Can Content Save Publishers? Only If They Wake Up

In an article on Min Online this week, Judy Franks of The Marketing Democracy suggests that traditional media companies are faltering because they don’t value content. Though at first it might seem odd to say that businesses built on content don’t value it, she has a point.

As she explains, pure content businesses like magazines are just one of three types of media options for advertisers. Beyond the “paid media” that advertising represents, they also have the “owned media” of their own blogs, Facebook pages, and twitter accounts, and the “earned media” of online word-of-mouth.   Of these three components, the paid-media element seems the most vulnerable. If you have strong owned and earned media, why pay a third party for theirs?

Great content—at which traditional media excel—should be a compelling reason. But Franks thinks the industry has largely ignored it:

“Unfortunately, we have trained marketers through years of selling that the media are distribution conduits to audiences. We have talked about circulation numbers, demographic readership, readers per copy, and potential/actual ‘exposures’ to ads. We calculate economic value based upon opportunities to see (OTS). We have done little to sell marketers on the value of the content experiences, themselves.”

As a career editor I’m biased, but Franks’s analysis rings true. Though there has been plenty of lip service by the sales, marketing, and circulation types that largely dominate trade publishing, their real interest and belief in content has all too often been minimal. But now that advertisers no longer need publishers for distribution, what’s left to offer them? Content, of course.

With enough effort advertisers can create all the high-value content they need, but most do not have the experience or scale to do so. In theory, publishers still do. But in practice, many have been decimating the very source of their content—their editorial departments.

Content is the key to recovery for traditional independent publishers, not the impediment. Why don’t more of them realize it?


2 thoughts on “Can Content Save Publishers? Only If They Wake Up

  1. Hi John:

    Before checking out your latest blog pertaining to the short shrift given content as a selling point, I sat through an excellent Z-Mags webinar: How to Create Awesome Content.

    My assumption is that this webinar was directed moreso to product marketers as opposed to business magazine publishers.

    Among other things,the audience was directed to develop content that solved problems. This is as opposed to content totally devoted to a sales pitch.

    I don’t know about you, but it seems that over the years in my VP/editorial days, I spent endless hours trying to convince vendors seeking editorial exposure on the worthiness of providing high-value advice as opposed to the puff marketing types seemed eager to pawn off as useful information. Most folks had difficulty buying into the value editorial theory.

    Fast forward to today . . . where marketing types again are being urged — this time by other marketing types — to produce quality content as opposed to veiled commercials. I wonder if this time, they will accept that advice?

    Z-Mags webinar presenters also cited a recent survey of B2B companies in which respondents were asked to identify key challenges faced in producing high-value content.

    It was noted that 88 percent of respondents use content marketing. Top challenge was producing a consistent flow of engaging content. Following close behind: producing enough content and budgeting sufficiently to produce that content.

    Sounds like our customers are getting a taste of the problems we editors face every day when it comes to delivering top quality. The thing is . . . editors have never given up on seeking to accomplish the goal, no matter what hurdles confronted them. I wonder if product marketers current romance with content marketing will wilt when they realize it’s no cinch to create on-target, non-commercial information every day of the week.

    In an upcoming ASBPE ethics webinar on March 17 (where you and I will be presenting), I will bring up a content marketing point raised during preliminary interviews with ethics committee members. That is . . . some publishers now view their advertisers as competitors when it comes to content creation. If this concern becomes reality, we could see a whole new wave of editorial ethics instability setting in.

  2. Good thoughts, all.

    Additionally, how many B2B publishers today actually do comprehensive content analyses of their own publications vs their competitors and use that information as marketing and selling ammunition?

    When I was a corporate editorial director, I tried to “sell” this concept to the publishers of our publications to no avail. So many of them just didn’t understand what content was about, whether it was high quality or not, didn’t know how to use it, or didn’t believe in it themselves (just stuff to throw between the ads).

    So much for the three-legged stool concept that demands that editorial, circulation, and sales must be in synch.

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