Another reason to think like a publisher

As if you needed another reason, Mailchimp has a blog post about subscriber engagement that's definitely worth a read if you have (or want) an email based relationship with your audience.

I'm amazed – but not surprised – by the insight that comes from having aggregate access to as much data as Mailchimp does. If I had to pick a single part that really stood out for me, it would be the data around permission. The difference in engagement levels for single and double opt-in is significant. Not surprising if you already believe in the importance of permission, but useful for convincing those who aren't quite there yet.

It's obvious that double opt-in means much higher overall engagement levels. Chart by Mailchimp.

It's obvious that double opt-in means much higher overall engagement levels. Chart by Mailchimp.

I'd recommend you read the whole post, but to the point about publishers, the engagement level for the 'media and publishing' category is much higher than any other. 

Writing and behaving like a publisher, personally or professionally, might just help your overall engagement levels.

It's not surprising that media and publishing email campaigns have higher engagement. How can you be a publisher? Chart by Mailchimp.

It's not surprising that media and publishing email campaigns have higher engagement. How can you be a publisher? Chart by Mailchimp.

Being a 'publisher' ≠ 'content marketing'

As a follow-up to Wednesday's link post, I present to you a great piece by Mark Higginson (via @braintraffic) titled Closing your eyes and wanting it to be true won't make it work.

...content marketing on the web does not work and will not work for 'brands'. No business can make the expenditure on the quality and quantity of content required to win significant attention pay a decent return on their investment...

Mark's point is well taken and I think he's right to a degree but he misses an important distinction between 'content marketing' and using content to attract, educate and convert customers. The type of content marketing and 'storytelling' that brands like Coca-Cola and Nike are doing is very different from what happens to smaller companies and organizations when they start thinking like publishers. 

Most big brands who have the money to invest in large-scale 'content marketing' hire a bunch of writers and bloggers to produce large volumes of mostly meaningless content so that their brand gets exposure through social media and search. The content they produce has little educational or persuasive value, it exists simply to keep the brand in front of consumers. This is a new version of traditional media advertising, not very different from TV or billboard ads. 

The kind of 'content marketing' that Mark is (rightly) criticizing is all about creating demand for commodity products that no one really needs. Cola, shoes, credit cards and more. Putting it differently, this type of content is trying to create demand for something in a consumer who isn't actively seeking to solve some kind of problem.

I believe, as do others, that there is a form of content marketing that can have tremendous ROI. It takes advantage of the incredible levels of interconnectedness that the Internet has created and also tries to solve the discoverability problem created by all of us broadcasting at once. Brands or companies who create products or provide services that solve problems are using content marketing to successfully:

  • Be found in the sea of the web by potential customers who are actively seeking a solution to a problem in their life or their business.
  • Provide value to that early audience through education, entertainment or both.
  • Build credibility with their audience to convert a small number of them into customers. That probably doesn't happen right away, and that's ok.

Mark's view of content marketing as monkeys banging on typewriters is depressing, but not necessarily the only way to think about it.

Keep on publishing people.

The death of the corporate website?

From Michele Mehl at Geekwire:

That means the Web site template of — “About Us, In the News, Services, Products, Contact Us, FAQ, a Search Box, Blog, Shopping Cart” — will no longer work. Obviously, Coca-Cola’s model isn’t for everyone. But for the market segments where it will work—likely retail, consumer tech and some B2B—we all have to start thinking more like publishers, reporters, bloggers, reviewers and authors.

It's high time we all started thinking and behaving more like publishers - because whether we know it or not, that's what we are. Every status update, tweet or email, we're publishing content and influencing an audience. The only question is what kind of an influence are we having?

If you're reading this and you're a Twitter user, or a blogger, then this concept is eye-rollingly obvious to you. But there are so many organizations, companies and influential people who haven't yet realized the shift that is happening and the importance of embracing it.

My hope is that with a brand like Coca-Cola making such a high-profile shift, that other organizations will finally take notice. The content we create cannot afford to be static. There is no "set it and forget it." To succeed and grow an audience, attract customers or build a donor base requires consistent, dedicated, focused content work. Writing, shooting, editing, sharing – over and over. 

While you're thinking about writing, Ann Handley's Nine Qualities of Good Writing is definitely worth your time and attention.

The way forward for publishing

If you haven't already read Craig Mod's absolutely outstanding article, do it now. His is one of the best roadmaps for the future of digital publishing that I've ever seen.

There are plenty of quotes I could choose, but this one is pretty good:

Business skeuomorphism happens when we take business decisions explicitly tied to one medium, and bring them to another medium — no questions asked. Business skeuomorphism is rampant in the publishing industry. The simplest example is with magazines.

If you care at all about publishing, content and the web, go read it now.

The Root of Piracy and Copyright Battles

MG Siegler sums it up nicely:

Why would VEVO pirate content? Because it was easier than getting it legally. This is the actual root cause of piracy online. It’s not shady, masked individuals at swanky events commandeering computers to pirate for the hell of it. It’s VEVO employees. It’s everyone. 

Much of the argument around copyright legislation focuses on the aforementioned shady thiefs lurking in the underbelly of the Internet. No question those people exist and are important contributors to piracy. But without average, slightly geeky people to actually download pirated content there wouldn't be a market for it.

