Content is a service, not a product

A couple of days ago, an intriguing tweet taught me a lesson about content – and the search for its source taught me another lesson about the benefits of twitter. It all started with this:

Content is a service, not a product. For consumers, less a thing they buy, more an experience.

This tweet by Scott Abel on Feb 23, 2010 made sense to me immediately. That day, I wondered how much content I had actually produced, compared to serving existing content to people who need it: I had converted a legacy document to a new template. A colleague had needed a use case which I told him could be found in the release notes. And some existing documentation needed to be made available in a new channel. So my readers needed me to supply content, not to create more of it.

Then I noticed Scott’s tweet RT’ed a less telegraphic tweet by Aptara from Feb 17, 2010. Attached to it was a link…

… which led to a blog post by NewFiction.com from Feb 9, 2010 that ended in a link to its source…

… which was an article by Kevin Keller in Business Week from Feb 7, 2010, “What Murdoch Still Doesn’t Get About the Internet”: Content isn’t a product anymore, it’s a service. Because for consumers, content is less and less a thing they buy and more a thing they experience. It turns out the sentence paraphrased and quoted…

… a blog post by Andrew Savikas from July 13, 2009, “Content is a Service Business”: … what you’re selling as an artist (or an author, or a publisher for that matter) is not content. What you sell is providing something that the customer/reader/fan wants. … media companies are in the service business, not the content business. An update at the end of the post mentioned…

… a talk by Jim Lichtenberg at O’Reilly’s TOC conference on Feb 8, 2008: Book publishing is moving from bringing physical commodities to market, to offering services that delivers content in a variety of modalities based on consumer choice. Jim mentioned as his inspiration…

… the seminal article by Tim O’Reilly, “Publishing Models for Internet Commerce” from June 19, 1995: The actual content is valuable–but far more valuable [in publishing] is the relationship with the people…

I had read O’Reilly’s article years ago, but I couldn’t remember that point as clearly as Scott Abel made it. The phrasing is, of course, different, but most likely, the timing or the context wasn’t right either.

Then I noticed how the very idea proved itself: Here was content that was available and essentially known to me, like the unused coffee-maker at the back of my pantry. But it took Scott’s service to make it valuable as a new and fresh insight that summed up my experiences of that day.

Certainly, Scott didn’t plan to teach me a lesson with his tweet. But the scattershot distribution is part of twitter’s design and success, so my insight is not an isolated accident, but intended. In my case, twitter was effective because the tweet was applicable and good, not because it was a new idea.

What do you value more in twitter and blogs: What’s fast and new or what fits for you?

And, to come full circle, what’s your experience: Do you feel like you create or curate content?

P.S. To read more about good vs. new, check out Scott Berkun’s first article for Business Week, “Good beats innovative nearly every time“.

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6 Responses

  1. Hi Kai,

    The paradox is that, regardless of whether it’s a service or product, you still have to pay for it.

    <Content is a service, not a product. For consumers, less a thing they buy, more an experience.

    Not all of it, of course.

    But you have to pay for BusinessWeek, Wired and O’Reilly’s book. Granted on the web, they’re free (lets discount the ads) but this is more to do with economics of scale & market forces. Offline, they still charge.

    I read Free last year – great read – by Chris Anderson also at Wired and it was ironic that the book the evangelized free was so expensive for me to buy.

    If I look into my crystal ball… I think more A list bloggers like Seth Godin will start private, fee-paying sites and monetize it that way.

  2. A great concept. I think your long journey to (one) origin of the concept in O’Reilly’s work raises another point about (certain kinds of) content: it’s not just a product, nor a service, but almost a interconnected process of re/creation and re/discovery. Interesting stuff. The best content, perhaps, is the content that leads to all these connections rather than standing alone and apart.

    • Kerry, you’re spot on: “Re/creation” and “re/discovery” is exactly what I was getting at! Thanks for putting it in a nutshell.

      Maybe content curators have different tasks, and all of them taken together make our network thrive: In this case, Scott perpetuates and disseminates the idea. I connect the dots. And you synthesize and categorize them.

  3. [...] call this kind of approach to technical documentation content as a service (see also Kai Weber). Peavey views its user guides not merely as a product—some inanimate thing to be implemented or [...]

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