Traffic to homepages has been dropping, as the New York Times innovation report proved last year with a candid insight into the decline in the number of people who come straight to the outlet's site.
As more people discover stories through social media or services like Google Now and Flipboard, Quartz president and publisher Jay Lauf proposes a thought experiment: what if people no longer read your stories on your "owned and operated site" at all?
Speaking at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London today, Lauf said: "The fact is that news consumers are not starting out their news consumption day on the sites that are creating that news anymore, they're elsewhere."
People are reading email newsletters, social media, or news reader apps instead, he said as examples.
In Quartz' own research, Lauf explained, the outlet found out when people say they are fans of the site "half the time they don't mean the experience they are having on qz.com"
"That's a new kind of loyalty that I have to embrace," he said.
"I can't force them, I can't grab them by the throat and drag them to qz.com, I need to go to where they are."
And on top of having less control over the ways audiences find stories, publishers also "have increasingly less control over the platforms".
He highlighted the drop in LinkedIn traffic last year after the social network decided to change its approach to editorial referrals and focus on keeping its users on the platform.
In this case, Facebook "has stepped in" to become an important driver of traffic, but what happens once it also decides to tweak its algorithm or change directions?
"Facing this fact that we have less and less control over consumers, we have less and less control over these platforms is critical for trying to develop a strategy for a sustainable future."
So what is Quartz' answer to this thought experiment so far? Lauf said this is "one of the reasons why we have engineers who sit directly next to our editors all day everyday", to create, among other things, APIs to make the outlet's stories easier to share and discover.
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