This is a wickedly interesting time for content in the media space. Everyone agrees that publishers must get more revenue from content. Within this call is the decade-old lament that depositing free content on the web resulted in exchanging analog dollars for digital dimes, a finacial metaphor made-to-order for the attentive CFO. And the recognition that, despite the fat-and-happy, ad-rich September fashion magazines, print advertising is unlikely to return to earlier highs. But you never know. I recall the palpable angst felt by magazine executives during the dot com period, then the collective sigh of relief when that fantasy imploded. Some execs even danced.
But I don't see much dancing these days. I've probably talked to a hundred publishers during the last year and sense they understand that we are in a period of disruption, not transformation, and they need to stay on their toes. If anything I get the sense that newspaper and magazine publishers are overwhelmed with the opportunities and offers. At an OMMA conference a few weeks ago a panelist said that technology companies in the recent past had descended on content producers and taken advantage of their ignorance. I'm not sure about that. But having met with a hundred or more tech companies in the last two years, from start-up to big footprint, I'll admit there's a lot of stuff publishers have been forced to embrace quickly. And this is not always easy for a profession that seems to be dominated by Liberal Arts majors--me too.
A friend of mine refers to digital magazines--PDF-style--as representing a bridge technology. I like the expression because it embodies a number of essential truths; including the recognition that a bridge usually takes you somewhere, except in Alaska I guess. Now there seems a tech company for every "new" iteration of the PDF from basic PDF, to PDF with enhancement tools, to PDF on steroids, to the new world of APPS and rich media. What's a publisher to do? Add to this brave new world the proliferation of APP stores--keep an eye on Best Buy, the various content consortiums publishers are forming, and the promise of HTML5 that will make the web and us whole again. Did I mention the tablet?
Within all this noise and tech bluster, there are a lot of interesting things going on. From a magazine perspective Next Issue Media seems in good hands and is presumably months away from developing a robust digital storefront for that sector. This morning I read remarks by Tom Curley, President & CEO, Associated Press, delivered to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. He announced the creation of an independent rights clearinghouse for news publishers "to manage the distribution and use of their content beyond their own Web properties."
AP launched a digital cooperative in 2007. Curley reports they now have 1,500 local newspapers and broadcasters sending content to be tagged and returned for use on their web sites. In April 2009 AP created a News Registry to track how content is being used in real time on the Web and get data on consumption patterns. The clearinghouse will be a separate entity that serves both AP and other content creators.
Curley cites three areas of opportunity: 1) the open Web environment that will soon extend to the mobile space via the Android platform. 2) the environment forming around the iPhone and tablet products. These devices connect to a closed marketplace of applications, supported by advertising and paid models. 3) the open and closed "hybrid" enviorment, especially the social networks where information flows between friends and advertising is focused on people rather than content. This space is more difficult to navigate but AP is engaged.
Citing the rapid adoption of Apple and Android Operating Systems Curley suggests that by 2012 "the consumption of news will almost certainly have shifted to screen-based viewing. In other words there will be more touch screens than front pages."
I don't know about the date but he is certainly right that we are moving beyond websites, search results and RSS feeds.
I think this is a gutsy speech because Curley seems to leave the usual balanced legacy chatter (on the one hand and on the other) at the door and imagines a world where content will have to conform to consumer wants and a multi-platform universe. He obviously sees the need to disaggregate, mashup and bundle content. That is a brave position for a Brand Manager to take.
"Given the way the mobile world is developing, news will need to flow to the screens in any number of ways. Of course, we'll continue to package our news into websites and apps, but news will also continue to be scraped, copied, pasted, aggregated and searched by others."
"Within the new rights clearinghouse initiative, we are hoping to give news publishers more tools to pursue audience and capture value beyond the boundaries of their digital publications."
We can all learn from the AP view of the role of content in the emerging device eco-system. Curley views the world as it is and not as he wants it to be. That is a very gusty position for any business or association to take.