More books can never be a bad thing

Despite loving the near limitless possibilities of digital publishing, my first love is books. I’ve written two, reviewed them, and even worked at a book publisher for a while. Part bibliophile, part tsundoku, I buy books almost obsessively – and usually have dozens on the go at any one time. My flat could easily be mistaken for a secondhand bookshop.

So it’s probably unsurprising that I’m a big fan of the idea of collecting previously ephemeral digital content into book form to extend its (literal) shelf life. Great to see the New York Times agrees:

“Reporters leave a ton in their notebooks… The book form really gives us a chance to expand the journalism and include a lot more of the detail and texture that is never going to make it into the daily report.”

More brands – especially B2B ones – should consider following the NYT’s lead and mine their content archives to curate thematic ebooks (and even physical ones) of their best pieces.

Repackaging ideas in book form offers opportunities to expand and elaborate on points in more depth in the perfect lean-back format. Because there’s nothing better than a book for encouraging deep engagement with and deliberation over someone else’s thinking. If you’re selling ideas, the book is the perfect format.

Newer isn’t always better – or necessary

This is a decent short piece in Inc. about Oprah Winfrey’s podcast strategy – basically mining her archive of TV shows for audio highlights – with some simple yet sensible advice for this age of ephemeral experiences:

“Good content is good content. No matter how old it is… Get creative and find ways to adapt that content to be relevant for… new audiences, and put it in front of them.”

That “get creative” part is key, though. Older content  is likely to only have nuggets of still-relevant gold that will need careful mining and potentially refining for different formats, audiences, and purposes.

Remember: Not everything has to be explicitly about today’s perceived front-of-mind issues to be relevant and interesting. There’s a reason Dale Carnegie continues to be a bestselling author in the business books category 75 years after his death. Good insights are good insights.

Approached with the right mindset, old white papers, transcripts of conference speeches, case studies, surveys – even LinkedIn posts – could become a treasure trove of inspiration for creating something similar but different to engage new people on new platforms and in new formats.

Content marketing is, after all, about effective presentation of the content as well as the brand. And content ultimately succeeds based on *its* content –  ideas and their presentation.

And there is *always* more than one way to present an idea.

Taking digital to print can make sense

Great to see a copy of the Culture Trip magazine in the flesh on Eurostar. A slick, matt finish cover and perfect-bound spine screams quality, while the prominence of adverts for other Culture Trip formats (and lack of much other advertising) reveals this to be a piece of brand awareness marketing more than just a shift to a new, retro format for an established digital publisher.

Getting a travel magazine on Eurostar is quite the distribution coup as well – finely targeted to a (likely) receptive audience.

I’d not be surprised to see more digital ventures going physical for ad hoc print editions like this in the coming years. The shift towards longform and digital editions, the revival of vinyl, plus the growth in sales of physical books and independent publications suggests a rising demand for tactile, physical content formats alongside the convenience of digital.

With good design and production values, a print magazine or book can be something to both treasure and show off – a powerful, prestigious tool for driving brand loyalty.

Don’t get me wrong – digital is great. But every format is worth considering in the marketing mix – if it’s got potential to drive results rather than being mere vanity.

New post on LinkedIn: Big data and marketing

Inspired by a piece comparing the creative side of marketing with the more business-focused obsession with data and ROI.

The short version?

“Rather than worry about big ideas vs targeting, what the marketing industry really needs to learn how to do is revive the art of the soft sell and the long tail. That’s the more human way of building relationships that last – but to work it needs a significantly more nuanced understanding of how people will be interacting with you than I’ve seen from pretty much any modern brand marketing campaign.”

Read the full thing on LinkedIn…

The “Netflix of News” and the death of the publishing brand

I loved the concept when I first heard about it, and love that it seems to be working. Proof of concept done – now it’s time to take that concept and expand. Preferably globally.

In short, it’s a cunning system that allows you to pay for individual articles from publications, thus avoiding the constant fustration of not being able to read that great piece from the likes of the FT, Times or Economist because it’s hiding behind a paywall.

If this sort of thing takes off, it could be a whole new business-model – making paywalls more viable, while allowing monetisable ways around them.

But there’s also an interesting quote from Blendle’s founder:

“People want to read articles or want to follow specific journalists but aren’t particularly interested in the newspaper that it comes from anymore.”

This is especially true in the age of social, where URL-shorteners are so endemic that half the time you have no idea which site you’ll end up on.

I’ve got used to reading content that’s been de-branded via a hefty RSS addiction. That’s been replaced in recent years with an addiction to aggregation apps like Zite, Flipboard and Feedly, where what matters is the content itself, not the packaging, or where it’s from.

