A business case for context

I recently shared a set of answers about “context first” with Canadian publishing site Quill & Quire. I’ve found a link to the interview, but you may get stuck in front of a subscription wall.

This post outlines a business case for context. A previous post described the difference between “context” and “container”. The final post explains why context is “here to stay”.

How does the context-first model increase discovery?

Most books are long-form, text-heavy works. Indexed only at the level of a title, they show up in search much less often than shorter-form and more frequently updated content. By structuring and tagging content more deeply, publishers can offer search engines (and readers) more pathways into their content, increasing the opportunity for discovering related content.

What challenges do publishers face adapting to the paradigm shift?

I think that there are at least three challenges: changing workflow to capture and maintain contextual data; understanding current and potential content consumption well enough to choose how to structure or restructure workflows; and figuring out how to make money when the unit of sale and average price paid are shifting.

What skills are required of publishers to compete in an “era of abundance”?

The answer is related to the question about “challenges”. Publishers, particularly trade publishers, have a limited engagement with content consumers. They sell objects, physical and digital, to intermediaries. Understanding what readers do, and want to do, with the content they buy is maintained only at a remote level. That has to change.

Publishers also need to better understand how to maintain, price and sell content in a digital environment. Things like fixed prices, “windowed” releases and selling only full aggregations need to be tested, probably regularly. These are skill sets most publishers have yet to develop.

Why is it important to allow customers to customize their own content?

Here, I have argued that publishers should help readers customize the consumption of content. On one level, this means making content interoperable. I think readers will increasingly expect to be able to access the content they buy (or lease) across multiple platforms and devices. Some will want to be able to annotate what they are reading, exporting or sharing both their annotations and likely the passages within a community of their choosing.

On another level, customization for personal use means making content open and accessible. The growth of Cookstr reflects an interest in and a demand for customized content of cooking information. Few people use one cookbook for all recipes; we sample, test, refine and recommend the recipes we like. Physical objects don’t readily support such uses, and the current approach that publishers take to those digital objects is similarly stunted. If we don’t adapt, new entrants will continue to fill the gaps.

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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