Rules of the game

When writing “Context first”, I tried to put together a set of observations and assessments that ultimately underpin a call for publishers to change their content workflows. I think that moving from a mindset of “product” to “service” or “solutions” is critical for publishers. Doing so implies change in at least four areas:

  • Content must become open, accessible and interoperable. Adherence to standards will not be an option;
  • We’ll need to focus more clearly on using context to promote discovery, access and trial;
  • Because we’re competing with businesses that already use low- and no-cost tools, trying to beat them on the cost of content is a losing proposition. Instead, we need to find ways to use content more broadly; and
  • We will distinguish ourselves if we can provide readers with tools that draw upon context to help them manage abundance.

Earlier this week, Eric Hellman took up “Context first” and argued that my concern with “container myopia” should not extend to books. I’ve offered a couple of thoughts as comments on his post, and I hope that folks will take some time to read both Eric’s ideas as well as my own.

The debate is interesting on probably more than one level, but it opens up for me a question about what the future of publishing looks like.

My premise, evident throughout “Context first”, is that the future is not something that publishers really get to decide on their own. I extend that argument to say that a focus on containers leaves publishers vulnerable to disruption.

In a recent e-mail conversation, Laura Dawson, a colleague and friend who joined Firebrand last fall, offered her first-hand experience with redesigning publishing workflows:

“Over the last 7 months I’ve been working with publishers, training them on workflows. While the dedication to timelessness and a static content “snapshot” is a virtuous thing, it is not sustainable business-wise. Publishers USED to be in the business of creating these singular instances. But that business is imperiled now because of the connectedness and mutability that the web offers consumers.

“Consumers want connection; they want evolving content. If they did not, book publishing as we’ve always known it would be quite healthy. It is not. Consumers are leaving the solitary book experience in favor of Facebook, blogs, forums such as Chowhound and, yes, Cookstr. Book publishers have to evolve to respond to this if they want a sustainable business.

“The bespoke model is a lovely one, but it’s a boutique business. It’s not going to scale. “Context first” is about scale, about sustainability in the face of disruption and rapidly changing consumer behaviors.”

To be fair, Laura and I have worked together on several assignments, and she played an important role in the development of the early drafts of “Context first”. That disclosed, I think she underscores an important point: in an era of abundance, discovery, trial and purchase of content will depend on effective use of context and tools.

Containers as an output of flexible workflows still make sense for the readers who choose them. Publishers whose workflows support only those uses risk losing their markets to more agile competitors.

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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