Category Archives: Content strategy

Keeping people buying content

This is the fifth of five posts about saleable content management.

A hand holding an apple

In our previous post, we looked at how content is being produced for sale in multiple formats, but in this post we’re going to look at how people then buy it.

It’s worth noting that many new business models aren’t based on people buying content in the traditional sense of taking it away and owning it. Rather than always having the content, you’re effectively buying access to it for a set period of time. This is true of music over Spotify and its various competitors, the vast majority of newspaper paywalls, satellite and cable TV subscriptions and Kindle lending through Amazon in the US. Effectively we’re leasing content rather than buying it, as we don’t think it really retains its value.

One effect of this leasing is to create something of a distribution oligopoly as a few key providers try to corner the market for selling or leasing content produced by others. This creates a serious problem for content producers: the smaller ones can’t afford to fight back by establishing credible director to consumer channels, while the larger ones often don’t have a strong enough brand to compete. That last point is serious: do you know whether the book you’re reading is part of Hachette, or whether the music you’re listening to or the movie you’ll watch this evening were produced by Time Warner? For music, books and film the brand is based on the product, the author or the star, not the publisher.

I believe that a second effect of this oligopoly is to encourage piracy. If distribution appears limited and pricing controlled – whether by the publisher or distributor – people are going to look elsewhere to get hold of content. And that is compounded by the lack of brand loyalty. Now, I’m not going to comment at all on the SOPA / PIPA issue, as many more knowledgeable people have written about this already and I’m based in the UK anyway. But people who create content for sale really do need to consider a few key issues if they want people to buy it rather than steal it.

One person’s piracy is another person’s viral. Susan Boyle sold over 700,000 copies of her first album in the US largely due to a clip of her on YouTube. It was in breach of copyright but of massive benefit to SYCO music. Content producers need to “stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans”, as Rovio CEO Mikael Hed puts it.

Fundamentally, however, “Companies don’t rise and fall due to piracy, but they do based on the quality of the products they release.”. If you want to sell your content, you need to create good quality content in the first place. This means finding the best creatives, acquiring rights based on all the formats you’re going to deliver to and developing brand loyalty that extends beyond a single title or artist.

Content producers need to convince us that they frequently find music, TV or books that interest and adhere to that fundamental tenet of sales: it’s easier to farm repeat business than hunt for new business. But they also need to keep their content separate from its presentation so we return to buy it in whatever format happens to suit us. That is how to manage saleable content.



Producing multi-presentational content

This is the fourth of five posts about saleable content management.


Our previous post looked at how content can depreciate in value.

If content is king, the guillotine is being sharpened. Those publishers and producers who have failed to embrace the multi-channel model are already in the tumbrils.

One key to this model (and I’m grateful to Edward Smith for the term) is asset liquidity. If you can create your format so that it’s suitable for consumption on multiple devices, you can keep on selling your content even if one delivery stream’s market dries up. That’s where content management comes in. Publishers who are stuck with antiquated production processes are going to struggle to produce multi-format content efficiently and yet this is something that the content management industry has been used to doing for many years. Whether this is providing templates for print, web and mobile, or encoding video, or producing multiple image formats, the technology is established and proven. And yet a number of challenges to the multi-channel approach still remain.

Firstly, there are presentational challenges. While text on a web page and typically on eBook readers is “flowable” – unconstrained by the area it’s displayed in – it’s fixed in print and in some other devices, particularly when you have text presented with images. So a news article could appear on a single long web page or be in a short column on the front page of a newspaper and then continued on a separate page. This creates issues during the production process because editors need to understand where those breaks will appear. Moreover, on reading devices where text size can be changed by each individual user, it’s practically impossible to define where breaks might appear for that device. This is far from limited to text: if you can zoom images, or you want to produce media content for devices with different screen sizes and resolutions, you’ll encounter similar problems of trying to deliver an optimal experience for your entire target audience.

Secondly, publishing to multi-function devices increases this problem of the optimal experience, with the most obvious example being the iPad. Neglecting iPad delivery is tantamount to commercial suicide these days, as lean-back media experiences a resurgence. Unlike a Kindle, the iPad screen is backlit, making extended text reading tiring. While the screen on an iPad is good, it’s not going to be better than watching programmes or movies on a good television screen. And if you don’t want to listen to music through the iPad’s speaker – and why would you? – it’s a lot less portable than most other music players. I realise that there are ways around most of these issues that are available on the market, if not widespread. But for people who want to get through to the iPad market, this also means accepting a degree of compromise in how their content is consumed.

