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Platform or Participant? Where Do Publishers Fall?

Today, Andy Richardson discusses Google’s acquisition of Frommer’s, a travel guide publisher, whose content will now feed into Google’s location listings on Maps and the Google Plus social network. Unlike Yahoo, Google has not pursued a strategy of creating content, but rather focused on developing a platform that delivers content and services.

Now, as Google adds more of their own content to their offering, they face a dilemma: should they promote their own content above the rest, or try to remain a neutral platform — an approach that has made them so much money? How can one party fairly promote their own products and those of their competitors?

This question isn’t just one for Google. For example, should Amazon promote their own titles over the rest of the books on their site? If they continue down this path, will customers feel they aren’t getting the best shopping experience?

As agents begin to self-publish some of their clients’ titles, they become direct competitors to the publishers who have, for so long, made agencies viable. And as publishers start to experiment with self-publishing platforms and distribution, are they sacrificing their core business in pursuit of new revenue streams? Do they have a choice but to do so?

The digital world has erased many of the lines that the traditional publishing business drew in the sand. It is slowly eroding some of the traditional revenue streams. Should publishers build their own platforms — be they distribution, e-book conversion, editing and consulting — and offer their services to competitors? Or are there some lines that should not be crossed?

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