Creators deserve to be fairly paid for their work. Full stop. When pirating an album, movie or book is easier than buying it and suffering onerous DRM and restrictions, which path will be more worn? The problem is with business models and it can't be solved with legislation. The Internet continues to lay waste to industry after industry. Those who don't see it coming and cling to old models will be left behind.

DRM, digital locks and Internet blocking are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. History has shown that every lock will eventually be picked. Piracy will never go away completely but when there is an easy option that actually adds value to the content, people will pay for it

Instead of arguing about censoring the Internet to stop piracy, lets talk about how we can pay creators directly for their work and stop paying middlmen who want a piece of each sale. 

Startup caught stealing code. Is this only the beginning?

Following news about Curebit getting busted stealing code from 37Signals I was thinking about how this event relates to cultural shifts in the way younger generations view copyright and intellectual property.

Generational shifts don’t excuse theft, but ask any teacher about the way current students view taking ideas from others and you quickly realize that something is changing.

Curebit’s responses to David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of 37Signals, seem nonplussed about the whole affair. This fits with other evidence that students today don’t seem to think that stealing intellectual property from others is a big deal.

I’m no fan of some parts of current copyright law, but open and transparent attribution is a cornerstone of productive discourse. We need to be on guard for further slips in the way we handle giving credit where credit is due. Our economic prosperity relies more and more on knowledge, ideas and execution. Protecting those from theft is paramount to future success.

"Bunch of little data collecting balls"

Louis CK answering questions on Reddit regarding his new live show:

Professionally, I’m learning right this minute, a HUGE amount with this web experiment. this live at the beacon thing (available at for 5 bucks) is like that thing in the movie “Twisiter” [sic] where they send a bunch of little data collecting balls up into a tornado and just download the lovely results. The whole things has been like that. From the moment it went online and i saw the result of every decision i made. the last question the web guys asked me before we posted was if I wanted the mail list button defaulted to “opt in” or “opt out” and i said start it at opt out. It’s such a tiny thing but I keep hearing about it from people. So so interesting to watch this grow.

Remember those data collecting balls that Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were trying to release into the funnel cloud in Twister? I love the idea of them as applied to the Internet. Every new project, website or app becomes another experiment that clarifies exactly what the hell the Internet is doing to everything it touches.

Lots of people say lots of things about this disruption, but it’s rare that we actually get one of the experiments in front of a giant f5 twister, so to speak. We don’t often get to see the data from those little sensors.

Louis' project along with others from bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are the leading edge of true disintermediation. Sorry to use a douche word, but it’s true. We are watching the future of media, culture and economics happen right in front of our eyes and we’ve got damn good seats.

Let's Ask

I've been reading a lot of criticisms of the traditional publishing industries efforts to shift business to the web. While I completely agree with everything that Brent and Rian have said, this particular part from "Pummeling Pages" got me thinking:

I worked on TapLynx for about two years, and this meant working closely with a variety of publishers. And most had these things in common:

  1. No money.
  2. No idea where the money's going to come from.
  3. An unswerving faith in the supreme value of analytics.
  4. A willingness to try anything as long as it's cheap or free and has analytics. Unless they're paranoid and afraid for their jobs, which they almost always are, given given #1 and #2.

I thought it might be interesting to get a reaction to posts like these from the people who actually work for the media companies being referenced. The publishers are portrayed as cash hungry, analytics driven drones. In reality, they are actual people doing their jobs.

I had a brief chat with Pat Maloney about this and he's going to put me in touch with some of the online editors at the Free Press. Hopefully it will make for some interesting conversation and a blog post worth reading.

Brent's Recipe

Following his excellent post on the awful techniques used by most online publications, Brent Simmons took the next step of telling us what he would do instead. Looks like a good recipe to me.

Almost of the above stuff is easy. Most of it is just avoiding stuff that’s stupid, but that lots of publications do. (And that make their jobs harder, for no gain.) The challenge belongs in one place: the quality of the writing. And that’s it.

It's amazing how valuable a post from a guy like Brent can be. He might feel like he's just collecting a bunch of really obvious stuff into one place, but a collection like this is extremely useful to many. If you're involved in producing content and putting it on the web, this list is priceless. Thanks Brent.

Business Strategy and Content

Melissa Rach, Contents Magazine (which you should be really excited about):

Today, content (particularly online content) has become such a critical part of business success that it can’t be ignored.  Businesses know they need content—badly—but have no idea what it’s worth or how to justify spending money on it. While technology keeps driving the need for more content and related services, economics and business theory are struggling to catch up.

Couldn't agree more. Too bad most executives haven't seen that memo yet.

I like the historical context that Melissa brings to the content discussion. Starting with business strategy really makes it clear how we got to where we are today vis a vis the lack of value that content and the web in general receive from those making decisions.

I also love that Melissa shared a reading list of books that help inform her column. I managed to track down a copy of Richard Whittington's What is Strategy and Does it Matter? at my local university library. $60 for a 170 page book from Amazon seemed a bit steep. Also, the 1 - 3 months shipping time kind of turned me off. I will share my thoughts on the book once I've read it.