Two weeks ago, at the Like Minds Conference we listened to Guy Clapperton bemoan free content, and then last week the twitterverse lit up with commentary as The Times announced their first paywall subscribers figures, which could be seen as good/mediocre/terrible (select your bias here). However, I am more interested in a different type of “free”.
It is best put by Razorfish’s white paper titled Nimble (by @rlovinger – a MUST READ), which posits that content should be certainly free as in libre, but not necessarily free as in gratis. This rings particularly true after a few conversations last week with major publishers that have major difficulties in exploiting the value of their huge archives, due to technological constraints.
Whether you can charge for your content distracts from a core issue which plays into all future business models and business value. If your customers pay for your content, great! But regardless of the pricing strategy and revenue model, content should be unshackled, able to travel, and endlessly reusable.
It is this type of free that allows us to work for paid-content AND “open” content publishers. Whether you are a book publisher, magazine house, news organisation, digital media property or a brand, your content is only truly valuable when it is liberated from legacy restrictions.
To quickly make the case for libre content, for those unbelievers who have somehow found their way to this post…
- In a digital world, your content must be replicable. If it costs much manual time to retype, reformat, or otherwise repurpose, then you are losing valuable margin on new products and services that you can deliver.
- In a digital world, your content must be accessible. Regardless of whether it must be paid for, if your content is not easily accessible, it will be ignored. Accessibility implies ease of access for all. Not just those that want it as a PDF.
- In a digital world, your content must be understandable. This is where things really get clever – and your content really valuable. For your content to be libre free, it must be understandable by machines, so that you don’t have to spend time and money searching, finding, checking, classifying and re-delivering content for various purposes every time it can to be used. ‘Understandable’ implies metadata. If a partner store wants to use some content to sell a particular product, can you automatically slice off the relevant content for them? If a new story breaks and you need to quickly see what media you hold on similar topics from the past decades, can you see and reuse this? Can you push content off for a topic-specific iPad app? Can you syndicate the content that paying clients want, when they want it? The basics might be metadata such as author name, length and published date. Additional context should certainly include topics – people, places, issues, themes, generated by some form of semantic analysis. Perhaps you will make use of even more granular descriptions, such as political slant, sentiment towards a brand, or positive and negative tone, generated by other applications of content analytics.
There are three key moves that most publishers must make, in order for their content to be truly freed. Some might be very expensive. Some might be time-consuming. But if your company’s value is locked up in an archive (or many separate archives), a long-term view must be taken.
Analogue to digital
Most publishers understand the need for this, but cost is the normal holdup. Digitisation can be done in several ways, but usually involves some form of OCR scanning to turn a PDF from an unanalysed ‘image’, into a string of words, perhaps including some design and formatting elements. It is a good idea to go as far as possible with this one process. If you are digitising, why not use content analysis techniques to extract concepts and issues in order to classify each piece of content at the same time?
Proprietary to open
The second move is from proprietary systems to open ones, where open means “content in a raw form can be extracted easily.” Several publishers I have spoken to recently, now have more than 5 proprietary formats across their various systems, making a coherent content strategy impossible. A complete no-brainer requirement for any digital content system must be that it easily lets go of content, ideally in a simple XML schema.
Siloed to integrated
Finally, there is a move to integrate all the separate systems that have built up over time. Some large publishing groups have digital asset management systems and content management systems that number well into the double-digits. This doesn’t mean that the content literally has to be all in one system, but it does mean that business critical functions, like search, do not have to be replicated multiple times for each system in order to get coverage of the archive.
Content needs to be free as a bird. After that, use every method you can to extract value from it.