The Platisher Problem

Arikia Millikan

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Every time a Silicon Valley tech startup proclaims to be the one true savior of journalism, a Platisher is born. In this talk I’ll explore the incompatibilities of being both a platform and a publisher and highlight some of the most egregious missteps of well-known Platishers. What’s required to offer a truly independent publishing experience?

Silicon Valley and independent media go together like oil and water, but time and time again creators fall victim to the traps of multi-million-dollar user-acquisition budgets. Venture-backed startups rely on the promise of exponential growth to secure investments. But “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t really work in journalism, a field where about 50% of practitioners are freelance due to the crumbling state of corporate media. Companies like Medium and Substack emerged on the scene proclaiming their mission to “save journalism,” piggybacking off of older creator economy models. But the lofty goals and messiah complexes of the founders weren’t enough to attract users. After all, if anyone can publish anything on your platform, you have a quality problem; if only hand-picked stars can publish, you have a scaling problem. Soon after launching, the platforms’ mantras shifted to “if you pay them, they will come.”

Enter: The “Platisher” — a hybrid entity in between a platform and a publisher. Platishers sought out and enticed journalists and writers seeking greener economic pastures with everything from “free” use of their platforms to six figure advances. But with publisher-type strings attached, the publishing experience was not so independent after all. Lack of transparency in funding, the classic “whale problem” of a few successes in a sea of bait-and-switch failures, and unclear policies around content and subscriber data ownership all plague the process. Now, with CDA230 legislation pushed back into the political arena, a surge in neo-fascist publishing efforts, and the explosion of AI, it will be more important than ever to understand just where the line is between platform and publisher. Is it possible to be a truly independent publisher on the web?