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In a land of giants, what happens to the merely tall or average?

As more large publishers cut deals to allow their content to be used as training data, it's the mid-sized and below outfits which have fewer good options.

by Rob Corbidge
Published: 15:00, 23 May 2024

Rob Corbidge is Head of Content Intelligence at Glide Publishing Platform, applying the latest knowledge about advances and ideas in the publishing industry to our own product and helping clients get the most from their content.

A tall man looking away from the sun surrounded by people

Signing a five year deal worth over $250 million with OpenAI this week, News Corp have seemingly made clear what they believe the new reality is. Reality for News Corp that is. 

As one of the larger publishers, aggressive in their stance towards those who would harvest their content without payment and one of the decreasing number with the legal and political muscle to cause the AI upstarts some real trouble, News Corp appears to have cut itself a good deal. 

As reported by the WSJ on Wednesday, “The pact acknowledges that there is a premium for premium journalism,” News Corp Chief Executive Officer Robert Thomson told staffers. 

“The digital age has been characterized by the dominance of distributors, often at the expense of creators, and many media companies have been swept away by a remorseless technological tide. The onus is now on us to make the most of this providential opportunity.” 

An interesting detail from the News Corp deal is that “content won’t become available on ChatGPT immediately after publication”. 

We can expect more such deals globally, to join other large businesses such as Germany’s Axel Springer, who took the OpenAI shilling as far back as December. 

Yet in seeing such deals go through, and to continue the Germanic theme, we are thoughtful that it is the mittelstand of our collective industry that stands to suffer the most in these technological headwinds.

By mittelstand we mean the countless publishers running operations that turn over hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, but not hundreds of millions. Together they are responsible for the bulk of content produced globally every day, by sheer number, and range from the ultra-specialists to the alternative generalists. 

They are big enough to have staff, and the obligations and responsibilities that go with that, yet few sit on the kind of the financial bedrock that allows a business to survive more than a few seasons of downturn in revenue. 

Such publishers can be contrasted with one-man-band type concerns, or blogs, who at least enjoy greater agility and lower overheads. They don’t seem to be getting any sort of deal at all, and many of hours of their labour will likely now appear as a glib answer in Google’s Gemini. 

The value of the mid-sized publishers to our industry is greater though. It is in such businesses that content creators can learn their trade in a professional environment, with the basic standards required to progress, and such publishers are cumulatively of more importance than when taken singly. Not to mention the markets they serve: the megafauna rely on those further down the chain to sustain their environment too. 

If their content is harvested for free, then they will wither, particularly the generalists. 

The companies wielding the content harvesting scythes aren’t going cease their operations voluntarily, and so legal redress is the most likely resolution, yet dozens or hundreds of such publishers will get chopped up and eaten alive one one by lawyers if they challenge wealthy AI companies. 

It’s still a fast-moving game though, not least because generative AI tech still lives more in the promise than the profitable actuality. 

If this current deal-making environment goes the way of past liaisons between publishers and Big Tech, and they woo us only to screw us, it’ll be clear we’ve learned nothing and we’ll miss that mittelstand.

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