Content is always changing shapes, morphing into something new. Long before there was the written word, people gathered to tell stories around campfires. Before there was a printing press, there were handwritten books. Then, of course, came ebooks. Now, our content comes to us through a dizzying array of devices and platforms. Smart creators are using the growing number of delivery options to continue to reshape content into new—and sometimes improved—forms. Small bits of content delivered through text, audio, and video address the shortening attention span of consumers, says Matt Babineau, VP of product marketing at Creatable. “In today’s digital landscape, consumers have an impressive lack of attention—just around 8.25 seconds,” he says. “This is forcing publishers and content managers to use technologies that captivate those consumers or to risk losing their audience.” Brief, real-time videos are one way of doing this, he says. “The barriers to entry have never been lower and, with emerging tech such as augmented or virtual reality, the opportunities to engage have never been greater.”
“We can expect to see publishers leveraging new mediums like AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality), AMP (accelerated mobile pages), interactive shopping environments, and the IoT (Internet of Things) to share content in the moment consumers are in need of information or goods and services,” says Hanna Fritzinger, head of marketing with VigLink.
But transforming content isn’t all about catering to short attention spans or glomming onto the latest trendy format. It requires that publishers think about content in a different way. Ultimately, they must take the kinds of content we’re all used to and find new, engaging ways to present them to customers. And there are plenty of companies already doing just that.
Take, for instance, Great Jones Street (GJS), a literary entertainment app that curates thousands of stories, allowing fans to read, listen to, or stream small bursts of fiction. But what really makes GJS stand out is its acquisition model. The website explains it best: “We’re unusual in that we don’t take unsolicited submissions. That said, if you can get a recommendation from one of our writers, you’re in. Your story is in, the price is set, and you will get paid and published within hours. No haggling. No fuss.”
In other words, the company is relying on word of mouth not only to find new customers, but to find new writers. Kelly Abbott, CEO of GJS, says, “so many influencers are not corporations or publishers, writ large. They’re just regular people doing fun things online.” Digital content, says Abbott, “is so easily transferred, the speed with which we can share has increased. We rely heavily on word of mouth that way and occasionally pay for it with revenue sharing opportunities.”
The Sidewalk app is taking the idea of walking tours to your smartphone and letting you customize them. It allows users to create guided “walk experiences,” says Jason Donahue, Sidewalk’s co-founder and CEO. “The stories about a place can be experienced on location, in the moment, and interactively, which makes the content more relevant and contextual,” he says. “The cannoli crawl in Boston suggests what to look for in a perfect pastry shell before you take a bite. The architecture walk of midtown New York depicts the rivalries between skyscraper architects so users can better appreciate the design of the Chrysler Building when they enter the lobby.”
Ebooks, revolutionary enough in their own time, are now relatively staid. But even they are getting a facelift to offer enhanced consumption experiences, as Alina Adams, a traditionally published author of figure skating novels, has discovered. “It always bothered me that I couldn’t show readers the skating routines I was describing,” she says. “With new technology, I can. My skating novels were re-released as enhanced ebooks. A partnership with Ice Theatre of New York gave me access to their library, and I was able to match performances to the text.”
Adams is also exploring a new means of writing her fiction. She’s writing her next romance novel on her website and inviting input and commentary from visitors. She tells her readers, “I am going to type the story as it comes to me—and you’ll get a chance to comment on it, also in real time.”
The world of fiction seems to be ripe with examples of digital innovation. Carmela Orsini, director of communications for Novel Effect, an app startup, says, “The company’s mobile app platform syncs theme music and sound effects as a children’s book is read aloud. The resulting experience perfectly blends the engagement of new technology with the beneficial activity of reading books to children.” The company has partnered with publishers such as Hachette to add the immersive storytelling experience to traditional print books, including new releases and old classics, she says. The technology can also be used with audiobooks, videos, AR/VR, gaming, and presentations.
Doing digital well, of course, isn’t necessarily easy. “Technology is not easy for publishers. It really isn’t,” Abbott says. “Even well-funded publishers fail at this all the time.” His recommendation to publishers who don’t have ready-made bench strength in digital media is to partner with others. “If you want to learn technology, you have to buy good teams if you’re hell-bent on doing it in-house or partner with the current winners in your space.” GJS has partnered with Medium, which provides GJS content to its audience. It allows Abbott to get content in front of a much larger audience than would otherwise have been possible. Such partnerships serve to deliver not only technology, but also the eyeballs and ears that content managers need.
Today’s publishers are faced with an interesting conundrum. Many have plenty of content to share and ongoing relationships with content creators to feed the pipeline. What they may not have, though, is critical mass in the digital environment. That’s particularly true of smaller publishers and those new to the online environment. Even larger, well-established publishers may be lacking an audience, says Abbott.
“Traditional content providers have no direct relationship with their consumer. They rely on their distributors to maintain that relationship,” he says. They’re vulnerable, he adds, to savvier digital players, just as their brick-and-mortar brethren have been. Forming alliances with others can help to deliver an audience quickly.