The Content-Side Platform

  |  September 15, 2010   |  Comments

The advertising side isn't complex enough for publishers.

I've focused a great deal on the advertiser side of the behavioral marketing equation in this column.

What about our publishers; those hard-working purveyors of content, awash in a noisy sea of free online offerings?

Where are the behavioral databases, exchanges, and networks for those who want to actually sell their articles, stories, e-books, videos, Webinars, and audio?

Advertisers have a selection of demand-side platforms that give them direct access to inventory on sites across the Web. These platforms allow any business to target audiences, locate publishers that serve those audiences, purchase impressions, upload creative, and measure results.

I propose that the pieces of a similar platform are coming together for publishers. However, like the early days of display advertising, these pieces are not in one place.

The Content-Side Platform – The Audience

Just as a demand-side platform gives advertisers one access point to a variety of ad space, so would a content-side platform give publishers one access point to a broad audience with the following characteristics:

  1. They consume content in the formats provided by the publisher.
  2. They value that content enough to pay for it with real dollars.

Does this audience exist? Yes it does. The job of the content-side platform is to reach out to aggregated audiences just as the demand-side platform connects advertisers to aggregated ad inventory.

So, who is aggregating this content-consuming audience?

Audience Aggregators

Today, the consumer has an unprecedented number of ways to curate their daily content diet, and they have some new devices on which to serve it.

paper-li-bmassey

We are the Aggregators. If you've invested any time at all in a Twitter account, you've curated your own content.

Try this little experiment:

Visit paper.li and enter your Twitter handle. It will show you the content that your Twitter network has prepared for you, content that you have curated by selecting who to follow.

This is just one example of how the news on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks is being reorganized for consumption by those who don't read streams, like me.

It is just one "construct" that interprets the matrix of our social graph for us.

Most content customization services assume that we know what we want to see. They ask us for categories of interest, keywords, and even watch our online behaviors to automatically curate content for us.

But, we don't know what we will be interested in tomorrow after eating a big lunch or getting some bad news. Our social graph does.

Case in point: I rarely prune my social network on Twitter, but I have stopped following several people when their irrelevant content showed up on my paper.li page. I'm curating my social graph to give me content I find interesting, entertaining, or valuable.

Content Networks: New Windows

If paper.li is a content network for our computer screens, Flipboard is an interpreter for our newest window on the Internet, the iPad.

The primary purpose of the iPad is the consumption of content, and 3.3 million of these things have been sold as of August 2010.

The Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader do this for digitized print, but the iPad has delivered the user experience and the cross-media capabilities that will make it the window of preference for now.

Apple has acknowledged the importance of content curation in the music space, with the recent release of the Ping social network.

The windows our prospects use to peer into the Internet, be it a tablet, phone, computer, or HDTV, add complexity to our content-selling strategy, making a content-side platform even more important.

Targeting: getting on my front page. One place where our nascent content-side platform deviates from the demand-side platform is that we can't buy our way onto the virtual front pages of readers. This leaves us with a few alternatives:

Advertise on social front pages. Clearly, the folks at paper.li are offering targeted advertising on their social media news pages. While this may be very successful, it is better suited to a demand-side platform than a content-side platform.

The power of the content-side platform is that the content is the advertisement. The demand-side platform serves ads that are close to the content.

Build our own application. Taking content to the iTunes App Store in its own application is proving to be an effective way to extend its reach. However, this bypasses the social curation aspect of our content-side platform "stack," since we decide what content goes into the application.

It is applications like Flipboard that will succeed because they leverage our own individual social graph.

Build our own social distribution networks. This pretty much leaves us with the basic social media strategy: build your own social networks, identify influential bloggers, tweeters, YouTubers, and Facebookers, and share your content with them. They then curate it to the audiences that want it.

This strategy looks more like classic PR than advertising.

Single point of purchase. One thing the demand-side platform does well is make it easy to buy ad impressions. With the content-side platform, the publisher is buying content impressions.

The important piece in the content-side platform stack is this: giving the reader the ability to purchase content on a variety of platforms, in a variety of formats, and in a variety of ways.

Raj Mehta, founder of ClikServ, has been working on this problem in earnest. He is building a technology that provides such a content purchase platform.

Mehta has developed the underpinnings of a community of paying content consumers in which ClikServ acts as a single point of purchase, almost like the PayPal of content.

Like a demand-side platform, this platform must be easy for publishers to implement and easy for consumers to use. The content-side platform must offer publishers the ability to choose from a variety of business models, including:

  • Time decay: Some content, like financial data, is more valuable when it's hot.
  • Pay for fidelity: Pay for higher resolution versions of content.
  • Donation: Consumers have the option to give to worthy content providers.
  • Pay wall: The pay-for-access model used by online newspapers.
  • Recurring: Subscription-based billing.
  • Sampling: Get a little for free. Pay for the rest.
  • Trial: Try the content for a period of time before paying.
  • Appreciation: Tell a publisher you like their content with a little gift.

I believe that services like ClikServ will offer the single-point of entry for publishers and consumers, hiding the underlying machinations of purchase and delivery. This provides the final piece in the content-side platform.

Chris Anderson says content wants to be free. The truth is, no content is free. It costs us time and attention, which are becoming more precious than money. Readers will pay for the ability to consume content on their own time, in formats they prefer, using the devices that provide portability and time-shifting. The content-side platform offers publishers more places to deliver their content, more formats in which it can be consumed, and more ways for consumers to pay for the content.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Massey

With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.

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