AI won’t save publishing

A wise post by Ian Betteridge on AI as a “burning platform moment” for publishing: publishers who see AI in editorial solely as a way of reducing costs aren’t seeing the big picture. AI reduces barriers to entry too: if you’re publishing “good enough” AI-written content, your rivals are everybody else with access to AI. And that access is cheap.

You cannot gain competitive advantage at the cheap, low-cost end of the market. Trying to do so will not only make you vulnerable to anyone else with the same tools (at $20 a month) but also devalue your brand over the long term.

As tech writers of some vintage, Ian and I have both seen many technological waves disrupt publishing: the move to digital, the pivot to video, the rise of search engine optimisation, the rise of reviews that aren’t reviews and many more. Each time, some publishers – including very big and successful ones – have sacrificed long-term credibility and ultimately viability for short-term returns, only to see those returns disappear as a new disruptor comes to town. There are countless formerly great publications that have lost significant readerships, or disappeared completely, because of that short-termism.

And AI isn’t the only disruption that’s here right now: the current obsession with Google traffic and affiliate revenues that means everybody covers the same product stories and deals is running out of time too.

As Betteridge rightly points out, publishers have assets that AI and cheapskate rivals don’t: “decades worth of experience, context, contacts and knowledge of audiences in your editorial teams.” Wise publishers will be thinking of how to empower and amplify them, not replace them.