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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - October 2021

Reality check: What is it really like for independent publishers?

It's absolutely amazing to see just how vibrant the industry of independent publishers has become. It is now a massive market that commands an incredible amount of attention. It's still behind in terms of revenue, but in terms of time spent, attention, and personal influence, it's probably already the biggest media market that we have.

And the traditional publishers are noticing this too. Big publishers like the New York Times are trying to offer their key journalists their own platforms, and publishers like the Atlantic are trying to convince smaller independent publishers that they would be better off if they were using them instead.

But there is also a lot of confusion, misleading narratives, misguided beliefs, and just general misconceptions about what this market is really like. It's easy to look at the few highly successful people and think they define this. But they don't. In fact, the top independent publishers are all outliers. They are edge cases that have access to opportunities that others don't.

And this is true for everything. It's also true in the traditional media industry. It's like saying that every newspaper is like the New York Times. That's obviously not true. In fact, pretty much nobody is like the New York Times, and if they were to copy what the New York Times is doing, they would most likely fail.

So, let's do a bit of a reality check and talk about all the many aspects of independent publishing. Let's look at what most can expect from it.

It's an incredibly crowded market

The first reality check, of course, is about the size of this market. Many people are talking about independent publishing as if it's something new. It's not new. It's a market that has been around since the 1990s.

Think about someone like Jason Kottke, who started in 1998, or John Gruber's site mainly about Apple, which he started in 2002.

They are independent publishers.

I too started my first online magazine in 1999. It was called TheCanvasCommunity and it was fairly popular (but never something I intended to turn into a business, and I closed it a few years later as my focus changed).

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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