Which brings me to the third challenge: difference in consumption habits and the uncertainty that these cause. People who produce content for sale don’t actually have that much say in the determining which format is the most popular. Book publishers want to be a lot less dependent on the Kindle than they currently are, while newspapers – notably in Italy – are at significant risk of shutting down as people move away from printed paper. We’ve already seen in our previous posts how people simply don’t buy CDs any more and it’s only a matter of time before DVD sales are similarly affected.

If you invest a lot into producing content for multiple formats, you also have to accept that not all those formats will exist forever and you’ll have to take a financial hit if you spread too thin or gamble on the wrong one.

Producers and publishers are going to need to find tools which enable them to automate multi-format production and that are flexible enough to accommodate new formats as they emerge. And it’s not just new formats; it’s new content consumption channels too. The way we choose to buy our content is changing along with the devices that we use, as we’ll consider in the next post.



The depreciation of saleable content

This is the third in a series of five posts about saleable content management.

Weathered metal shed

Our previous post paints an uncertain picture for traditional media. New delivery channels imply new sales channels and new commercial models.

One of the biggest questions that commercial providers need to consider is whether their content is an asset. And by asset, I absolutely do not mean this in the sense of how the content should be managed. I mean this in the sense of whether that content retains its value or depreciates over time.

Consider reference materials: an encyclopaedia for example. One of the reasons why Wikipedia does so well is because it’s always up to date. You can pretty much guarantee that when a news story breaks, someone will update a relevant Wikipedia page about it that day. I’m not sure when I’m going to publish this post, let alone when you’re actually going to read it, so just try it now. Go to a major news site, find the top personality or place involved in that news and look them up on Wikipedia. Does the entry refer the news story? How can your encyclopaedia at home possibly keep up?

Of course, the massive speed advantage of multi-contributor online reference material has to be weighed against the academic rigour that you get through content that takes longer to publish and which needs to charge for that expertise. That’s the approach the Guardian newspaper is looking to adopt in its fight against more rapid news media. In a recent email the editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger tells subscribers:

But we’re well aware that, increasingly, you tell us that what you want from the printed newspaper changes as you seek out, or absorb, breaking news from the web, mobile, TV and radio. Half of you now read the paper in the evening, by which time you want more pieces that explain events and contextualise them.

News is – as we’ve seen from the figures provided in the previous post – hugely important to people. But currently people don’t need to see it as an asset because the supply seemingly outstrips the demand. (I’m slightly cautious about that supply because we all live in countries where some of the news sources – whether free or paid for – can be less than reliable.) So for saleable content to be an asset and retain its value, it both needs to be hard to get hold of and offer some degree of added value.

Ross Dawson wrote a post that touches on different ways of creating that added value and there are a few examples I wanted to touch on:

  • If you turn the focus away from real-time consumption (as the Guardian intends to), you can extend content’s “use by” date and therefore increase how long it holds its value, as Louis Gray explains.
  • The New York Times is trying to improve engagement with its content, by adding trusted commenting.
  • Faber’s chief executive has a manifesto for change for the book industry.
  • The movie industry (what we in the UK used to call “film” but is clearly a redundant term given this discussion) has developed the UltraViolet licensing system so that customers can “buy once, play anywhere”.
  • Amazon have a similar approach with their Kindle so that digital books can be read on a variety of platforms from a single purchase.

How content producers exploit the multi-channel model is going to be key to their success. That’s what we’re going to look at next.



Selling content on different media

This is the second of five posts about saleable content management.

A Kindle and an iPad

Following on from the previous post about the need to separate commercial content from its delivery medium, let’s consider how various industries have been addressing this issue.

The most obvious place to start is with music, where traditional physical media has all but disappeared. Not only are people not buying physical media, they’re not buying what was previously the most saleable format (albums) and sometimes not buying music at all. Putting piracy to one side for the moment, music is effectively leased rather than bought through services like Spotify. This is a feature I’ll return to at a later stage.

