You Are Now A Media Company (If you’re not – you should be!)

I love podcasts. In fact I’d say I’m something of a podcast junkie. Each time I get in the car I listen to one, be it on my commute to the office, or a business trip. I listen to them on plane rides. And when I go for my evening walks in the park. Podcasts are easily the most updated audio app on my phone, as I download several new episodes of my favorite ones. As I write this I have twenty-two different podcast channels lined up each with new content waiting for me to listen to on a variety of subjects such as history, motor sports, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, movie reviews, creative writing, industry news, and Content Marketing.

My two favorite Content Marketing podcasts both come from my friends at the Content Marketing Institute; “Content Inc”. from Joe Pulizzi gives short (about 5 minutes) tips and ideas – just enough to spark some thought for the day; while “PNR: This Old Marketing” is a weekly hour long discussion between Joe and his CMI cohort, Robert Rose on the latest trends in Content Marketing. Both are highly recommended.

The fine folks at CMI also popped up on my Amazon Prime streaming feed at home with their just release documentary “The Story of Content.” The latest issue of their magazine CCO sits on my desk, and I follow CMI on Twitter each day. – In fact I’m something of a CMI brand advocate. They are one of the best models of how to build a business through content.

What makes CMI stand out is that while they are selling consulting, training, and events they don’t act like a traditional consulting house, instead they act like a media company. They use content to position themselves as industry thought leaders, and they tailor that content to the different channels they use to engage with their audience. (Note I said audience, not customers.)

For many years I’ve being delivering the message that all companies should think and act like publishers. Well that is no longer enough – You need to act like a media company.

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It isn’t enough to continue to just produce print-based collateral such as brochures and press releases and try and slice it and dice it to fit onto different digital platforms.

So how do you approach being a media company?

Take a look at this business plan by arguably the most successful media company on the planet.

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This was Disney in 1957 – almost 60 years ago – yet every channel was designed to use content to build the business.

Think about the following and apply it to your business.

  1. What’s the core activity that you want to build an audience for?
  2. What channels can drive that engagement?
  3. What value can each channel add?
  4. Who is the audience for that channel?
  5. What content type works best on that channel?
  6. How can we create the right content for that channel with connections that engages the audience enough to be drawn back to the core activity?
  7. How do we connect that content to present an overall brand experience and consistent story no matter which channel the audience engages with first?

A little lesson in Content Packaging thanks to the Fab Four

Earlier today I was alerted to this video from Carlton Books giving what they term a “Sneaky Peek” at their upcoming book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit record.

As both a Beatles fan and scholar, I knew that this great looking book was destined to join my Fab Four research library (as I’m working on an idea for another Beatles related book proposal).

Then I started thinking about this video from a Publishing and Content Strategy perspective.

Anyone whose heard me speak on digital publishing will know I often repeat the phrase that “pixels and print are not mutually exclusive.” In other words it isn’t an either/or decision between digital and traditional print publishing, in most cases a book can exist equally in both and often help each other. – Which is definitely the case with my own Beatles book where Kindle sales have driven increases in print sales.

However there are some things that each medium does better than the other, and I strongly believe that print will flourish for publishers who figure out how and why print is special. In my view there is one advantage that print has over digital – reading a printed book is a tactile experience that engages the senses of feel and smell as well as sight.

A book like the one in the video above could not be done on a digital platform. Yes the written word and the photos could be reproduced, maybe even the video from the DVD and the sounds  included in a multi-media enhanced eBook – But the way it is packaged and presented is as a interactive tactile experience, and that’s what will make it special. You can only do that in print.

The packaging of the book is also a great example of re-purposing existing content to be consumed and experienced new ways. Instead of a photograph of a concert poster or ticket, why not recreate them? Move interaction with the content from a passive one to an interactive one.

As well as the book itself and its refreshing content packaging, there is also the smart way that the content, and the idea of the book, is being promoted via the use of other media such as video and social networks.

Smart move Carlton Books – you’ve got my $$ already – and I just helped you spread awareness a little further.

What Do Stories Look Like?

Book design guru Chip Kidd discusses how designing books is all about using visual design to convey the story contained within. He also makes some great observations about eBooks.

“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.” (Chip Kidd)

A Tale of Two Cities (and Conferences)


It is the best of times, it is the worst of times*. Or at least that’s the impression about the state of the content development industry that came across during two different publishing conferences I have attended in the last few weeks. Hosted in two cities that couldn’t have been more diverse, Palm Springs, CA and Austin, TX, the conferences were opposite reflections of their locations.

