The Coming Content Marketing-Publishing Continuum

Writing on 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.

Earth to Esquire: Get Real

Last year it was an e-ink electronic display on the cover; this year, it’s 3D special effects—if you have a webcam handy, anyway.

As I learned this morning from Mashable, Esquire magazine’s December issue will feature something called augmented reality (AR). The way it works, as I understand it, is that you can hold the cover and a few other pages in front of a camera connected to your computer and see a nifty 3D, animated version of it on your computer screen.  As an Associated Press story notes, “it may be the future of print or just a dying medium’s last desperate grab at attention as the Internet swallows more of peoples’ time.”

Augmented reality as a concept has been around for more than a decade, as outlined in Wikipedia. The technology is just starting to be realized, in fairly clunky ways. As observed in ReadWriteWeb recently, venture capitalist money is not exactly pouring into AR startups yet. Someday something really earthshaking may come of it, but that seems several years away still.

Even if AR thrives, can it really do much to help print? You have to admire the Esquire staff for trying just about anything to keep their print franchise going, particularly if it can get them lots of publicity. But realistically, it’s hard to see their use of AR as much more than a gimmick.

As I’ve noted in a comment on the Mashable article, Esquire’s use of AR reminds me of the great CueCat debacle of 2000.   The brilliant idea was to distribute bar code readers to magazine subscribers, who would use them to scan bar codes in ads to take them to related Web sites. The problem, of course, was that no one wanted to go to all that trouble to visit an advertiser’s site when you could just type in the URL by hand. Needless to say, the Cue Cat was a Titanic flop.

Holding up a magazine cover to a webcam is, I grant you, easier than scanning a bar code, and the results are presumably more entertaining than an advertiser’s Web page.  Here’s an example of how it might work, using baseball cards rather than a magazine:

I guess that’s cool. But still, how likely is it to become a routine for readers?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t read books or magazines while sitting in front of my computer.  That’s the enduring beauty of print—I can read it almost anywhere, without the aid of technology.

Will I buy a copy of the December issue of Esquire? Absolutely. Will augmented reality save print? Not so clear.

What B2B Can Learn from Jeff Jarvis, Part 4

Turning Cash Cows into Mini-Moos

What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. HarperBusiness, 2009.

In the previous three parts of this review of What Would Google Do?, I’ve looked at how Jarvis’s ideas apply to B2B in terms of its relation to readers, the impact of hyperlinks, and the shift from product journalism to process journalism. The last subject I’ll address is in some ways the most obvious and dramatic: the impact of these areas on the way we do business.

To begin with the most obvious point, as succinctly phrased by Jarvis, “print sucks.” He’s talking here not about the usability of print—give me a hardback over my Kindle in terms of sheer reading ease and pleasure—but about the burden it places on a print-based publisher. “It’s expensive to produce content for print, expensive to manufacture, and expensive to deliver. Print limits your space and your ability to give readers all they want. It restricts your timing and ability to keep readers up-to-the-minute. Print is already stale when its fresh.” And so on. Sure, there will always be a role for print—but it will a very small role indeed. So to the extent that you’re still in print, you need to think carefully about whether you should be.

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