Curation nation

For a while I’ve been wrestling with the simple question, “How does anyone manage to keep up these days?” The question applies broadly, but even in just my professional universe, what spills over resembles Niagara Falls.

The simple answer to my simple question is, “valued and trusted curation.” We rely on organizations and individuals whose judgment and insight can guide us in areas we don’t have time to fully understand.

For better or worse, many of those organizations are shifting away from curation. Newspapers cut book reviews; independent bookstores reduce staff or disappear entirely; and retail chains focus on stock velocity to the detriment of choice and serendipity. We feel the gap in a variety of ways.

Advocates in a variety of roles have stepped up to fill some of that gap. Tools like Twitter help keep the ball rolling. I value the opinions of people I follow. When they endorse a book, I want to know more. I may even “Re-Tweet” the recommendation, amplifying the original endorsement with an implied one of my own.

But that’s not quite a business model. As my colleague Mac Slocum noted, “The world definitely needs a clear-headed curation advocate, particularly one that links it directly to revenue (this labor of love stuff only goes so far …).”

Historically, reviewers got paid by newspapers, who relied on some mix of advertising and subscription revenue to create and deliver a comprehensive product. It’s believed that few people read everything, but the “one size fits all” model was accepted by readers and advertisers alike.

Booksellers are paid for curation when they sell something. Unfortunately, the small, independent bookstore whose title mix reflects a niche, a neighborhood or a community is hard to sustain. This curation question came to a head two weeks ago, when Amazon appeared to delist titles with gay and lesbian content.

As Mac points out, curation also dovetails with the scale issue — it’s only sustainable if you’re lean and efficient. The weight of traditional business structures (offices, benefits, other overhead) crushes it. It has to either be one person working on their own, or a distributed group of contractors.

In a recent post Jeff Jarvis tackled the journalistic side of curation. The lessons he tried to apply to journalists can apply to book sellers and their advocates, as well. We have to divine new ways to add value, ways rooted in how people seek and find information. Those paths haven’t been paved yet, but they do feel much more small-d democratic than the ones they are replacing.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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