Future of Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities for Publishers

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Grace Hong is Founder/Principal of GXH Consulting, a strategy and innovation consultancy. Previously, she held several executive positions at Wolters Kluwer, a software, information, and services company serving professionals in four main areas: healthcare, tax, law, and financial services. Read more

Me: Siri, write me a bestseller. Oh, and can you take care of the production, marketing, and sales? I’m heading out, but I’ll be back in an hour. Let’s check in then.

Siri: Sorry, Grace. I’ve decided to go start my own business.

 Whether or not we get to a point where bestsellers, hit songs, or masterpieces of art—those things we consider distinctly human—are generated by AIs, there is no doubt that the role of publishers and content creators will continue to change dramatically.

Robots are already generating “human-free stories.” The Washington Post, Associated Press, and LA Times use in-house software to create news and social media posts. A growing number of commercial products automate the production of industry reports, email and marketing copy, and more, and provide options to “humanize” style and tone. This technology will almost certainly make its way into other genres, like fiction. Robots may become fantastic novelists!

This is an extreme scenario, but it illustrates some of the challenges traditional publishers face on a smaller scale today. Anyone, including robots, can create and publish. As quality content becomes more available, content on its own may become less the locus of value. Marketing and platform capabilities that help readers discover and engage will be differentiators. Value will also be assigned to aspects of the digital experience—personalization, delivery mediums and options, functionality, speed to insight, and social engagement with creators and communities, among others. Robots won’t fulfill the need for human connection and real experiences.

The next wave of innovation will certainly push publishing further into the digital space. Over half the world’s population is now on the Internet. People are tethered to their devices, trying their best to stay up-to-date. Seventy-one percent of Americans sleep with their smartphones[1] and 81 percent have a social media profile.[2] Much of what we consume is based on recommendations on social, e-commerce, and other platforms we use for multiple purposes.

Publishers will need to develop strategies that more fundamentally disrupt the existing model.

[1] “Trends in Consumer Mobility Report,” Bank of America, 2015.
[2] “U.S. Population Social Media Penetration,” Statista, 2017.


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