Palm Springs CA can perhaps be summed up by the fact that the city’s greatest attraction appears to be an aging vaudeville theater that boasts that it is home to the World’s oldest chorus line! This, the city not the theater chorus line, was the venue for the 2012 Intelligent Content Conference (ICC12), a vibrant well programmed exchange of ideas that drew attendees from various aspects of the enterprise content development world, especially from service information, business process, and marketing; along with new technology practitioners, leading consultants, and content strategists. This group understood that the real value of the new publishing model was in the content itself (hence the title of the conference.)

The underlying feeling coming away from this conference was that the attendees thought that this was indeed the “best of times” to be in content development. The biggest revolution in content development and delivery since the invention of the printing press is opening up an incalculable number of opportunities to redefine both the business model, and the way we tell our stories and interact with those who consume them.

Austin, TX on the opening day of the annual SXSW Interactive conference gives off that same vibe of excitement and opportunity as leading thinkers, futurists, innovators, and entrepreneurs descend on the Texas capital to discuss the future of the web. Part of this year’s opening day events included a one-day mini-conference based on O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (TOC) annual publishing industry get together in New York. As expected the majority of attendees where from the worlds of traditional book and magazine publishing. The contrast between this crowd and the attendees at Intelligent Content, and the larger SXSW crowd, couldn’t have been more marked. The underlying vibe that I picked up at the TOC day was one of confusion, and even panic.

The first speaker, mobile designer Josh Clark, provided one of the best summaries on how to approach the new publishing paradigm when he said that “Your product is called content, everything else is a container.” He also went on to say that “Mobile isn’t about Apps. An App isn’t a strategy.” Yet nearly every other speaker, and question from the audience, ignored this great advice. The focus of most conversations was firmly on the delivery process and medium, not about the thing actually being delivered, the content. And during the sessions I was at I never heard a single word about how to add value to the content by making it intelligent

My feeling was that most of the TOC audience this is “the worst of times,” as things are changing too fast to understand, and the traditional business model no longer works.

And that’s where I believe the disconnect between these two groups originates – with the business model.

In the corporate world the development of content is a key part of any business process (In fact in THE CONTENT POOL book I put forward that it is THE key component), and that while it may not always be recognized as such, it is generally developed irrespective of the delivery platform. Yes particular platforms may be specified, but they are more a matter of convenience and familiarity than an integral part of the company’s overall business model. The value to the organization is implicitly in the content, not the delivery model.

In traditional publishing, no matter what lip service is paid to content, it is the delivery mechanism that provides the value. The business model of traditional publishing is built around the infrastructure and process to move pieces of paper from the printer, to the warehouse, to the retail outlet, and eventually into your hands as a consumer. It is only you, as a consumer, who then derives any value from what was on that paper – the content.

While the corporate world sees new delivery models as an opportunity to provide more and more intelligent content, traditional publishing sees it as a disruptive event to a centuries old infrastructure.

The best of times; the worst of times.

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* With apologies to Charles Dickens for the paraphrasing. – “A Tale of Two Cities” was originally published concurrently in two separate formats – In the weekly magazine All Year Round without illustrations , and in collected monthly installments with illustrations by regular Dickens artist Halbot Browne (from which the illustration at the top of this post is taken.) Dickens was a master of realizing the value of his content over format often publishing new works in various formats and platforms to reach the widest possible audience, before eventually publishing the full work as a novel.

If he were around today, I’m sure he would be one of the pioneers of digital publishing.

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Hello Publishing, Meet the other side of Publishing

Over at the TeleRead blog, which reports on trends in the growing eBook market, editor Roger Sperberg recently posted a piece entitled “Why Do Publishers Need XML?” in which he thoughtfully examined the advantages that traditional book publishers could benefit from by adopting an XML mark-up.

I won’t reiterate his arguments here, most of which I agreed with, and suggest that instead you go read the article.

However one statement really caught my attention, Sperberg’s suggestion that book editors should learn XML as part of their job. His statement was that

“…that we (book publishers) can’t exploit (eBooks) until editors understand XML as well as English grammar, and regard metadata as valuable as a plug on Oprah.”

At face value a very valid point, but as I read through the article and the various comments attached to it, I suddenly realized there seemed to a complete lack of awareness that those skills already exist within a profession that understands a bit about publishing.

