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What Is ‘Content First’ and Is It the Way Forward?

The following was published by What's New in Publishing on Sept. 15, 2016.

As magazine publishing evolves, a key challenge for publishers is to select the right workflows and processes that not only solve current challenges but can adapt sufficiently to further disruption (as well as seize the opportunities this presents). Sounds good in theory but how does it work in practice?

At the outset it’s best to clear up what I mean by the phrase ‘content first’. It could also be termed ‘platform agnostic’ or whatever words there are to describe the publishing model whereby content is at the epicentre and independent of the various outputs. Once this content is created, only then does its distribution become a focus.

That’s not to say that distribution isn’t vitally important – it is. But getting the balance right between content and distribution poses a considerable challenge.

On the one hand, publishers need to be where their audiences are, on the other they also have to maintain a successful print product and accompanying digital portfolio (responsive website, native mobile app, YouTube channel, Instagram, Facebook page, Facebook Instant Articles etc).

The question then becomes one of efficiency – how do you create content and distribute it across multiple channels in a way that doesn’t exert a drag on resources, allows timely synchronised distribution whilst also retaining control over the content (especially with regards to copyright protection and legalities)? Additionally, how do you tailor content for each output in a way that adds value to the reader experience whilst also maintaining efficiencies?

Overall, it’s a huge pain point. Publishers everywhere are struggling with how to stay ahead of the explosion of devices, platforms and formats over the past 5 years. From print to mobile, social to web, readers want their content to live in whichever formats are right for them and not the other way around.

It’s not helped by new methods of content distribution evolving at an ever increasing rate. Microsoft’s recent purchase of LinkedIn is a case in point. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the acquisition could lead to experiences like “a LinkedIn newsfeed that serves up articles based on the project you are working on [in Microsoft Office]”. With Office boasting 1.2 billion users, publishers can expect LinkedIn’s reach to look very different by 2020.

So what’s the answer?

First, let’s get the bad news out the way – there is no perfect answer, and neither is there a perfect solution. Each publisher is unique not just in terms of content but also in terms of how and where they distribute that content.

Secondly, even if there was a perfect solution it would still carry a question mark. Publishing is far too dynamic and changing at such a pace that any fixed answer would quickly become obsolete. Any solution geared to the needs of 21st Century publishing has to be under continual iteration.

Thirdly, if you’re planning for mobile first you’re already too late – you now need to plan for ‘API first’. Sooner rather than later, you’ll also need to plan for VR and UI-less devices, for example Amazon Echo which is a hands-free speaker controlled by your voice.

It’s therefore critical to find a vendor that has an underlying technology that can adapt to an unpredictable future.

It also becomes a matter of asking the right questions. At censhare the primary question we ask is this: “How, where and when are you going to re-use your content?”

As a leading publishing workflow solution used by some of the world’s biggest media companies, we know this question is essential. It ensures that rather than shoehorning a square peg into a round hole, we can approach the problem from a different angle.

We also need to know the key benefits and business drivers behind any content distribution strategy. What are the revenue channels, performance goals and KPI’s that form part of your ultimate objective? This is important to ensure that both the content distribution plan and business strategy are perfectly aligned, especially with regards to monetisation.

Once we’ve established these criteria, it’s then possible to design a creation, editing and workflow strategy that embraces every single content touchpoint across print, web, social and apps – all from within a single system that can automate much of the process. The key at all times is to remain flexible. One size doesn’t fit all.

Another vital lesson we’ve learnt from helping media publishers like Hearst and Bauer transition their publishing models is this: staff have to buy-in to the process.

This needs to come from the very top downwards in order for editors and journalists to gain confidence in the entire strategy. Despite the complexity, the technology is the easy part but will fail if it’s not at the very forefront of any digitization project.

This is particularly important because a create once, publish everywhere strategy demands that editorial staff transition from using Microsoft Word and email to a structured content creation process that allows seamless multi-channel publishing.

This avoids a cut and paste or someone else will fix it mentality and ensures a strong connection between the various digital and print channels with just the right amount of automation.

Indeed, the ability to automatically convert InCopy and XML content into other formats is at the heart of our solution and empowers a content first strategy across all channels and audience touch points.

The end result is nothing short of a publishing revolution. No longer are editors and content managers at the mercy of print vs digital, crushed by the requirements of ever expanding publishing distribution channels. Neither are publishers victims of the inefficient re-purposing of content as they struggle to keep up with their audiences.

The end result is simply: Create once, publish everywhere