Posts about content

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Content vs. Service

Here is the second chapter of my book, up on Medium for free. It argues that journalism is a service. That means that we’re not in the content business. That is heresy. So shoot me. The lede:

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Is news really a content business? Should it be? Perhaps defining ourselves as content creators is a trap. That worldview convinces us that our value is embodied entirely in what we make rather than in the good people derive from it. The belief that our business is to produce a product called content is what drives us to build paywalls around it — to argue that the public should pay for what we make because it costs us money to make it and, besides, they’ve always paid for it. It motivates us to fight over protecting our content from what we view as theft — using copyright — rather than recognizing the value that content and the information in it can bring in informing relationships. As content creators, we separate ourselves from the public while we create our product until we are finished and make it public — because that is what our means of production and distribution long demanded; only now are we learning to collaborate during the process. Our monopoly over those means of production also convinced us that we could own, control, and wield pricing power over this scarcity called content. 

These circumstances left us ill-prepared for a technological era when copies cost nothing; when content and thus competition are abundant; when information becomes a commodity the instant it can be passed on with a link and click; and when the value of information — before it is spread and known — has a half-life now measured in milliseconds. Content, it turns out, is not a great business. 

To suggest that we are not in the content business is to argue that journalists are not primarily storytellers: high heresy indeed. That idea pulls the rug out from under everything we assume and hold dear about our craft and trade: our job descriptions, our production processes, our legal status, our measures of success, and certainly our business models. Fear not: Content will continue to be valued. But content’s value may be more as a tool than as an end in itself and certainly not as our only product. 

Well then, if we are not in the content business, what business are we in? Consider journalism as a service….

Read the rest of the chapter here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here.

Past the page

Watch this video and be astounded by what you can do with questions and answers, orders and actions, curiosities and information in voice using “OK, Google” (or, if you prefer, as I do, “OK, Jarvis”).

Now think about the diminished role of the page and what that will do to media. We publishers found ourselves unbundled online, so we shifted from selling people entire publications to trying to get them to come to just a page — any page — and then another page on the web, lingering long enough to shove one more ad at their eyeballs.

But just as the web disintermediated physical media, voice disintermediates the page. But media still depend on the page as their atomic unit, carrying their content, brand, ownership, and revenue. Now, when you want to know the score of the Jets game — if you dare — you don’t need to go to ESPN and find the page, you just say, “OK, Google. What’s the Jets score?” And the nice lady will tell you the bad news.

Now let’s go farther — because that’s what I live to do. Let’s also disintermediate the device. There’s nothing to say that you need to speak to your device to do this as long as you can get your question to Google in the cloud. So imagine that you carry with you a transponder that broadcasts your identity — it could be a phone or Google Glass or a watch or just a card in your wallet, if you still need a wallet — so that when you walk into a connected room, you can simply say out loud, “OK, Google,” and ask your question and you’ll get an answer from whatever device happens to be listening. You can be in a rental car that knows you’re you and tell Google to add a calendar item or make a phone call or look up a fact and you’ll not have to see a single page. Star Trek didn’t navigate the universe through pages.

So there’s the next kick in the kidneys to old media. There’s another reason to build relationships with people so we can be their agents of information rather than just manufacturers of pages filled with content. Page? Content? What’s that?

It’s not about content: Part I

Brands (read: advertisers) are following media down the wrong path, deciding that they, too, are media now and that they, too, should make content to draw customers to their messages (thereby, by the way, getting rid of that middleman, media).

I’ve been arguing that media should build their futures around relationships, using content as a tool to that end. I’d say that is even more true of brands.

Yesterday, Samir Arora, CEO of Glam (where — full disclosure — I’ve been an adviser), tweeted a link to Marc Andreessen arguing that Ning, the company he cofounded and sold to Glam, is about to come into its own as it is remade for brands. That got me thinking about brands’ direction.

Whatever platform they use — Ning, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, blogs or all of the above — is less the issue than the culture that enables its brands and its employees — every one — to talk with and build relationships of value and trust with customers.

We’ve all seen this happen on Twitter when we get pissed off at some unfair or unrighteous action by a company; we appeal to sanity; an employee — sometimes the official tweeter, sometimes just a decent soul — rescues us; our relationship with the company is redeemed.

That is the model for brands online. I thought we’d learned that years go. Apparently not quite. Today not only are brands making content in their own domains but they now want to make content in media’s space; we used to call that an advertorial but now that is apparently called — in jargon that appeared from nowhere — “native advertising.” WTF does that mean?

Mind you, brands should indeed create content and make it available — about their products so we can find every question we have answered. But that’s utility. That’s not what brands talk about when they become media. They make this:

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Huh? How is that really any different from slapping a banner onto content? Oh, yes, it’s supposed to make us associate the Droid Razr Maxx HD with exotic locales and long battery life. But Motorola would do better to finally produce a decent phone, in which case, we the users would advertise it. I do hope that’s a lesson Google teaches them. Google understands the value of building relationships with individuals and using knowledge about them to deliver relevance and value. Isn’t that the wise future of media … and marketing?

Copyright v creditright

I wrote a post on Ev Williams’ and Biz Stone’s new Medium platform about rethinking copyright from a legal right not to be copied to a moral right to be credited: creditright. Please go read it there first. Then please join in the excellent discussion about the topic at Google+. Now I’ll add more points here…

* Content is not king. The assumption that content contains all our value in media leads us to sell it and prevent others from copying it, true — but it also leads to missing opportunities, such as realizing the value in relationships.

* If relationships have value, then creators want to assure connections to people through links and data: “Who read or commented on or shared my idea and what can we do together?”

