The content concierge: Curation and personalization, not discovery
I'm convinced "the discovery issue" is an imaginary problem that only exists in the minds of publishers. Consumers generally don't care. When was the last time you worried about finding the next thing to read? That's rarely a concern because we're all drowning in content options. The same is true for most consumers.
Consumers don't fret about finding something new; I believe they're more concerned with staying ahead of the content onslaught and making sure they're reading the best content. That's a problem discovery doesn't solve.
At some point we'll experience a completely new content consumption model. Sure, you'll still be able to buy a magazine, a newspaper, an ebook, read a blog post, etc. But rather than sinking in the ever rising sea of content, we'll have the equivalent of a content concierge to help us navigate.
Computers are supposed to make our lives simpler, not more complicated, right? That's what some have led us to believe, but it's definitely not the case with content. The web, self-publishing and countless other innovations have only made it more challenging to focus our limited time on the content that's most valuable.
This is one of the reasons I love the magazine called The Week. You could spend seven straight days under a rock with no access to any type of media, but if you read the latest edition of The Week when you resurface you'll quickly catch up. The Week provides the highlights from the news sources their editors feel are most important. It doesn't lean left or right, pro or con on an issue; it generally provides both sides. We need more services like The Week.
You could argue services like this already exist. I don't think they're as complete and extensive as they'll be in the future though. Think about the topic of sports. ESPN does a phenomenal job providing news and opinions on all sports. They provide that content in articles, video, podcasts, emails, etc. What they don't offer though, are all the great opinions and content found in Sports Illustrated.
As broad as the ESPN franchise is, it focuses on ESPN content. Consumers don't want "either/or", they want "and". In this case, I want ESPN and Sports Illustrated. But I don't want everything simply dumped on me. I want it delivered like The Week does it; I want a content concierge who spends all their time reading everything and making suggestions, just like the hotel concierge does with local restaurants and attractions.
What we have today are the "print under glass", quick-and-dirty, p-to-e conversions we call ebooks. Similarly, we have digital reproductions of newspapers and magazines. It's the low-hanging fruit of the digital content world. We're even proud of the fact that the digital user interface is so similar to the print interface, as if anything different would be too hard for consumers to figure out. (Yes, I'm talking about you, curling digital page corners.)
If today's publishing industry had invented the automobile I'm quite certain we'd have reigns and stirrups, not a steering wheel and gas/brake pedals. (Here's a Tumblr page waiting to be created by someone: Call it, "If the publishing industry invented X", where "X" is any modern appliance, service, etc., that we can't live without. All the posts would show how the publishing industry applied yesterday's thinking to tomorrow's invention.) :-)
Rather than solving the imaginary discovery problem I think it's time to invest resources in how content will be consumed in the future. The content concierge doesn't have to be a person, btw. Some of this can be automated, or "computerized", as a former boss of mine used to say. It's not just about content selection though. The model of how the content is distributed and paid for needs to radically change as well.
That may not sit well with some publishers. Then again, I'm sure there were quite a few blacksmiths in the early 1900's who weren't too keen on the emergence of the combustion engine.
"Content concierge" is a great term for what's needed but I don't see why you divorce that from the dynamics of "discovery." A concierge is a "smart filter," able to discern quality as it suites individual tastes and interests. The discovery piece of this , that is, finding a content concierge that performs this function well as befits your individual tastes and interests.
Posted by: PeterTurner | June 25, 2013 at 01:57 PM
That's a good point, Peter. I guess what I was trying to do was take the emphasis away from discovery and put it more on the consumption model. I believe publishers are trying to force the discovery solution while not really thinking about how it needs to be a function of consumption.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | June 25, 2013 at 03:38 PM
"Content concierge," I like that idea, Joe. The SmartBrief concept for books?
A quick way to catch up with what's happening in the world could make a million dollars for a team of people willing to take on the project.
Posted by: Donna | June 29, 2013 at 03:14 AM
I love The Week also, and I agree that a Content Concierge is a great way to think about what we want -- as consumers of content, and should think about building -- as publishers. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Posted by: Molly Sharp | July 09, 2013 at 11:14 AM