Newspapers and magazines are undergoing a similar transformation, but struggling to find appropriate business models. Out of people in the UK who get their news online, fewer than 1 in 25 pay for that service, despite the millions who visit newspaper websites like the Mail (17.2 million unique visitors from Europe in June 2011) and the Guardian (13.5 million) (Ofcom report [pdf, 2.05MB] page 213, section 5.3.7).

Television is changing radically and rapidly. Over a quarter of the UK web population used the internet to watch TV programmes on a weekly basis even though only 7% have a TV that’s actually connected to the internet (Ofcom report, page 7). This has prompted Sky to go beyond its investment in TV programmes to any device (through Sky Go) to TV over the web as well as via satellite, which has until now been its core business. Both Google and Apple meanwhile are preparing their imminent and doubtless disruptive incursions into the television market.

Which brings us to the similarly turbulent world of book publishing. While Amazon posted extraordinary figures (the 1.3 million eReaders bought in the UK over Christmas represents 1 person in 40 receiving one), the printed book industry is suffering: there are now no major bookstore chains in Australia, while major retailers in the UK and US are struggling. Meanwhile Apple is trying to corner the production (and to some extent vet the publication) of iBooks and where Amazon can’t encourage authors to bypass traditional publishers through its self-publishing model it simply acquires the publisher instead.

Every form of saleable media is in a state of flux. If publishers are going to move forward, they’re going to need to address some fundamentals which we’ll consider in our next post.



How content management failed saleable content

This will be the first in a series of five posts about saleable content management.

A statue of a man clasping his face

This industry has spent years thinking about how to govern content, rather than about how to really make the most of it. We know the function of the content but we don’t know its value. Fundamentally, content – whether text, images, audio or video – would fall into these categories:

  • records, which either need to be retained or deleted;
  • processable content, which typically needs to be scanned or validated automatically;
  • collaborative content, such as co-authored or peer-reviewed internal documents;
  • public information, typically made available on websites but also in print brochures;
  • user-generated content, created by people outside the organisation, whether through facilities made available to them by the organisation (website comments) or through external services (social media, e.g. Facebook, Twitter).

These functions carry some implicit value which a business analyst might define on a project-by-project basis. But content often has an explicit value: it’s created for sale.

Now I – and I think much of the content management industry – didn’t think too hard about this saleable content for quite some time. But then again, nor did the industries that own it.

While those of us who work in content management focussed on classification, permissions and workflow, publishers and producers thought instead about TV programmes and albums, hardbacks and newspaper supplements. The fundamental separation of presentation from content was not well understood; as Paul Graham already related in 2009:

Consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either… Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant.

Perhaps the distinction was too theoretical to be worthwhile. Now, however, it’s essential for anyone who hopes to make money from the content they create: you have to be able to exploit multiple delivery channels, both to reach a broader market and to survive the turbulent changes in how people buy and consume their content today.

We’ll consider these changes in the next post.



The marriage of content strategy and online engagement

Wedding cake

Some people seemed a bit miffed by my last post. All that silence and then I say their product’s not as beautiful as some others. But as Arsène Wenger said, “Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.”
Well I’m not in the business of software-bashing. I deal with clients who have complex systems that they’re trying to get the most of in order to boost their business. So I do want to highlight a point in the last post that some readers seemed to have missed: Tridion is a really useful tool for supporting a content strategy.

What do I mean by that? Well, as Brain Traffic tells us:

Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

And isn’t that what you want WCM software to do? I’ve recommended Tridion on the basis that it gives web managers good visibility over who owns content on the site and where it should belong, as well as providing powerful ways to devolve ownership. There are few products that do this as well as Tridion in my opinion; although I seem to be in a minority when I say that I like the way TeamSite does it too.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like everything about the product. User interface may be a matter of personal taste (and one of the posts that I still haven’t written questions how important editorial UI is anyway). But I’m yet to see a really good demonstration of a product that supports both content strategy and customer engagement in an integrated way. I’ve seen bits and pieces in different products, but:

  • where are the security and content-type models that we see for standard content being applied to UGC?
  • where’s the personalisation of content based on a visitor’s publicly-shared profile, e.g. Twitter and Facebook?
  • how are you tailoring your website content to relevant trends on the rest of web?
  • how are the performance ratings of your page content then reflected in the way other users navigate content? Does your WCM even let you track those KPIs?
  • can you promote content to a visitor based on what other people – and most specifically people that they trust – found useful or enjoyed?

