Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Medium API: Is this the end of news websites as we know them?

Martin Ashplant
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Is Google riding to the rescue of publishers? (Source: Getty)

News publishers could be forgiven for thinking it’s all very end-of-days at the moment.

On one side, ad-blockers may be about to strangle a primitive monetisation model and, on the other, Silicon Valley giants seem intent on controlling the distribution of content, arguably calling the very existence of individual news websites into question.

Apple upped the ante on ad-blockers in last month’s release of iOS 9, for the first time allowing developers to create apps which effectively make the mobile web an advert-free zone.

Those apps leapt to the top of Apple’s App Store charts, underlining a consumer demand which had already seen the use of ad blockers, predominantly on desktop, rise 41 per cent between 2014 and 2015. As the vast majority of digital publishers rely on advertising for revenue, such growth represents a severe threat to their commercial strategy.

But, wait, is that a glimmer of hope offered by the white knights of Palo Alto, Cupertino et al?

In rapidfire succession, Facebook, Apple, Google and Medium have all stepped into the breach to make their own play by offering publishers another way.

Facebook Instant Articles enables news providers to publish direct to Facebook on mobile and Apple News offers the same carrot on a native app on its devices. Both promise a faster, better experience for users and both promise publishers can keep all the revenue for adverts they sell themselves, or a 70 per cent cut of what is sold by Facebook/Apple.

Yesterday, Google threw its rather large hat in the ring with the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, or AMP to its publisher friends, offering that same faster, better experience on mobile if publishers would only use code that it deems acceptable, namely AMP HTML – which means none of the JavaScript beloved and currently required by ad tech companies. It did, though, pledge to “support a comprehensive range of ad formats, ad networks and technologies”.

Dwarfed somewhat by its bigger rivals, but clearly thinking in the same way, Medium – the publishing platform founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams three years ago – followed up with an announcement of its own, offering bloggers and publishers the chance to get their content on Medium via an API linked to whatever content management system they are already using. Incidentally, it is also “exploring new ways” to help content creators make money.

To paraphrase: Silicon Valley is offering publishers a safe – and fast – home for their content, with the promise that money will come, possibly tomorrow.

So the, perhaps obvious, question being asked is whether individual news websites are on their way out, particularly on mobile. If, so the argument goes, the eyeballs of the world are seeing a publisher’s content on Facebook, Google, Apple and Medium – plus Snapchat Discover, LinkedIn Pulse, Flipboard and a raft of others – then the need for a separate website becomes less, especially given the associated costs of running one.

As media commentator Jeff Jarvis puts it: “Imagine starting a new media service without a website but built around content meant to be distributed so it goes directly to readers wherever they are.”

As with Google AMP, there are a lot of unanswered questions and gaps still to be filled, but 2015 could well be the year the industry looks back on as when the business of publishing to the web fundamentally changed.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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