A few years ago, when I was doing presentations about web 2.0, I had a deck about the democratization of media. It was the usual stuff I like to call "media Marxism" (aka social media): how the means of media production were now in the hands of the proletariat, how content capitalism was giving way to the new order, and a lot of other things I and many other people were discovering at the time.
In that deck, there was this bullet point about how the ones who were going to benefit (that is, profit) the most from this revolution were not "the people" but marketers and their agencies who already had access to talent and would now be able to manufacture and distribute content and aggregate their own audiences at costs comparable to renting them from traditional media.
Over the past week, I've come across a couple of articles that illustrate this evolution as well as the inevitable tension between agencies and publishers:
HuffPo ran a piece by CEO of Story, a digital content shop, who thinks publishers will win: "The extinction-level event for traditional ad agencies is the ad world's rapid uptake of the idea that original content is the new path to engaging consumers. In a world where brands need to create and own original, engaging content, it is publishers -- the people who actually understand and manage content creation -- who are best positioned to profit from selling content-creating services to their advertising clients." That's in addition to publishers doing the creative work on ads that run on their properties.
NYTimes, in a weekend piece " Publishing, Without Publishers", makes the opposite bet: "Luxury brands have always advertised in the likes of Vogue, Esquire and Architectural Digest and tried to impress their editors enough to get mentioned in the editorial pages, as well. But now companies like Richemont are reaching out directly to consumers — and cutting out the middlemen." Just last week, P&G launched its Man of The House site (they are even selling ads on it).
In the HuffPo piece, Story's CEO argues that agencies lack the key set of storytelling skills required to create great content: "The traditional ad agencies are going to lose because creating great, engaging content is emerging as the key skill in marketing. And they don't have it." This strikes me as somewhat self-serving (his company says it creates engaging content for hire) as well as inaccurate: one thing good agencies know how to do well (if not always sell to the client) is interesting stories (Coke's Happiness Factory) and enduring characters (Coke's Polar Bears). What agencies have little experience with is everything else that goes into producing a publication that lasts longer than a typical campaign span, from staffing and planning to subscription management and content optimization. But if there's money in it, they will learn or buy their way in.