Tech will screw publishers over

Tech companies know it’s difficult to work with publishers. In 2023, many simply won’t.

Platforms will ghost the publishers they used to hang with. They’ll reassign partner teams and stop recruiting from newsrooms. Engagement will be brute and forceful and issued by press release. Services built on their APIs will disappear. Admin tools will get laggy and buggy. Readers will complain when article embeds stop working en masse. Traffic quality will drop dramatically. An elite few will still get checks to build stuff and drum up industry FOMO. But every other site that joins will struggle to get basic support. Publishers will stick around, but they’ll gut their partner teams too.

Founders will doom their companies by believing the wrong people. They’ll perform napkin math with VCs that affirms whatever they already believe. They’ll flex expense accounts to run their ideas by media execs who are as out of touch as they are. They’ll forget to talk to the folk that do the actual work. They’ll build creator or reading or payment tools that can’t exist in the tangled publishing ecosystem. They’ll publish abstract essays in long Twitter threads and mistake engagement for buy-in. They’ll alienate with sales speak like “one line of code.” Most of their deals will crumble under the scrutiny of skeptical product managers. The rest will rot in sprint backlogs.

Publishers will take on far fewer partners. As tech budgets dry up, incentives will shift from cash to product development. It will be painful for everyone: Sales cycles will stretch across quarters, launch deadlines will zoom past. Roadmaps will be endlessly disrupted for popup compliance work. It’ll be near impossible to recruit and retain experienced engineers willing to wrestle crumbly tech stacks. The most successful partnerships will sacrifice speed to bring publishers into roadmapping early and often. They’ll prioritize engineer support and build within the industry’s restraints. And, despite it all, they’ll create products that center on the reader’s needs without screwing over the publisher.

(Spoiler: It won’t be micropayments.)

Dana Lacey is a freelance contractor who most recently managed partnerships for Twitter’s early stage product team, launching Twitter Blue and Notes.

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