Are publishers really putting their audiences first?

If the world’s leading political analysts, awash with data, can’t get close to forecasting a US or UK election result, what hope does your average publisher have of figuring out the complexities of a 21st Century reader, their behaviors, and their needs?

And yet the publishing industry’s mantra du jour is ‘Audience First’. How do we put the audience first when we can’t call a two-horse race?

The fad for flying the ‘Audience First’ flag suggests the audience hasn’t been at the forefront of publishers’ minds for a while. The rise of ad-blocking would certainly support that theory. It’s estimated that in 2016 about 70 million Americans will have used an ad blocker — that’s 10 million more than voted for President Elect Trump’s backlash against the established order.

The fact that publishers are talking enthusiastically about the prioritization of audiences is a positive. But reading some recent ‘Audience First’ announcements reminds me of an old comment from one of the U.K.’s leading publishing cynics who said a few years ago:

“Calling your editors content managers is not a digital strategy.”

Putting an ‘Audience First’ wrapper around your latest corporate policies — from platform shifts to newsroom consolidation — doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re really thinking about what’s best for your audience.

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