* Those relationships can be exploited in a few ways: Events (see Togather for authors), direct sales (see — and buy — my Kindle Single, please), contributions (contribute to my entrepreneurial graduate on Kickstarter)…. None of that means riches are assured. In the copyright regime, they certainly weren’t either.

* This notion does not kill advertising support for creation. But it says that revenue should travel with content as it is shared. I’ve been arguing for sometime for the embeddable article, which would go to readers rather than making readers come to it. It would need to carry brand (i.e., credit), revenue (likely advertising), analytics (see data point above), and links. I was getting ready to build a demonstration when Debbie Galant found Repost.US, a cool company whose service does exactly this, carrying an article’s logo and its own ads and analytics with links back to the original (and a Repost.US advert added to pay the bills). I spoke with their CEO and he said that when an article is shared it receives by large measure a new, incremental audience. I have some networks and companies very excited about being able to share their content — that is, find new relationships — this way. I wish that media and entertainment companies would learn to go with the flow of links and make their content embeddable and spreadable now that some have shown how they can still get the benefit of brand, monetization, data, and links.

* When credit is given for ideas, then whole articles (or books) don’t need to be copied or embedded. Just the ideas are. The day after I talked with Repost.US, I went to see my friends at 33Across (where — disclosure — I am a mini/micro/nano investor), which just bought Tynt a company that appends a link to the source when you cut-and-paste content from a web page onto a blog or into an email. This is a way to make credit travel with ideas. When you enable and encourage that to happen, you learn a lot more about your content: what ideas are spread, by whom, where and how. That has value. As I’ve been saying, Facebook and Google know how to exploit those signals. Media — content creators — don’t.

* When copyright changes, the idea of plagiarism changes. As I said in the Medium post, the old sin was not rewriting enough; the new sin is not attributing *and* linking. All newspaper and magazine articles should carry footnotes to their sources. I learned that ethic of linking in blogs and the practice of footnoting in writing Public Parts. There’s every reason that other media should take it up. Readers deserve it. Sources and creators deserve it. The record deserves it.

* When creditright takes over, then fair comment becomes a different beast. No longer do we fight over how much — how long an excerpt – is necessary and fair for comment. Now, the more comment the better. Just credit.

* Under creditright, piracy is also redefined. The crime is not copying and sharing someone’s work, the crime is violating the means that creators provide — a la Creative Commons or Repost.US — for its use. This also infers that creators who do not provide those means — who do not make their content spreadable and embeddable — are just plain fools. That is in essence what is happening with much supposed theft and piracy today: How often do you hear people say they would buy the show or movie or record if they could, but when they can’t, they head to a torrent site? This is not to say that a creator *must* provide the means to make content spreadable. But it does say that once we have the means to take economic advantage of spreadable content, spreading it becomes acceptable, even the norm. Wouldn’t that be smart?

Finally, we need to recall the genesis of patent and copyright regimes: to encourage creation and the open sharing of knowledge. Each is becoming outmoded in its way. Patents are used to lock up even common practices — even the information that is our own genome — so they cannot be used. Copyright is used to prevent sharing and the creation that comes from inspiration of what came before. Creditright address at least the shortcomings of copyright by returning to the original purpose of encouraging creation, helping to support it given current technology and reality, and enabling creation upon creation.

: LATER: Related: How plagiarism helped fuel the American Revolution. Commonplace books as a predecessor to Pinterest.

The trouble with content

Yesterday, I got to speak about speaking with the speakers of the National Speakers Association in Indianapolis. How meta.

I was more controversial than I thought I’d be. For I suggested — and demonstrated — that speakers would do well to have conversations with the people in the room and not just lecture them. I said I’ve learned as a speaker that there is an opportunity to become both a catalyst and a platform for sharing. I talked about my wish to do a project built around events and conversation — process as product — with a book perhaps as an afterthought, a result. And I talked about testing a business model with Kickstarter that could help speakers and the people formerly known as the audience wrest back control of events from conference organizers and speakers’ agents.

Some liked what I said. Some didn’t. And even those who liked it said on Twitter and in the hall that it was disruptive and controversial.

When I went into the room to have a conversation with these speakers — Oprahing — I heard this from some of them: We create content. That content has value. Implicit in this: We don’t want to share the stage with the audience. And I would ask whether that means they don’t sufficiently value the audience and the wisdom it brings.

That is precisely what I have heard over the years from newspapers, magazine, and media people: We create content. We control content. It’s ours. Pay us for it. We don’t want to lose control of it by opening up.

This made me see this content worldview as a problem, a seduction.

If you think that all you do is create and sell content, then you box yourself in and cut yourself off from other opportunities, including acting as a platform for sharing knowledge. That’s the problem news organizations have had. Apparently, so do some speakers.

Now, of course, content can have value. But that’s a high bar to jump. It’s proving to be more and more difficult to extract that value. If you make a great movie or write a great novel or sing a great song, then that’s unique and I’ll agree that it has value (though, of course, it’s getting harder to get paid as much as you used to for those creations). Still, if what you do is unique and great, it’s possible. Hard, but possible.

News is not unique. That’s why my industry has gotten in such trouble holding onto the idea that it creates content. Period. The attention they used to hold captive is now free to roam anywhere, including to an abundance of free competitors. I’d warn speakers, too, that some of them could be replaced by a YouTube video or a Google+ Hangout, unless they embrace these threats as opportunities.

Oh, yes, there’s still a business in content. But it’s an increasingly difficult business to survive in. It’s a limiting business. It’s an expensive business. It’s a business with more and more competitors and more and more price pressure. It’s a business that still requires blockbusters but they are harder to come by. It’s a business in which the bar to success is constantly rising.

Are you *sure* you want to be in the content business?