It’s all about the platform — except when it isn’t: Many speakers at paidContent 2012 spoke about the opportunities, challenges and constraints of creating digital content. Here are five key takeaways from the day.
Data helps destroy containers, and that’s a good thing. Data creates new content and information experiences and helps bring an end to the notion of content silos, Betaworks’ John Borthwick said: “The moment you start thinking about it as information, you start to think less about the package and more about the users.” Forrester’s James McQuivey pointed out that it’s not just a “tablet or iPad world,” but an “everything world” — and millions of people are consuming content not on iPads or e-readers but on gaming systems like the Xbox 360.
Digital storytelling is a native art. Stories on the Internet are not a new form of magazine or newspaper stories, but a medium in their own right — just like radio or TV. Publishers should develop their platforms accordingly rather than just repurposing other print vehicles. When Wenner Media released Us Weekly on iPad for the first time, it figured out a way to enable the “passalong” that’s so popular with the magazine’s print edition. As Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff told us, George Lucas had to build a new story-telling platform called Lucasfilm so that he could tell the story of “Star Wars.” And don’t say blogging is dead: “That’s like saying creativity is dead, or personal expression is dead,” said WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg.
Not all “media” are created equal. Union Square’s Fred Wilson and Betaworks’ John Borthwick gave a rude awakening to Big Media executives, urging them to give up control of their content — and even to stop calling it “content.” But declaring new digital networks victors over somewhat different traditional print and broadcast operators after simply labelling each “media” can sometimes seem counterproductive and insufficient: What’s being created now are entirely new kinds of information vehicles. The industry is truly “at the crossroads” suggested by the paidContent 2012 conference’s subtitle– but technologists and information producers may now be heading in different directions, as well as speaking different languages.
Publishers have to sell their brands directly to consumers. “Publishing companies need to understand that the thing [companies] like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers really respect is a brand,” Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne said in an explanation of why those companies agreed to send customers directly to the Pottermore site to buy e-books. “If we’ve demonstrated anything, it’s the power of a brand,” he said, noting that over half of Pottermore’s e-book sales result from readers coming directly to the site instead of being referred there by the retailers. Not every brand is Harry Potter — but “need to understand that their role in the future is creating these brands,” Redmayne said.
It’s time to toss CPM as a yardstick for online advertising success. How can Facebook be so inept at advertising? Because it’s handing advertisers a sledgehammer not a scalpel. Betaworks’ Borthwick and GigaOM’s Om Malik say it’s time to discard old-fashioned display ads as the basic unit of online ad success. Instead, it’s time for advertisers to adapt their ads to the evolving nature of the internet itself. That means forgetting about CPMs and focusing on data and social dynamics. On a broader level, it means re-imagining basic precepts of advertising and product discovery in a world where Web pages are being eclipsed by new types of online discovery and interaction.
If you didn’t make it to the TimesCenter yesterday, you’ll find video of all yesterday’s panels here (registration required). And let us know your takeaways from the day in the comments.