultural.

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Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.

Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.

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Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, The AFR, SF Chronicle, Junkee. founder / ✨ She/Her.

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