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Why Is the Dictionary in Alphabetical Order?

  |  November 5, 2002   |  Comments

Great content and great content management are only first steps toward a paid model.

People will pay to get the right content at the right time.

What's the right content? That depends upon the person who needs it and why he needs it, subjects I've written about in previous columns and will write about again in the future. In this column, I'm writing about two other facets of what makes content valuable enough for payment: convenience and organization.

Jerry Michalski, former editor of Release 1.0, the seminal newsletter of the personal computer revolution, coined the Law of Convenience:

Every additional step that stands between people's desires and the fulfillment of those desires greatly decreases the likelihood that they will undertake the activity.

Or that they will pay for content.

Law of Convenience in Action

Half a decade ago, Barnes & Noble (B&N), staggered by new competitor Amazon.com, launched an e-commerce Web site. B&N had high hopes for the site, which offered twice the number of books as upstart Amazon, which didn't yet have brand recognition equal to B&N's.

B&N's marketing executives were stunned when their Web site generated only a tenth the book sales of Amazon's. Twice the content, half the sales. Characteristically, B&N's initial response was more promotion. But to no avail.

Finally, someone clued the company in to the fact consumers using Amazon could find a book within two clicks, but at bn.com they had to click through 11 levels of marketing and promotion pages to reach a book.

B&N's site violated Michalski's Law of Convenience, which has wide applicability. "It's not just about product or service design, its obvious applications, but also about business models and sales strategies."

Is your content conveniently accessible? Michalski notes this goes beyond mere site design. It requires content management. No, I don't mean content management software (although an obvious need). I mean the concept of content management.

To explain the concept of content management, let me first use an analogy to offer a backhanded and convenient apology.

Turbochargers and New Thinking

The inventor of the turbocharger, a device that uses exhaust gases to boost power, is justifiably famous in engineering circles. Those marketing executives who later (and falsely) appended "turbo-" to everything from tennis rackets to carving knives to toilet fixtures deserve infamy and should forever roast in whichever circle of Hell Dante reserved for charlatans, three-card-monte players, and others who hype for commercial reasons.

A world of difference exists between someone who actually thinks up something new and those who only claim to have invented something new. That's the difference between fellow ClickZ columnist Gerry McGovern and most people who claim "new thinking" about content.

In my last column, I declared:

I'm not open to new thinking about content. I'm only open to radical thinking about content.

Many people talk about new thinking, but hardly any content is new. Like "new and improved," it's mainly a way of putting old products in new packages, a shibboleth for finding new ways of doing the old things.

A few days later, I remembered despite the swarms who claim new thinking about online content, McGovern invented the real thing. Like the inventor of the turbocharger, he practices and preaches true new thinking. Since 1996, McGovern has been writing New Thinking, a weekly email newsletter covering the role of content on the Web. He also is founder and former CEO of Nua, which develops content management software and solutions and publishes the Nua Internet Surveys.

McGovern's expertise is content management. As he mentions in his book "Content Critical":

Imagine for a moment the modern factory floor. Everything is clean and tidy. The machines are well organized. The processes work with great precision. Efficiency and productivity are maximized. A good manager will not allow a thing to get out of place.

Try to imagine what the contents of your computer or Web site would look like if they were presented like a factory floor. If they are like a great many other Web sites, they'd look less like a factory floor and more like a local dump -- an information dump. People don't want to pay to root through a dump. Yet most publishers treat users like online scavengers.

An article in Editor & Publisher magazine last week noted on a recent day, washingtonpost.com's home page featured 217 hyperlinks (including 42 for article headlines and 52 for section headings), 4 photos, 13 logos and graphics, 4 text fields, 6 buttons, and 1 pop-up menu. Doesn't that just scream, "Hey, consumer, have you found what you're looking for among these hundreds of choices, or should we dump even more content on you?"

Washingtonpost.com uses the traditional print content model: Dump every story onto one page and let consumers browse for it. That newsprint model is not convenient for online consumers.

"This model worked OK when there was a reasonable quantity of content and when the person knew exactly what they were looking for," McGovern says in his book (the first chapter is available online). "The problem is that the amount of content has ballooned and that in the great majority of cases, the reader isn't quite sure exactly what they want. Thus, the old model of how we deal with content on computers is not working.

"In other words, the approach to dealing with content that most organizations take today fails most of its readers most of the time. The result we see everywhere. It's called information overload."

You can have the right content, and lots of it. Unless you manage that content in ways convenient for consumers, they'll neither pay for it nor use it.

Next time you hear someone with vast quantities of online content bemoan the fact consumers won't pay to access it, remember: The quantity, and even the quality, of content is moot unless the content is managed in a way consumers find convenient.

More Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

In a column this summer, I criticized the Online Publishers Association's (OPA's) estimate that U.S. consumers spent $675 million on online content in 2001. My argument is the OPA report defined online content so broadly online publishers were disserved.

Mirroring that, last week eMarketer reported IDC issued an estimate that consumers will spend $50 billion on online content this year. The story questioned both reports and stated, "Additional clarity and transparency in market estimates and projections are needed in order to better provide companies with the market intelligence they need."

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Vin Crosbie

As managing partner of Digital Deliverance LLC and publisher of the "Digital Deliverance" newsletter, Vin Crosbie advises news media worldwide about new media strategies and tactics. As adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant for executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, he teaches that wisdom to graduate students and media company executives. "Folio" magazine called him "the Practical Futurist." "Editor & Publisher" magazine devoted the overview chapter of its executive research report "Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers" to his work. And his speech about new media to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations (including some by President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton, and Barack Obama) selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book, ">Representative American Speeches 2004-2005."

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