We are all publishers now, or so the accepted wisdom goes. By ‘accepted wisdom’ I mean something that is repeated often without serious challenge, a bit like a saying that men cannot multi-task.
But it does mean something and, as someone who has by profession been a publisher for almost 20 years, I feel it is time to examine that notion.
In today’s digital age I could get depressed about my job. There is a myriad of people writing or creating content about something that interests them. Many have plenty of followers and others consume what they have written, sometimes frequently, often sporadically.
Competitive challenges for my customers’ time and attention have grown exponentially. Additionally, in the digital world there is no need for costly print, paper and distribution deals: individuals can publish their own, self-generated content at the touch of a button.
User-generated content (UGC) has been much discussed over the past decade, and with good reason. In February this year, there were 248 million blogs in existence worldwide, according to Nielsen. On YouTube there are around 100 hours of video content uploaded every minute.
All that self-expression is enough to give you a rosy sense of pleasure, but the fact that individuals have the freedom and opportunity to express themselves in word, picture and video format has often been heralded as the catalyst to the demise of the traditional publishing industry.
The concept of self-publishing is not new, but brands are now getting in on the act. From Coca-Cola to Superdrug, brands are realising the power of content creation as a route to meaningful customer engagement. Put simply, consumers prefer to be respectfully addressed and conversed with, rather than just told.
The fact that publishing by anyone is possible does not make it necessarily desirable, marketable or profitable. In 2012, 17 of the top 100 books on Kindle were self-published. That is a fantastic figure, however, it also means that 83 were not.
A study in the US of news sites from 2008 to 2012 found that only 0.1 per cent of the most viewed stories were user generated.
Although social media is a frequent ‘breaker’ of stories, 77 per cent of people who hear about a story through this platform will seek more information through a traditional news provider, finds the Pew Research Center’s State of News Media report.
Meanwhile, professionally made video content outperforms UGC in terms of consumer response by 30 per cent, according to comScore.
It is a given in this day and age that digital channels are much quicker at distributing content than traditional ones, which is one of the reasons they are so popular and widely used. But there is an important point lurking within. Quality journalism and quality content still draw the crowds.
A dog on a skateboard is fun to watch. But people prefer the dog to be an expert skateboarder and the camera to be 35mm, rather than shot on a phone. Will this always be the case? The future is difficult to predict, but the relatively recent swing back to quality suggests it is.
It is important to note that there is always room in a market as diverse as publishing for both amateurs and professionals.
We must, of course, acknowledge the changing nature of the publishing job. Few professions have not undergone significant developments due to technological innovation. One publisher recently changed the name of the job to brand director, recognising that in the digital age it is the content and not the canvas that is important.
Publishing may have changed but the priorities of the role certainly are not redundant. As always, it is about the right strategies to reach, hook and engage different audiences.
The question we might pose ourselves in the 21st century is if content is not read, has it really been published? True publishers of content must still address the traditional questions of who, what, where, when and how.
At River, we publish content for brands across media. Although it has a marketing purpose – to promote a client’s brands and products, to inform and educate customers and prospective customers – it also has to work on the old-fashioned principles of being a great read and being read.
The key to successful engagement is to understand the demographic of the reader or consumer and knowing how to seed that content to them. As River publishes content for brands, we are fortunate in having excellent customer insight and data from our clients, and are therefore able to tailor content to readers’ specific needs and tastes. Who, what and probably when are all ticked via this insight.
How about ‘where’ you ask. Free magazines have to find their readers, but with no cover-revenue generated for retailers, there is no shelf space. They might choose a strategy of hand-to-hand distribution at busy commuter stations, or adopt an email marketing campaign (more content) to deliver a digital edition for free online.
Whatever the route to market, the principles of good content remain the same: it has to be engaging otherwise it will not be read. Think of the free magazines and newspapers that used to land on our doormats that were not always good enough to read. It is one thing to deliver content, but it has to engage.
So we have to get our content into the right hands, at the right time, on the right device (and I am including paper as a device – it might not be high tech but it delivers as a channel), but what is going to keep our audience reading it, reacting to it and coming back for more? There is no mathematical formula for this. It takes original creative and the right publishing strategy to achieve.
Some call it storytelling. I still call it well-published editorial content. Publish and be counted. It keeps me busy all day.