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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - February 2020

For publishers, the key to personalization isn't to filter

Personalization is something that is often discussed among publishers, but few really understand it and even fewer know how to do it.

Many believe that personalization is the solution to the problems facing publishers.

For instance, William Lewis, chief executive of WSJ, recently defined the future of publishing as a "personalisation crisis".

At Dow Jones, we see the personalisation crisis not as a disaster, but as an exciting opportunity.

But I look around at many other news organisations and I do see a disaster in the making: a disaster for them and their survival and, bigger than that, a disaster for democracy.

In many ways, if this crisis - this turning point - does play out as a disaster, it will be a disaster of the media's own making. A disaster borne of arrogance and inattention to the huge, disruptive changes in readers' expectations of us as journalists.

We face a situation where great media brands might not survive because they're still clinging to the old idea that they, not their readers, are the ones in charge.

Okay... that sounds disastrous.

Mind you, I agree with his overall notion. He said:

But to grow at the pace we've grown, to really fulfil that purpose, to take our brilliant Pulitzer prize-winning journalism to bigger, broader audiences, we've actually moved away from the very idea of the 'audience'. Instead, we've become obsessively focused on the reader as an individual.

However, this is not really what personalization is good for, because it doesn't solve the underlying problem.

What is the underlying problem, you ask? It's that you produce too much random content for random people so that each individual article is starved.

In other words, it's a focus problem, not a personalization problem.

But it also has more to do with the type of moment people have and how that reflects on what is relevant to people.

Mind you, for WSJ, personalization might indeed be what they need, considering their more uniquely defined readers. But for most publishers, personalization means thinking about publishing in a different way.

So let's talk about how to personalize (and how not to).

Fixing the 'super-supermarket'

First, let's talk about how most publishers think about personalization. And to do this, we are going to talk about supermarkets.

Let's start small.

If you have a very small supermarket, people can come to you and buy their standard groceries, and the entire experience will be quick and easy.

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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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