Damn. I almost successfully made it through 2014 without publicly using the term “platisher.” Like many in the digital media industry, I rolled my eyes when Jonathan Glick coined the awkward phrase in a February op-ed on Re/Code, seeking to describe the modern digital media business that thrives both as a publisher and a platform for its users. Although much of the logic was sound, even Jonathan admitted it was a ridiculous name.
Fast-forward to Thursday night, and I found myself reading a report on the asset sale at Say Media, which seemed to use a single, unique business failure to call into question the entire category of modern digital content businesses.
The trouble with the term platisher is that it suggests that any combination of technology and content is like a duck with a beaver tail, or maybe a beaver with a duck bill — nonsensical. What is, in fact, nonsense is to liken Say Media to Vox, Business Insider or any modern media company whose business relies on purpose-built technology. Say Media’s decision to divest its content assets and return to its roots is not, as Lucia Moses suggests on Digiday, a cautionary tale for publishers that imbue their publishing process with empowering technologies. Rather, it reflects the discord that arises when fusing together two businesses in a way that cannot faithfully serve either audience.
Vox Media is absolutely a new breed of publisher, built from the ground up as a media organization empowered by its own brand of digital media tools. This includes its Chorus publishing platform, which was developed to serve the specific needs of today’s digital editorial and advertising teams.
As CEO Jim Bankoff has said, the company is comprised of three parts: Its consumer brands, revenue and technology. That last piece is not a product the company is marketing on the side (or that generates the bulk of its revenue, as is the case with Say Media). It is “a way of doing things … to make the best possible stories and make those stories come to life … and find their audiences, wherever those audiences might be.”
Say Media, on the other hand, was an ad network that tried to layer on content — perhaps to diversify or to adopt some of the sheen content carries, or maybe just to strap on a duck bill and pretend it could fly. A comparison to Demand Media might be more apt, given that company’s roots as a DNS company (and time will tell how its “content business” will pan out.)
Frankly, the AOL/Time Warner split might be more illuminating as we consider Say Media’s self-avowed difficulties being both a technology and a content company. When revenue is generated creating technology for third-party usage — and in the case of Say Media for other publishers specifically — you are left with a schizophrenic business model that doesn’t function well in either world.
Organizations like Business Insider and Vox were constructed from the start as content companies. However they wisely built technology to fit hand in glove with their editorial, content delivery and monetization processes. Consider how, when The Atlantic decided to plunge headfirst into digital, it opted not to bolt on technology as an afterthought. As Atlantic Media VP and GM Kimberly Lau describes it, its wildly successful brand Quartz offers “a great example of building something from scratch and giving the team the resources they need.” In an article in which Digiday positions Quartz as a model for modern publishing, editor Jay Lauf says he has learned the “importance of engineers and developers … those guys are integral to everything we do.”
And what they do — and Vox and Business Insider and other so-called “platishers” — is provide valuable content that is created in a culture of technology. Technology is developed to create better experiences and embedded in all aspects of the business. They have no confusion over who they serve or what they serve: Great content, built better through smart technology.
Jason Kint is the CEO of Digital Content Next, the only trade association that exclusively serves the diverse needs of digital content companies that manage direct, trusted relationships with consumers and marketers. He has a deep passion for journalism and evolving content brands — established and new media alike — into their multi-platform digital future. A 20-year veteran of the digital media industry, he previously led the evolution of CBS Sports into a multi-platform brand offering premier broadcast, online and mobile sports content as SVP and general manager of CBS Interactive’s Sports Division. Reach him @jason_kint.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.