Those are just examples, but fundamentally I think vendors have found this kind of integrated content engagement strategy a challenge because WCM and UGC approached content from polar opposites. I don’t think they’re wholly incompatible, but I think we’re still in an earlier stage of evolution than most vendors would want to acknowledge.

So let’s just say that true web engagement on content-driven sites is still somewhat immature, as I would suggest that there are others who might prefer to express that more robustly.



How are you managing your reputation?

Gossips by jaci XIII

The recent superinjunctions cases in England have highlighted one particular issue: you may have content that you want people to come to you for, but they can get it in lots of different places on the web.

In this case a number of celebrities have sought to protect their privacy in the face of allegations made about them and have won orders preventing anyone repeating them. But some of these cases have “gone viral” with those allegations being repeated on Twitter and elsewhere, potentially outside the jurisdiction of English courts. This calls into question whether the injunctions can be sustained: given that most people now know the identity of the people involved and the allegations, why prevent the mainstream media from repeating them?

Let’s put to one side the moral and legal questions this raises and instead focus on the commercial issue for publishers: News International researched and developed one of the stories and is now unable to report on it. Not only does the celebrity have no control over the content, but the publisher has lost it too.

This situation can happen to any publisher in less extreme circumstances: you’re trying to lead a discussion on your website, probably about your products and services, but the real discussions are happening outside it, in other areas of the web. Access to content is competitive; and we’re talking way beyond SEO. The competitions is based on three factors:

  1. driving people to your site and maintaining their interaction there;
  2. recognising the debate that happens outside yoru site and interacting with it;
  3. having a content strategy that enables you to do both (1) and (2) in the tone and manner that you want to engage your audience in.

Number 1 is pretty traditional and many organisations have recognised it for a long time, although the methods for attracting visitors to your site are continually evolving. Search engines are probably of diminishing value, with marketing via social media increasing. But affiliate and offline campaigns can also help to attract visitors.

Number 2 is where a lot of organisations fall down. There’s a fairly blinkered view that if content isn’t on your own website, people aren’t talking about it. Out of site, out of mind. Yet most organisations’ products and services are evaluated beyond their own content management processes. Web managers can no longer be managers just for their own site but for the online presence of the organisaiton they represent.

Number 3 then takes on an increasing importance. Do you want to engage in the debate beyond your site? There’s a danger of being sucked into constant rebuttals or distracting side-issues. And how do you want to have those conversations? Do you need a different tone on Facebook or in discussion forums from your main corporate site?

Web content management is changing radically. Where WCMS were supposed to give organisations degrees of control over their online presence, how people use the web to access information is changing. If you don’t recognise that fact, people will get your content from elsewhere and from someone else’s perspective. You can’t expect people to base your reputation on what you tell them.



My threepence for 2011

I can’t help myself. It’s New Year and that means some kind of retrospective, and indeed preview. I’ve been working a lot less with off-the-shelf CMS and doing a lot more work involving custom-built web applications. I’ve no idea if this is reflective of a wider market trend but I thought I’d share three things that I’ve seen in the past year which I think will become even more important over the next 12 months.

1953 Thrupenny bit

1. Content management applies to off-site content too

It’s all very well thinking about content as the “stuff” people in your organisation create in repositories that you control. But there’s a really big issue. There’s a whole load of content that’s not in your repositories that you need to deal with. From an internal operations perspective, this is the tacit knowledge and the documents that people take outside your office when they leave each day and doesn’t come back until they return. From an external marketing perspective, this is the content that people outside your organisation are creating on platforms you don’t control: Facebook, Twitter, blog posts. Just getting a handle on what’s going on strikes fear into many. But exploiting this off-site content will bring huge benefits to your organisation.

