Thursday, June 27, 2013

Content Ain't King...But...

Your humble blogger got hooked by the subject line of a recent email from Target Marketing Magazine: “Why Content Isn't King.”  The linked article was a disappointment but it prompted your humble blogger to examine why I bit on the subject line bait.

Target Marketing Magazine knows their readers.   I clicked through seeking support for my beliefs.  I've argued (and posted regarding “Curation”) that “Content ain’t King, content is noble.  Cash is King.”  This was a way of saying that success, for most enterprises, is measured in currency.  Currency, not content, rules.

People in direct response who read Target Marketing are probably sick of hearing “Content is King.”  But my subsequent research helped me appreciate an alternative view.
Bill Gates is often credited with coining “Content is King” in a remarkably prescient essay in 1996, (The year the Conference Department started business).  It appears that others advanced the phrase before him but Bill Gates had the power to project the message.

Gate's message, 17 years ago, was that the Internet provides a new distribution system for information and that the value of the Internet system will be derived from the value of the information distributed, the content.  What he predicted was that countless opportunities would be created by the technology, to sell information in new ways (thanks to Craig Bailey et al for tracking this down).

Utility then is at the essence of the phrase.  Like new communication and transportation networks before it, postal services, canals, railroads, telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, etc. the value of the Internet is in what it conveys to and about the users.  Your humble blogger, a committed media utilitarian, can hardly argue with the point.

The problem comes when the phrase is misused to imply that content or “great content” will do all the work; that “great content” is your key to success in selling content or using content to sell something.  It is like saying what you need to succeed in the restaurant business is “great food.”  Great content or great food is a small piece of the puzzle.

Dethroning content has been your (now humbler) blogger’s way of putting the focus on the rules of the game.  It is not that I don’t care about content.  My personal motto, for years across all media, has been “First figure out what you want to say, then figure out how to make it pay.”  The payoff is usually in currency but it could be in votes or some other metric of success.

What we used to call editorially-driven media products are often the most effective because the editorial commitment tends to make the product more valuable for customers.  However an “editorial success” is an old euphemism for something that doesn't make money.  Without a rich patron, an editorial success will die young.

So content is noble.  King Currency cannot rule without the support of his noble court.  Turning good information into good business is like assembling a puzzle – in the future your humble blogger will be more careful to observe that noble content is a key piece of that puzzle!

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