Platform first

Last week, Advertising Age published “Learning to Love the Robots That Will Soon Buy and Sell All Media”, a post written by David Karnstedt. He is senior vice president and general manager, media and advertising solutions at Adobe.

Karnstedt draws upon his experience working with automated ad exchanges at a variety of firms (Adobe, Efficient Frontier, Yahoo!, Overture and Wired) to argue that 2013 will prove to be an inflection year in the trend toward buying and selling ads algorithmically. He contends:

“Traditional sales models – those based on human interactions – can't keep up with marketers' and ad suppliers' needs in a rapidly growing and fragmented device environment. The lack of human scale is in part due to data's meteoric rise in digital marketing, dramatically lowering the amount of guesswork needed in planning and optimizing media for both buyers and sellers.”

Though he takes time to defend the valuable role of creative staff at advertising agencies, Karnstedt is clear that scalable marketing decisions will someday be made by machines, not people.

Over the holidays, Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath offered a somewhat different view: develop an affiliate model – in effect, external curation – to sell products. Citing a New York Times report, she notes that Cool Tools earns six times more revenue from referrals than advertising.

When it comes to book and other types of content marketing, I think both strategies can apply. To buy reach – new readers – cost effectively, algorithms can allocate scarce advertising dollars across a variety of relevant opportunities.

But identifying and cultivating communities requires an upfront investment of at least time and attention. This is what Kristen McLean recently described as “the platform” – developing a social media presence that underpins other forms of book marketing.

McLean is working on O'Reilly Media's much-anticipated Author (R)evoltion program, and her post understandably focuses on what authors can do. The skills required to develop and sustain community are ones that a publisher can offer, as well. As I argued last fall:

“The answer involves using content as a means to build and serve communities of like interest. The Internet helps publishers reach widely dispersed, even global markets in ways that were not possible before. But simply putting content on the web is not enough.

“There is already an abundance of content, one that will continue to grow, reducing discovery and increasing the cost of marketing. Instead, publishers need to look at their work as “community organizers”, investing in the development, management and sustainability of groups affiliated by place, purpose or preference.”

As with questions like “print versus digital”, the answer is not “either – or”. Some well-know authors have built-in communities; others are organizing these communities on their own now. But a lot of authors could do with meaningful direction from publishers who have gathered readers of like interest.

Think Harlequin, or at least the part of Harlequin that defines a category like romance. Publishers can offer a lot of value to authors in search of community, but first they have to invest to create and sustain those groups.

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.