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It’s the end of the world (as publishers know it)

The publishing industry is experiencing a period of historical change. The advent of the internet has taken many of the main publishing companies by surprise, and in the rush to develop an online strategy, they spent too much time considering how to charge for content while new media companies offering free content were springing up in the marketplace. And so began the erosion of the traditional press market, where the rules of the game started to change, and the profits from online business turned from the hands of the big publishers to someone else.

This is in addition to changes in the advertising sector: recently the amount of investment in online advertising surpassed that of print advertising in many countries (first between all USA and UK). Many people think that one of the main titles will decide to stop printing daily editions—starting a chain reaction that, in the near future, will result in only a few traditional titles still being printed, most likely dedicated to niche markets and not the mainstream news.

There are many worries about the survival of the publishing industry and a lot of debates, the most recent occurring in the heart of Silicon Valley during the week of the most important conference for semantic technology: the Semantic Technology Conference (SemTech). Here, publishing has been one of the main topics at an event involving entrepreneurs, analysts, researchers and investors.

The semantic environment is undoubtedly fascinating, especially the semantic web, of which many consider the turning point for a new era of potential on the internet–an era in which all the available information will be more intelligent, more interconnected and automatically accessible by all, users and consumers alike. It will be a new era, in which new ways to access web sources will allow us to improve not only our online experience, but also our everyday lives. The revolution and the development allowed by semantic technology are the common denominators for the debate about the surviving of publishing.

Some propose to go back in time and sell content to readers. Others, (often with big results) are releasing new online titles with a greater focus on the reader. Still others hope for new laws and legislation to stop the power of some big companies (Google, for example) and be part of the sharing of some of the business opportunities left in the market. There is also the exploitation of new access devices, like the iPad, which allows the possibility to sell content that, until now, was free.

However, in this scenario, technology offers a great opportunity for everyone. During SemTech, these opportunities have been one of the main topics of discussion: an entire section of the conference has been dedicated to the discussion of instances where semantic software applications are used and how these allow content providers to make a greater profit using the same quantity of produced content.

There has been talk about software that automatically proposes similar content to viewers, pulled from the site’s archive or from other online sources. The purpose is to simplify the research of other potentially interesting content, increase the time spent on the site, increase loyalty, and consequently, advertising profits due to more time spent online by readers. There has been a really interesting discussion about the creation of intelligent procedures to improve the user’s experience, allowing better browsing and a higher quality of search results. These mechanisms can allow you to automatically split results in a detailed way (for instance, a reader searching for articles about Japanese cooking could have several similar results: restaurant advisors, recipes etc. for an easier future search).

Another topic has been the development, for publishers and brands, of more profitable ways for online advertising that are less invasive for readers. Thanks to semantic technology, it is possible to create advertising campaigns that link automatically to other content, either to an article or links to feedback submitted by users. This procedure is increasing the possibility to create unique messages that can improve the value for investors without compromising the experience for the reader. Another interesting opportunity offered by semantic technology is the ability for content creators to make their content automatically available in the standard formats required by semantic web. This makes it possible to immediately activate all the described features and to reduce costs so that journalists and bloggers can spend more time on other, more important activities.

In summary, I’m much more convinced that this revolution will bring about historical change, and that conditions exist that will make it possible for big publishers and small innovators to live and compete together in a transparent, fully functioning market. To make this possible I think it will be necessary for big publishers to focus not only on big legal battles against existing contents sources, like free information sites. It is necessary and cheaper for them to understand and take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new technologies (hardware and software). The profit that could be made by applications already existing in the market or just in the minds of some innovators…are potentially much larger than we could imagine.


Author: Luca Scagliarini

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