The speed of publishing is approaching real time. In some cases we are already there. Part I of this post looked at three impacts of our ability to publish at near real time speeds:
- Existing publishing mechanisms and models begin to break or simply feel broken
- Authors and consumers are closer to each other in that they can communicate directly and nearly instantaneously
- There has been a loss of control of both the tools required to publish as well as content once it is published
So how are publishers actually reacting to this new complex world?
Delivery and Walled Gardens (now with peepholes!)
AOL may be the most famous walled garden while some would argue that Facebook is on the verge of taking that crown. Publishers have been using this tactic effectively for, well, essentially the entire history of publishing. If you wanted content you had to pay for it. You could always scan the headlines through the window of the newspaper vending machine but that was just a teaser. Thankfully these days you can get the gist of just about any article online but if you want to read the entire article you may need to pay-up or work through some other type of barrier before you can access content.
The Wall Street Journal created a pay wall last year for content accessed by a mobile device. For $2/week you could have the latest WSJ reports on your mobile device. This appears to have since been folded into their online subscription where roughly half the the content is free and the other half exists behind a paywall. Of course Google and others have access in order to provide the ultimate peephole into this garden through search.
Other delivery tactics in vogue include releasing content to the public after certain period of time, limited by number of pages, and through installments. The New Yorker will lock-up roughly half of their content of from the current issue only to release it all to the public as the next issue is released. Zinio delivers high fidelity digital magazine experiences through a custom reading application. They allow you to have the full digital experience for three pages worth of content before requesting payment for the magazine. Finally, Daily Lit offers content in installments. They provide limited control over how many installments they will send forcing a minimum number of interactions with the consumer.
By managing access to content, these publishers are maintaining the value of their content in a world where free is the expectation.
Publishers are also responding by making their content more agile. Agile? A nice term for making content easily reusable. This occurs along multiple dimensions. Content needs to work on multiple devices/formats like your laptop, iPad, BlackBerry, or bound book. It also needs to work across levels of granularity like an entire book, an article, a paragraph, or a pull quote.
The ability to reuse content at the same granularity and within the same medium is a common starting point. For example, CQ Press, the publisher of the Congressional Quarterly, prints multiple directories reusing much of the same underlying content such as building addresses. They are creating new products based on one set of content. The cost of creating the content is fixed creating a clear incentive for reuse across different products.
Another form of content agility is seen when publishers allow their content to be remixed. Wiley recently launched their Wiley Custom Select product that allows people to create their own book from chapters of existing Wiley books and then distribute it. This is common practice at universities. Professors create specialized course reading and then need to distribute it to their students. Wiley is responding to the demand for immediacy. The books are not what you would find in a bookstore but they are better than the old Xerox copies students used to pay for; and most importantly the content is immediately available at all times.
One last example of content agility is seen in the use of micro content. This is simply the use of very small parts of content used in a very specific context. In a common and obvious example, Venture Beat tweets just the title of a new article along with the link in order to drive traffic. The content is there. The medium is there. By combining just the smallest component of key content with an easy to use and rapidly growing medium they have created a powerful traffic driving mechanism.
Granted, a title is usually an easy to access component of information. But what about the section of an article that talks about the second floor of Falling Water? The purveyors of augmented reality, essentially overlaying information onto our real world via a device like a cell phone, have the technology to identify where someone is and items that might benefit from overlay information but they don’t have the content that really provides the augmentation. Standing on the second floor of Falling Water I can imagine there are thousands of bits of content that would be useful, all created by different people. This is the ultimate long tail of content.
Wait! Who is the Author Again?
As content is released into the wild world of the internet, conversations are naturally forming around the content. Sometimes these conversations are controlled by the publisher, sometimes not. And sometimes these conversations are just as, if not more, interesting than the original content. O’Reilly publishing takes advantage of this by releasing “rough cuts” of their upcoming titles into the wild. The catch is that any comments you make can be used by O’Reilly. They have taken an uncontrollable phenomenon, people expressing their opinion online, and used it to add value to their work in progress… and they charge for this!
In an even bolder example Barry Libert produced a book called “We Are Smarter Than Me.” Rather than write the book, he and a team created an outline and recruited over 4,000 people to contribute. Rather than create content they created a framework for a conversation. While they were not able to create a completed book (a writer was called in to write a final draft – quality and curation over defects and randomness anyone?) they took the idea of conversation as content in a fresh direction.
Where to Next?
We increasingly live in a world where the old models are breaking, the line between producer and consumer is blurring, and we don’t have nearly the control over our content as we used to. While many have declared the end of publishing it is less an end and more part of an evolution. We will not stop reading (and buying!) books but we will most certainly consume new types of content and go about it in different ways. What we consume and how we consume it are shifting. We know the experimenters are out there, the real question is who will lead this evolution?