Are Publishers Really Putting Their Audiences First?

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By Peter Houston, Publishing Executive

What a time to be alive… the people, fresh from taking the U.K. out of Europe, are sending a reality TV star to the White House and the brightest brains of our society didn’t have a clue what was coming up in the elevator.

The worrying part of that for me — outside of my concerns for the future of Western Civilization — is that the pollsters on either side of the Atlantic didn’t come close to understanding what the public were thinking.

If the world’s leading political analysts, awash with data, can’t get close to forecasting an election result, what hope does your average publisher have of figuring out the complexities of a 21st Century reader, their behaviors, and their needs?

And yet the publishing industry’s mantra du jour is ‘Audience First’. How do we put the audience first when we can’t call a two-horse race?

Almost 25-years ago at Medill Journalism School, Professor Abe Peck carefully explained to me how publishing is a three-legged stool: Audience — Revenue — Content. You could put those three elements in any order you wanted, but if they don’t balance, the future for your publishing outfit is going to be wobbly at best.

Since those early Internet days, we’ve come through a succession of ‘First’ strategies in publishing. ‘Digital First’, ‘Content First’, ‘Mobile First’, ‘Social First’ and soon no doubt, we’ll get to ‘Video First’. Right now, the focus seems to be ‘Audience First’ and although audience isn’t the worst ‘First’ of the bunch, it does make me wonder what we’ve been doing all this time to balance the stool.

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