Content Is King, Once Again
Reflections on the magazine life cycle.
“E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” was playing at the movies, Michael Jackson had just released “Thriller,” the average cost of a home was $82,000 and gas was 91 cents a gallon. It was 1982. TIME declared the computer its “Man of the Year” and CRN published its first issue under the name Computer Retail News.
For three decades, CRN has been reporting on technology news, and these advancements have certainly forced publishing–an industry that had seen few substantive changes in the prior 200 years—to rapidly adapt to new platforms, new mediums and new business models.
Thirty years ago, reporters and editors were using a fluorescent-green terminal called Atex to file stories. Today reporters use their phones to Tweet, Skype to conduct video interviews and Facebook to elicit comments or story suggestions from their followers. Until very recently those who produced the content distributed the content. Today social media and mobile apps provide a new distribution model where the producers no longer have complete control.
It would be an understatement to say that the Web forever changed publishing. Over the past two decades, business models have been disrupted, publishers have gone out of business and a new breed of online sites has entered the market. For editors, an unprecedented sense of urgency was born. In just the past few years, we have seen yet another dramatic change in journalism, again all in reaction to the incredible pace of technology. Enter citizen journalism, crowdsourcing and blogging; then throw YouTube, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Stumbleupon and others into the mix.
While technology has helped deliver the news, it also has delivered shortcomings in news reporting. Today a mistake can be corrected and a story reposted in a minute, with less consequence than in yesteryear. But who’s to notice, anyway? Today’s readers don’t consume news—they sniff it, take a nibble, and move to the next item in an endless buffet of shallow dishes hastily prepared. Scroll, scroll, click. Scroll, scroll, click. On the other side of the buffet table, frenzied reporters dish out the news as quickly as they can.
But the innovations that have made us sloppy could save b-to-b journalism in the future. Tablets and the subscription-based model—as opposed to qualified circulation and the current advertising model many of us have—could force b-to-b editors once again to write content that is not only timely, but that is accurate, unique and consequential. Readers will pay for such content, just as they once had. Nondifferentiated content can remain free; differentiated content can command a price.
All of this, of course, has begun to happen with digital subscription-based models and Apple’s Newsstand feature. That’s where CRN finds itself after 30 years—offering even more targeted content to give our readers a better perspective.
But, where will CRN and b-to-b publishing find themselves in 30 years? Artificial intelligence and data mining will enable even more precise data on what readers are interested in. Contextually relevant audiences will find us. And new companies that aren’t in existence today will force us to rethink how content is delivered. Never again will we have 200 years with basically the same model. Disruption will be the norm.
Kelley Damore is vice president and editorial director for CRN.