Writing on Foliomag.com earlier this month, blogger Josh Gordon spun a comment heard at the Folio: show into a bullish prediction for print magazines. Although the grounds for his optimism might be questioned, I’ll leave that to prophet of print doom Private Frazer and others. What interested me most in Gordon’s premise was a point he didn’t follow up—the potential convergence, whether in print or online, of traditional publishing and content marketing.
The comment that keyed Gordon’s column came from Kerry Smith, CEO of Red 7 Media (publisher of Folio:, by the way). As reported by Gordon, Smith said that even as direct revenue from print is declining, the medium is becoming more valuable. The reason for this, he said, is that “his magazines are most often the first point of contact leading to the sale of all the other services he is now selling.”
Gordon went on to observe that “today, publishers of all kinds are using the presence they have in their markets to start related businesses.” That is to say, publishers are becoming content marketers.
As Gordon pointed out, this is not a new trend. But what was once, for most magazines, a tiny ancillary-revenue slice is now making up an ever-growing share of the total pie.
Now let’s suppose that as this trend develops among traditional publishers, a reverse trend takes root among content marketers. As the media content marketers produce get more and more sophisticated, advertising and even paid subscriptions will likely become viable revenue streams.
It isn’t difficult to imagine a future in which instead of a sharp distinction between content marketing and publishing there is a continuum.
On one end is the pure publishing model, in which all revenues come from advertising and subscriptions.
On the other is pure content marketing, where the money is entirely in sales of products and services.
In between is the increasingly crowded spectrum of publishers selling products and content marketers selling advertising and subscriptions.
It’s trendy for content marketers to say that we’re all publishers. Soon it may be just as hip for publishers to declare that we’re all content marketers.
I like your thinking. We could very well all be playing on a continuum. But there are two things that differentiate publishers and marketers, at least for today.
First: many, if not most marketers are terrible publishers. It is just too hard for them to take off their sales hat. They keep wanting to slip in hype riddled articles about how great their products are which they are convinced are “strong legitimate stories.” Marketing/PR content typically bombs in social media or custom publishing settings.
Second: publishing is still hard. Just because the technology exists to deliver content with little friction does not mean it will be done well. For years publishers struggled so hard with the technology and expense of distributing content through print. But now that is effortless by comparison, we realize there are other skills we had all along. In the past a key publishing skill, and by far the biggest expense, was to master the craft of buying paper, printing on it, and distributing it. Today the biggest skill set required is to assemble an audience and engage it. Some marketers will master it, some won’t.
Thanks for the insightful comment. I think many content marketers would agree with your analysis, which is why a few of them, at least, are looking to hire some of the talent that publishers are furiously tossing overboard these days.
John…really liked your insight here (and Josh’s as well).
My take is this…we are already there. It’s very hard to distinguish the two. As you discussed, Publishers are there. Marketers have been there for quite a while (they’ve been getting sponsorship for their magazines and microsites for years now). This will only continue, if they decide to go in that direction. The opportunities are certainly there for most brands.
The difference to me is that we are all starting to notice.
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