How to Decode the Publisher-Platform Relationship

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The relationship between news publishers and Big Tech platforms in rebuilding the business of journalism requires a new focus on solutions ranging from direct dialogue to collective bargaining to changes in the law. This report looks at publisher sentiments about platforms, the global legal and regulatory ecosystem for platforms, publisher-platform issues and potential solutions, and a potential publisher playbook.

Key themes in report

  • Publisher sentiments about platforms: Surveys the views of news publishers worldwide about their relationships with Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon.
  • The global legal and regulatory ecosystem for platforms: Connects the dots on the fast-emerging legal and regulatory landscape internationally.
  • Publisher-platform issues and potential solutions: Prioritises publisher-platform issues and potential solutions such as copyright/news aggregation, privacy/consumer data, tax status, fake news and fake ads, unbiased prominence for quality subscription content, the platform news tax, and ad tech dominance.
  • Publisher playbook: Creates a first-draft publisher playbook for how to strategically position the leading platforms in building reader relationships, moving audiences to premium content, using local industry alliances, reselling platform solutions, acquiring users through platforms, lobbying guidance, and monitoring legal breakthroughs.

Who should read the report?

Media company CEOs, ownership, senior management, lobbyists, digital executives, platform specialists


Robert Whitehead is director of McPherson Media Group, a privately owned regional publisher in Australia. With more than 30 years of experience across media, Whitehead works in start-up and investment in disruptive technologies. Previously he served as Fairfax Media’s director of group publishing, general manager of operations, and head of marketing, new ventures, and events. He also was the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald for five years. Whitehead is a regular contributor to INMA blogs, study tours, and conferences in Europe and North America.

About the Digital Platform Initiative

“How to Decode the Publisher-Platform Relationship” is part of the Digital Platform Initiative by the International News Media Association (INMA). This initiative aims to assist and empower publishers in dealing with the threats to financial sustainability accelerated by the rise of Big Tech platforms. The initiative decodes the complex issues facing the news industry as a result of digital platforms. The initiative aspires to recommend a commercial playbook for publishers as well as potential remedies publishers can consider advocating. Initiative deliverables include reports, blogs, Webinars, and conference presentations.

Detailed overview

“How To Decode the Publisher-Platform Relationship” comes at a pivotal moment. Evolving tensions surrounding the broad intertwining of the Big Tech platforms in the business model of news publishers are creating intense pressure points for legal relief and direct discussions. Helping publishers prioritise and distill that broad landscape are the key objectives of the new INMA report.

Written by Australian media veteran Robert Whitehead, the INMA report emphasises four key issues between the “unavoidable business partners:”

  • Privacy and data control.
  • News aggregation.
  • Algorithms downplaying quality and subscription journalism.
  • Market power over monetisation of news media.

The INMA report is based on interviews with 45 media leaders, regulators, and current and former executives of digital platforms. The report overlays publisher concerns on six continents with four major regulatory developments in Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Because of the global nature of the platforms, a regulatory development in one region can impact the publisher-platform ecosystem in all other regions – making the linkage that INMA achieves in this report all the more important.

If one theme ties together these regulatory developments, it is the impact of platforms on the business of journalism, according to the report. Once the purview of lobbyists on the side of the news business, Big Tech’s ubiquity has made regulatory issues central to the strategy and everyday operations of publishers.

Distilling interviews and regulatory developments, INMA puts forward a potential publisher playbook:

  • Be the premium reader destination: Prioritise your digital network as the primary reader destination which, in turn, encourages direct relationships, incentives to build a premium audience, and high-quality data.
  • Stay connected with Big Tech developments: Make certain someone at your company is following the myriad of developments among Big Tech platforms from lobbying, opportunity, and best practice perspectives.
  • Engage with platforms: Keep working with and engaging with Facebook, Google, Apple, and others. While this is a complex feat, the companies offer access to expertise and revenue that are unquestioned.

For all of the pain points in the relationship between publishers and platforms, the INMA reports envisions a road map in which issues can be resolved one by one.

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