Here’s a little extract from my own comments.

“As for asking editors to learn XML, sure they need to be aware of it and its power – but there is a whole profession of people out there who already know about applying XML mark-up to content – the Technical Publications industry. Oh and a lot of them know about XSLT and XSL-FO too, and are skilled in the tools that use these standards.

And believe you me, for people who have spent years tagging things like aircraft manuals and software user guides, tagging a trade mass market book is not too great of a challenge.”

It is often said that traditional book publishing is dying, and a large part of that is because traditional publishers still see the physical book as the product, and not the content. But today content is king, and we need to make that content available across all platforms, and that means mark-up.

Does the salvation of the book publishing industry reside in the world of technical and business publishing? – It just might…

Move over DITA – Chaos is coming!

I’ve never really questioned the need for hierarchical structure and imposed taxonomies, – until I watched my teenage daughter doing her homework several months ago.

Let me explain.

I’ve been working with topic based authoring, structured content and mark-up languages for over twenty years now. This highly formalized approach to technical documentation has always seemed to be the right approach to take in handling larges amounts of complex information, and delivering it in a way that enables relatively easy navigation.

I’ve seen them all come and go – SGML, DocBook, XML, CALS, DITA plus a ton of various industry and company standards. I’ve even served on several such standards committees and working groups in my time.

For those of us raised on more traditional media (i.e. the printed word) we are most comfortable with the book paradigm. That information should come in a structured format, i.e. Chapters with Headings and Sub-Headings, and that navigation is best accomplished by either a map to that structure (i.e. a Table of Contents), or an alphabetical listing of subjects covered (an Index).

Naturally when we started to deliver information electronically we carried that paradigm over. Sure we made a few concessions to the new media (for instance I remember having a long, and somewhat heated discussion on why we didn’t need page numbers on a CD deliverable); but the underlying print based model stayed. Because that’s what we were comfortable with. It’s what we naturally understood and it matched the way that we handled locating and using written information outside of the work environment.

In fact for most of my working life to date, the technology I used at work far out paced that I used outside of work.

But not any more.

Now the technology I use at home has generally outpaced that found in most workplaces. In particular social media and the way that we look for information online.

Helping my teenage daughter with a school project on Pearl Harbor made me realize that the new generation now entering the workforce has a completely different way of accessing information.

Of course the first thing she did was google “Pearl Harbor” and started visiting links. First stop was Wikipedia.

Then she got on Facebook and YahooIM and started using messaging to ask friends who were online for recommendations. These friends were literally from all around the world, so she was given access to resources that gave totally different perspectives than those given in the classroom. As I watched she soon had six different windows open on her iMac and was pulling information from multiple sources into her own document. Building the structure and narrative as she went.

One friend suggested going to a social bookmarking site and searching using a variety of user applied tags. Instead of taxonomy she was now applying folksonomy.

Of course being a bibliophile and a bit of a history geek I had a few good old-fashioned print books on World War II sitting in my home office. I proudly placed them on the edge of my daughter’s desk and suggested she look through those for information on Pearl Harbor too.

She dutifully picked up a couple of the books and started flicking pages over, skimming through the contents.

“Why don’t you use the Table of Contents of Index?” I asked.

“That just confuses me. I can find stuff quicker this way,” she replied, looking in bemusement at her obviously aged father.

I sat back and watched her navigate the books for a few minutes. She quickly found what she needed – and then I realized what she was doing. She was “browsing” just as if she was online.

That’s when I started to question the paradigm that’s informed the way I’ve thought about online documentation for over two decades. The book driven, structured paradigm may have been ideal for my generation, but what about the new generation?

For kids raised as part of the “digital generation” where the first place they go to find out information is the internet and social networks, is the book an irrelevant model?

Yes the information they access still needs some sort of mark-up and tagging so the search engines can find it. It still needs metadata to enable user tagging. But instead of strictly enforced hierarchies, what is being built and accessed is more of a flat ocean of information (or a “Content Pool”) that users search rather than navigate, and then dip into to find the components they need to build their own solutions.

So where does that leave current favored structured standards like DITA? I believe they have a place in more rigidly defined and regulated environments, but how long they will remain useful is open to question.

As for more general applications I believe we need to stop trying to shoe-horn the current “flavor-du-jour” standard onto every publishing project, and instead take a step back and look at how your kids do their homework. Because in five to ten years they will be your new workforce, and perhaps more importantly, your new customers.