2. The web is a competition

Look at all the online reputation tools out there like Klout and We Follow. Isn’t online participation just a competition where the brands with the biggest reach have the largest social market capitalisation? It used to be about whether you appeared on the first page of Google’s search results, but now we can measure influence and advocacy in other ways too. The web encourages you to ensure that your online presence exceeds those of your competitors. The services that you offer need to tap into that mindset if they’re going to be successful. But you also need to consider what tangible returns you make on raising your web profile. It’s a competition, there are trophies, but is there a cash prize?

3. Designers need to think a lot harder about multi-platform

While people who’re engaged in heavy content entry will continue to use devices with comfortable physical keyboards, we’re obviously going to see even more use of mobile phones and tablets. This means smaller screens, touch screen controls and often, slower performance. Designers who are constantly trying to cram ever richer user experiences onto a page are going to fail their audiences if they don’t consider how people on slow connections can download media, or interact with fiddly HTML buttons. It’s no good expecting the device browsers to be clever enough to handle your designs well. Test-driven interface design is going to be essential.



The truth about content management

Daft Punk encore

I am going to make a point about content management and better websites, but bear with me.

The web can be a really annoying place. But I found this tweet from Alain de Botton particularly ill-conceived:

A chief effect of the internet is to boost the already unhelpfully strong sense that the answers are ‘out there’ rather than within.

Why did it annoy me so much?

Firstly, because it confuses the medium with the content. There are lots of answers “out there” and not just on the internet. Does a TCP / IP protocol make ideas less robust than if they appear on a printed page? It’s a completely ridiculous notion. It’s one that those of us who work with the web still need to counter in many organisations where people still see the web as a frivolous fad; a notion that runs absolutely contrary to some of the web’s most successful sites, particularly those providing health information.

Secondly, because there’s a hypocrisy in attempting to broadcast aphorisms over the very medium that you’re criticising. This made me wonder if the tweet was a joke, or some kind of ironic experiment to see if people would retweet something non-sensical. And over a hundred did. Were they doing it in jest too?

Thirdly, because de Botton writes and sells books about philosophy and now he seems to be telling us that other people (like him) don’t have the answer, and that we should focus on introspection. This is probably a reference to the Socratic principle “know thyself” but this shouldn’t be at the expense of trying to discover objective truths. You can know yourself but be ignorant about the world around you: Socrates’ pupil, Plato, was a key figure in European philosophy but still defended slavery.

So what does this mean for content management?

There are many objective truths and certainties, but there are many more that are still to be proven. Establishing those truths is a competitive business. Scientists, explorers, researchers, all compete to establish a truth in a particular domain.

Similarly, your organisation holds truths that are more or less well articulated: terms of business, HR policy, progress reports, invoices.

Getting to these truths is a fundmental issue for content management. As users, we know that your website, or intranet, or digital asset management system should hold the piece of information that will answer my question. If we can’t find the right information, we’ll just invent it. But deep down, we know it’s there somewhere.

So problem 1 is: how do we make sure that our audiences can find the right information? Through better classification, more effective tools and encouraging people to tell their peers that this content is the right content.

Problem 2 is: how do I make sure that people get the right message from the information when they find it? By providing clear content that is constructed in a way that is appropriate to your audience: well written, well-produced, accessible.

The truth should be in your systems. If it isn’t, your audience will go somewhere else, “out there”, to find it.



The curse of WCM

Salvin's Albatross Diomedea cauta salvini

There are so many large websites which bear the curse of being CMS-driven rather than people-driven. It hangs like an albatross around the neck of visitors.

We know that navigation structures and labels should reflect your audience rather than your organisation. But there’s more to it than that. If you design your website based on content management practices, you’ll condemn your visitors to wander aimlessly through oceans of content rather than make a swift voyage home.

Typically, when you deploy a CMS you do some kind of card sort. You audit your content, group what’s relevant, label the groups and those labels become your putative navigation. If you’ve enough money and sense you’ll test that navigation on some users. This is a pretty straightforward way of coming up with a structure that people understand. But that’s not the same as the navigation that people need. You’ve just prioritised your taxonomy over your visitor’s user journey.

Instead of looking at what you have, ask yourself two questions.

  1. Which tasks do the audience most want to achieve on your website?
  2. Which tasks do you most want them to achieve (for example, because it saves you money compared to offline channels)?

Those should be two primary drivers for defining navigation. Don’t get caught up in what you have. Focus on what’s needed.