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.