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ECPA Wire: Industry Issues

Content is no longer King

Wednesday, December 16, 2015   (0 Comments)
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This address was given by Michael Covington, Business Team Lead for Disciplr, at the closing session of PUBu on October 20, Wheaton Illinois.


Let’s begin with some trivia:

Who coined the phrase “Content is King?”

a.  Ariana Huffington

b.  Bill Gates

c.  Rupert Murdoch

d.  Chris Anderson

If you’re like me then your first answer would not have been Bill Gates and we both would have been wrong! In 1996 Bill Gates wrote an essay titled “Content is King” in which he wrote:

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet.”


1996 was a looong time ago! I’m talking back in the days of AOL CD’s in your mailbox and dial-up modems. This was when the Internet was just beginning to take hold in American homes and popular sites such as Yahoo! and were in their infancy and Google wasn’t even around yet.

I think we can all agree that Bill Gates would be one of the top two authorities on the topic of the Internet (after Al Gore, naturally!), so what was he getting at?

Fast-forward nearly ten years to 2005 and the launch of a new website called Associated Content. Started by Luke Beatty, a Denver, Colorado schoolteacher, Associated Content was founded to provide an open publishing platform for the Web.

The idea behind this new platform was to give “experts” the opportunity to write articles on literally anything and everything under the sun in exchange for up-front payment or performance-based revenue paid out on the number of page views.

What Luke Beatty knew back in 2005 was that the Internet’s search engines were not incredibly smart, serving up results based primarily on keywords found within his content. By crowd sourcing his articles, Beatty was able to amass thousands of pages of content in no time and generate millions of page views. Those page views quickly converted into ad revenue. 

In 2010 Yahoo! purchased Associated Content for nearly $100 Million dollars…that’s eight zeros in case you were wondering! Bill Gates had it right…content on the Internet was worth a lot of money!

There was a major problem for Yahoo! however, and it was one they helped to perpetuate. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo! also needed page views to drive their ad revenue. In order to accomplish this they needed to focus more on relevant search results in order to gain and keep their audience.


Enter the algorithm

In 2014 I attended the Digital Summit conference in Denver where I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Beatty speak about his early days at Associated Content as well as his current role overseeing various content businesses for AOL today such as TechCrunch and Engadget, two of the most popular technology blogs on the planet. Early on in his talk he said these words, the words I have stolen as my own for the title of this article:

“Content is not king…anymore.”


The ever-evolving and hyper-competitive battle for search engine supremacy was ultimately decided by the company that could produce the most relevant search results. Google’s dominance in search has become so renowned that their brand has become a common verb in the American lexicon.


To accomplish this, Google has created and continues to perfect their algorithm, the code that drives the intelligence behind relevancy. This new technology now meant that sites making their living off of the sheer quantity of content they hosted were no longer guaranteed the top spot in search results. The effect of the algorithm spelled disaster for sites like Beatty’s whose emphasis and revenue had always been driven by quantity over quality.

After changing the name to Yahoo! Voices, the site that was Associated Content was shuttered in 2014.


Utility is now king.

The adjective form of the word utility means “functional rather than attractive.” In the case of Internet-based search engines the algorithm is the functional utility that makes the results relevant and ultimately it is what is responsible for driving billions of dollars worth of ad revenue into Google’s coffers.

Another great example of how utility has become the most powerful force for content in the digital age is Twitter. On the surface, Twitter is a constant stream of content; posts of 140 characters flood the service, to the tune of 500 million, every single day! Absent any sort of utility that would help one to organize and consume that deluge of content, Twitter would have little value to any of us, until users began using the hashtag.

This one character, previously known to most of us as the pound symbol, created a way for conversations and topics to be organized and followed. The hashtag became the major source of utility for Twitter.


The Word became flesh.

Jesus was an amazing storyteller. His content is eternal and life changing; it’s what those of us in Christian publishing have built our mission around.

In John 1:1 we read:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Jesus, the storyteller, is in fact THE STORY, cloaked in humanity.

In 2 Corinthians 3:3 the Apostle Paul writes to a group of believers “You show that you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Jesus has written His story on our hearts!

Paul goes on to write:

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.”

When I read that, here is how I believe it applies to us. As Christian publishers we have been made competent ministers, and not merely of the letter (content) but of the living Word of God through the power of His Spirit (utility).


Idea Technology

When we hear the word technology, it’s easy to think about tangible things, and most likely tangible things that plug in. However, technology is defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”

In his March 2014 TED talk titled “The way we think about work is broken,” psychologist Barry Schwartz explores the answers to the question “Why do we work?”

Dr. Schwartz unpacks the concept of “idea technology.” This type of technology is created and fostered when people are placed in environments that nurture creative thought and behaviors. In short, the reason people work and find ultimate fulfillment (and this applies to more than just our jobs) is because there is meaning and purpose in the work we do that are most fully realized when we foster cultures that promote ideas.

So what does this have to do with content and utility? Everything!

In our world we know content, it’s what we do. Traditionally, the publishing process works best through well-established systems: editorial workflows, production calendars, marketing and sales plans that are all built and refined to maximize efficiency, decrease overhead, maximize margins and increase our chances for success.

In publishing’s brightest moments, you could say that the publishers who perfected these processes were in their “groove.” Today, with the threats publishers are facing, is it fair to ask if the groove has become a rut?

If we find ourselves nodding in response to that question, then we must ask “what needs to change?”

If we understand that the content we’ve been entrusted with now needs utility in order to make it accessible in today’s global marketplace then we are only hurting ourselves if we keep doing things the same way and expecting different results.

I’m fortunate that the organization I am at has been open to some of the ideas myself and some of my colleagues have come up with. One of those ideas, Disciplr, has at its very core this concept of utility – finding a problem with the way content is currently discovered, acquired and consumed and seeking to solve it.


Here’s what you can do.

Let me wrap this up by leaving you with a few things you can do in your organization to promote new ideas as you seek to find ways to leverage utility around your content.

If you’re a leader:

  1. Demand input. Don’t let anyone remain quiet.
  2. Try new things. This means you’ll need to learn new things. Invest in learning and earmark resources for experimentation (and don’t cut those funds when during budget cutbacks).
  3. Measure. This means you’ll need to know what success looks like before you start. If you don’t succeed, ask why and then try again. Try at least three times with different approaches.
  4. Build on your failures. Don’t memorialize them and hold them over peoples’ heads as a reason to never try anything new again.
  5. Share in your successes. Give credit where credit is due, no matter where the idea originated.


If you’re among the ranks:

  1. Write down your ideas. Try Evernote (or a notebook).
  2. Share your ideas. Don’t be shy. Keep in mind, you may be ignored, keep pressing gently and respectfully.
  3. Learn. Read about startup culture (The Lean Startup, Growth Hacker Marketing, The E-Myth Revisited, The Innovator’s Dilemma).
  4. Try something entrepreneurial. Start a business of your own. Sell on eBay or Etsy, launch a blog, consult for a small business.
  5. Ask for permission to try. They’re not just going to hand you their wallets, you have to ask!


In conclusion, I challenge you: find new ways, think differently, adopt technologies and processes that add utility and value in an age where content is no longer king.

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