If the content is good enough, it will stand on its own – it won’t need to hide behind the brand. In fact, the brand can sometimes be a disadvantage, because it leads to preconceptions that can skew the reader’s opinion before they’ve even started to read a piece. There are some publications I avoid simply because I assume that they have nothing to offer me, for reasons of politics, prejudices, or whatever – and I know I’m far from being alone in this.

Remove the publication’s branding and present me with their content as is, would my preconceptions be different? Of course. And if I like the content, this could win them a new long-term reader.

Numbers are our friends

Useful look at how detailed, adaptable, *tailored* performance data (and people who know how to analyse and explain it) is essential if you want to be successful in modern media. As so often, Buzzfeed seems to be ahead of the curve.

It never ceases to amaze how often online publishers get het up about the wrong metrics. Tools like Omniture are obscenely powerful, yet all we tend to use them for is to find PVs, UUs, occasionally time spent, and sometimes how particular headlines are performing. Used properly, web analytics can help us keep our sites in a state of constant evolution, adapting to the tiniest shifts in user behaviour through minor design/code tweaks.

This isn’t about becoming Keanu Reeves and learning how to read the Matrix – it’s just knowing how to use the tools that are available to us.

Vox to open their CMS up to everyone?

Oh yes please!

I’m a massive CMS geek, yet in well over a decade and a half of online publishing, I still haven’t found one I truly adore. Mid-period Wordpress came close, but now it’s too complex and chunky. Buzzfeed’s seems decent, from what I’ve seen. The one they have at ITV News looks great, from the screenshots. But I hear truly great things about the Vox Chorus CMS.


This is the most important thing about clickbait you’ll read today*

* assuming you don’t read anything else about clickbait today

This article focuses on content produced by content marketers, but applies just as much to regular publishers who are constantly trying to ride the latest wave of social media fads to suck in a few unsuspecting punters with low-rent, instantly-forgettable clickbait. Short, cheap, trend-driven / fast-turnaround content may well help you hit short-term engagement metrics, but will long-term kill audience retention:

“The internet is ballooning with fluff, and bad content marketing is to blame. In our obsession with ‘engaging’ our ‘audience’ in ‘real-time’ with ‘targeted content’ that goes ‘viral,’ we are driving people insane… When a publishing agenda is too ambitious, people can’t afford to shoot anything down… They’re under too much pressure to fill… slots”

I particularly like the concept of “click-flu” – the sense of annoyance and disappointment you get (both with the content and, more importantly, with yourself) when you click on a clickbaity link, and the page you end up on fails to deliver on its hyperbolic promise. The resentment builds and builds – and over time, leads to hatred of the people who lured you in time and again.

If you make a big promise, as so many of these “This is the most important thing you will see today” clickbaity headlines do, you’d damned well better live up to it.

Web writing, hate reading, and the decline of quality

Nothing new, but this is worth a read on web writing and hate-reading – that old trick of being as controversial as possible in order to get an extreme response, purely because extremes get more attention, and in a pageview-driven business model, controversy is seen as good purely because, based on the metrics, it’s the controversial stuff that’s driving engagement.

This infantile attitude of provocation to get attention is increasingly being combined with ream upon ream of cheap content, because the more content you’ve got, the more potential PVs you can attract. We end up with the most depressing (and false) equation of online publishing:

Cheap content + Controversy = Clicks = Cash

It’s an attitude that’s lazy *and* massively short-termist in thinking – over the long term, quality can and should trump quantity. But even if it doesn’t, cheap, crappy content is a turn-off for audiences. The more sites that start to rely on hastily-produced, poorly-checked copy, or lazy semi-plagiarisms of things that desperate teams of poorly-paid hacks with deadlines and quotas to hit have found elsewhere, the less distinctive sites get, and the fewer returning visitors you’ll get. As that linked article puts it:

“With a business model based on a ton of cheap content, Web publishers can rely too heavily on acid-reflux-style aggregation, in which young writers destroy the savor of interesting stories and an interesting world by constantly regurgitating the news with added bile.”

There’s also an interesting point made from John Waters in the Irish Times (now behind a paywall), on the impact of comment sections under online articles: “Because everything written specifically for online consumption is written in the expectation of addressing a hostile community, the writing process demands, as a prerequisite, either a defensive or antagonistic demeanor.”

Having learned my online publishing trade in the realm of message boards, chatrooms and blogs, I’m incredibly aware of the vast levels of bile that exist in comment sections. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With careful community management, it’s perfectly possible to build online communities that are supportive, friendly, and constructive, rather than the supposed default of objectionable and offensive. Check out the likes of b3ta, imgur and Metafilter for some prime examples of sites with vast *positive* communities of commenters. And then contrast those with the comments sections of pretty much any national newspaper site – packed with trolls and maniacs.

It doesn’t have to be this way.