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The Future of Content

2010 August 29
by Greg Satell

They say that content is king, and they’re right, but what kind of content?  Who will produce it?  Can anyone make a decent living doing it?

These are important questions and simple answers are elusive.   However, it’s not exactly the riddle of the sphinx either.  Content has been evolving for centuries, even millennia, and, in truth, the underlying principles haven’t changed very much.

As technology improves, the variety, consumption and investment in content increase as well.  Therefore,the future of content, as we shall see, is very bright indeed.

Quality Content

Content quality is something that gets talked about quite a bit.  SEO specialists say it will improve inbound links.  Paywall advocates insist people will pay for it and editorial departments proclaim that only the anointed few are able to produce it.

Yet “quality” really is in the eye of the beholder. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Albert Camus were both accused of being hacks in own eras.  Dickens and Dostoyevsky were originally published in serialized, rather than book form (which explains the excessive length) and Kafka was more like what we would consider a blogger today than a real author.

However, a few things are clear.  Some content attracts significantly more engagement on social media, other content is read by a wide audience and some content people are willing to pay to subscribe to.  Perhaps most tellingly, branded content routinely commands 10-20 times the ad rates of social media sites.

So, while it’s hard to define “quality,”  you can be sure that it exists and that it matters.

Crowdsourced Content

Crowdsourced content is one thing that everybody can agree they love to hate.  There’s just something creepy about editorial algorithms guiding masses of fringe freelancers or outright amateurs who replace dedicated professionals that have a true passion for what they do.

However, most of the fear-mongering is entirely overdone.  As this excellent article about demand media shows, crowdsourced content doesn’t truly compete with more traditional fare.  The algorithms are designed to find under-served topics like “How to Grow Avacodo Trees,”  not looking to compete with established journalists.

What’s more, croudsourced content is helping to make producing quality content easier and more efficient.  What journalist doesn’t use Wikipedia?  Who hasn’t used royalty free services photo services like  iStock or used Dewolfe for background music.  If you haven’t, you probably should.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to do professional photo shoots or use professional composers, it just means that we often need something that’s just “good enough.” So perhaps the question about quality can best be answered in this way: If you can’t outperform crowdsourcing, then you’re not really quality.

Semantic Mashups

The idea of mashups probably started in music, where DJ’s blend two or more songs to create something new.  The technique has also become popular with videos on YouTube, mostly parodies of movie trailers (with varying quality).  However, mashups are becoming much more important than simply keeping fraternity boys amused.

Through the use of API’s, data and technology from different sites can be combined to create something new and useful.  For instance, this site combines Google information, Yahoo images and YouTube videos to create celebrity galleries, while this one tracks election results.  You can find an extensive list of mashups here.

The semantic web will take mashups to a new level.  As RDF and other technologies make the data that underlies web sites increasingly universal, information can be combined, analyzed and displayed as never before.  For a glimpse of what’s to come, take a look at this Hans Rosling Ted Talk.

Three Trends to Bet On

While the future is uncertain and, given the passions aroused, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, there are three truths that seem to be as close to eternal as we can hope for in the media world.

Stable Ad Spend to GDP Ratio: With all of the ups and downs in media statistics, there is one that is amazingly consistent: the ratio of ad spend to GDP in developed countries (it tends to rise in emerging markets).  As long as economies expand, you can be sure that there will be more money to finance content.

Media Fragmentation: Another constant is that over time we get more of everything.  Radio, for instance, which was presumed dead fairly early in the last century, has increased revenues in almost every year since.  In truth, the dominant trend is toward greater media diversity.

The Power of Creativity: For anybody who’s been fortunate enough to work with truly creative people, it’s hard not to be amazed by what they are able to come up with.  As I’ve written before, the core media mission is to inform, entertain and inspire.  There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of talented people who think up new and exciting ways to do that.

So the future of content is indeed bright.  If history is any guide, there will continue to be an abundant supply of able people willing to produce it, money to finance it and an increasing variety of platforms on which it can thrive.

And even blogs to talk about it..

– Greg

4 Responses leave one →
  1. September 2, 2010

    Hey Greg, When people tell me “content is king” I say “content is noble but cash is king” in the media business. Figuring out how to make money with good content is a creative art in its own right – it usually doesn’t sell itself.

  2. September 2, 2010


    To be honest, I’d have to disagree. While there is no doubt that a great sales person can make a substantial difference, I’d much rather have a great product. That’s why some licenses, like Cosmo or Men’s Health are basically a license to make money in every market, no matter who publishes them.

    – Greg

  3. September 4, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    I have to agree with you in re a great product. With a great product, the marketing and selling becomes a matter of presentation. The platform becomes platformS.

    I hope all is well in your home front! May you have a safe and wonderful labor day weekend.

    Best regards,


  4. September 6, 2010


    Nice to see you again! Have a nice holiday as well:-)

    – Greg

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