Thing two

As I noted yesterday, I expanded “Context first” for an address given at OCLC’s “Futurecast” meeting, held this past week in Washington DC. In a series of four posts, I am publishing additional material written to support what I see as the implications of content abundance.

The second observation claimed that “to compete on context, publishers will need to focus more clearly on using it to promote discovery.” For OCLC, I added:

With respect to “using context to promote discovery”: one of the questions raised most often is, “How does this argument apply to fiction?”

It’s straightforward to understand that travel or cooking content will be “chunkable” and offer opportunities to recombine or reuse portions of an original text. In that discussion, though, fiction titles (as well as longer-form works, like monographs) seem to stand apart.

However, publishers such as Harlequin have already shown the value of creating context that helps promote discovery and trial. For decades, the company has carefully defined its imprints to make sure that each one delivers a specific form of romance reading. To this point, those decisions provide context at the level of a title.

What’s exciting, now, is our ability to use available tools to capture and market with more than just the title-level context.

Imagine you’ve just finished Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. You’re struck by the book’s allusions to Haiti’s cultural history, and you want to learn more. Title-level data, the kind that says “people who bought Mountains Beyond Mountains also bought”, might steer you to a book like Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti.

But a world full of contextually rich manuscripts could open a new era of discovery. Imagine the delight of a reader who could find (and even buy) a chapter of John Szwed’s biography of Alan Lomax, in which the author describes in vivid terms a 1930s trip that Lomax, accompanied by Zora Neale Hurston, takes to Haiti in search of the roots of American music.

In this era of abundance, delight can be the new hand-selling.

Tomorrow: “Because publishers are 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, they need to develop opportunities that encourage broader use of their content.”

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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