At Issue… Content as a Commodity
Geoff Livingston’s tweet this morning focused my attention on a post by Sarah Perez entitled, “Content is Becoming a Commodity.” Geoff’s tweet said that he could not disagree more with the post, so that drew my immediate interest. I’ve known Geoff Livingston over the years (click here to read his blog, The Buzz Bin), and lately, he has become something of a legend in the social media space. Even though we don’t agree on everything (occasionally I can be wrong), I do value his opinion and enjoy working with him.
So, in thinking about Geoff’s comment, I sat down to read Sarah Perez’s post.
In reading Sarah Perez’s post, my initial reaction was that a lot of what she was writing about was not new. The discussion of content as a commodity has been around, as one comment put it, since before the copy machine was invented and placed into libraries. However, “Is my content a commodity?” is still apparently an issue. Can you leverage your blog entries for profit, or is there a more invaluable or incalculable aspect to content?
My reaction to Sarah’s post are as follows:
1) Many people in the tech and social media spaces are very focused (some jubilant) on becoming more viral and open through technology, blogs, etc. I recognize there are complaints whenever a company aggregates a blogger’s content. However, I often find that these are the same folks who complain about the recording industry’s assault on those who illegally download music. To put it simply, you can’t split the baby on this issue, folks. In my view, there is a definitive line between intellectual property and self-promotion, but too often we blur that line for our own immediate gratification. Perez is right, in a sense, that the loss of “physical form” plays a roll in the justification of stealing, but as we blog, produce video and other types of content, we need to give some thought as a society to how we protect what needs to be protected.
2) Perez’s comment about how individually produced content has less of a value, but “in aggregate, can become something of value” has merit. ActiveAccess, a division of the company I work for, is a producer of a communications platform, a super-widget if you will. We’ve traditionally worked on widgets for clients, ie, radio stations, colleges and universities. We have a new project on the front-burner that is for a consumer market segment – a direct to consumer application. It’s on the horizon (check back in early May), but one of our beliefs is that by coupling content together (RSS, etc) and establishing content partners, we can help build a portal for a community. The idea on our end though is two-fold… a) consolidate content and services into one place for the consumer / reader; and b) establish a revenue-sharing platform for content providers, ie bloggers, which should help expand their brand recognition and value.
3) Perez writes about NBC’s Jerry Zucker railing against Apple. This is an amusing quote, but broadcast media has distinct advantages over new media that often gets overlooked – ironically enough – by people in broadcast media. New media is certainly younger, faster and more agile in some respects, but in others – it lacks establishment, audience, capital and other benefits. Rick Ducey (BIAfn) commented on this to an extent (see Rick’s blog post at: http://blog.bia.com/bia/?p=26). Rick is at the 2008 NAB Show, and believe me, broadcasters are intensely focused on social media, networks like Facebook, YouTube, etc. If you’re interested in NAB – you can follow their blog at: http://www.NABShow.com/blog. They also have a Twitter feed that you can track. It’s a great place to read about technology, media and other topics bloggers are interested in.
4) So, how do these two differing perspectives (one often associated with those in broadcast media and the other with those in new media) translate for bloggers in particular? Well, while you can’t stop being viral or promoting yourself, you also have to examine how your intellectual property – because that’s what we are talking about here – may be valued or better utilized elsewhere. If you are concerned about it being lifted and think that is going to happen, which certainly is taking place, one method is to seek out the established forces and team-up. Certainly, some people view Apple as a corrosive force, but people used to think of that way about Sears. Everyone feared the end of “Mom and Pop” stores. Then along came Wal-Mart, and the same fears were echoed again and again. Of course, we still have “Mom and Pop” stores. The point is that successful businesses learn from their landscape and find a way to either do something no one else is doing or they find a way to do it better. The same is true for bloggers.
5) Last thought, the idea of a blog as a “destination” is a good point. I did not read the post from Mark Evans that Perez references (you can click here to read it if you want), but it sounds accurate. Essentially, this comes back to what I wrote in point 4 – you need to take more ownership of your material and know the marketplace. Of course, if you don’t consider your content a commodity that you want to protect and profit from – that’s a whole other issue. But if you do, then you need to treat it like any other business asset.