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What can publishers learn from the music industry?

Digital disruptors

In the pre-digital days of not-so-long ago, news articles were bundled into nice, neat packages. Every day or week, a newspaper or magazine featuring a selection of articles would be delivered to a reader’s door. Now, with the increasing popularity of platforms like Flipboard and Twitter, articles have become “unbundled” from their publication. Instead of browsing through the first few sections of the newspaper to get to the tech stories you want to read, you can create a section on Flipboard and have tech stories from many different sources delivered to one platform. Instead of discovering articles by turning the page of a magazine, you can discover articles through a link posted on Twitter. 

This unbundling of content has been happening in publishing for a few years now, but the music industry has been witnessing a similar phenomenon for over a decade. Given this, we brought in Alex White, chief executive of Next Big Sound, which tracks musicians’ online and offline data, to discuss what this unbundling has meant for the music industry. 

In this clip from our digital disruptors video series, White explains that it’s not necessarily that the album  has disappeared, but instead, musicians have been bifurcated into track artists or album artists. Track artists (White cites Rihanna as an example) unbundle their music, take advantage of daily spikes in interest and pump songs out regularly. Album artists, on the other hand, focus on the album as an immersive experience for passionate fans.

Does this distinction between album and track artists hold lessons for the publishing industry? Over time, publications might divide even further into two types: those focused on the shareable, digestable article as their primary unit and those dedicated to analysis and long-form articles that are better suited for a packaged experience. Or, publications will continue to split themselves into two (or more) parts. So you have The Atlantic, the monthly magazine with in-depth articles that you read over the course of many nights, and The Atlantic Wire, the fast-moving website you check regularly (but briefly) throughout the day. One Atlantic; two different ideas for what content is and how, when and where it can be accessed. 

What other lessons might publishing learn from the music industry?