Fred Wilson at ad:tech New York 2012
Who’s In Charge Here?
Upon hearing news that agency Ogilvy & Mather is prepping to name Lars Bastholm, an insider with digital chops, as the chief creative officer of its New York office, Ad Age asks: Is putting digital experts in the top creative spots the right thing?
I’m not an expert on ad agencies, but haven’t creative directors always needed to have a robust understanding of the media their messages use? Creativity can’t exist in a vacuum, right?
This question reminds me of one of the most (in)famous quotes from last week’s BookExpo America. Speaking on a panel of CEOs discussing the value of a book, Esther Newberg, executive VP of International Creative Management, remarked that one of the nice things about getting old was not having to worry about the resolution of all these arguments—you know, discussions about ebook value, royalties, digital editions, piracy. Shouldn’t those be the very issues that our leaders most aggressively tackle?
Publishing is often referred to as a sinking ship. If that ship is to be righted, we can’t afford to have disengaged people at the helm. As Kassia Kroszer wrote in her recap of the BEA panel, change must begin at home.
My answer to Ad Age’s question, then, is yes. The best leaders are creative thinkers who know their industry inside out—and in media and advertising, that means having serious digital chops.
The End of Search
Well, no, Google isn’t going anywhere. But something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how the primacy of Google search as a way of interacting with the web is changing. As the social web matures, we’re discovering and engaging with content that’s brought to us through friends on Facebook, or newsletters from ecommerce sites, or business colleagues on Twitter.
Talks I’ve heard in the past week have shared this spirit. Last week Fred Wilson spoke to the Publishing Point, a book industry group I co-organize, and I was blown away by how much of his web engagement was with crowd- or friend-curated content—boxee, WeAreHunted, etc. These “filters,” which give value and power to certain shares on the web and are absolutely central to what Fred discovers, shares—and buys. (Read my post on Fred’s talk here.)
Similarly, when Susan Lyne, CEO of sample sale site Gilt Group, spoke at MediaBistro Circus, she did so from a somewhat unique perspective: Gilt is by invitation only, so its entire site is hidden from Google. The business, however, is taking off, and one of the ways it’s doing so is by functioning as a filter. The sales are tightly curated by trusted Gilt staff, offering a narrow selection of designer goods. Gilt also takes the time—and expense—to take their own photographs of all the merchandise they sell, which unifies the look of the site and improves the shopping experience immeasurably. And they’ll soon let users select designers, styles, and sizes so Gilt can serve up customized emails to individual users. Putting this kind of curated, personalized content in front of users—who are never more than two clicks away from buying something—is incredibly powerful as a way of giving your brand real value in the eyes of your users: you become a trusted source of recommendations, which is an invaluable thing to be. (I loved hearing Susan speak and think Gilt is doing lots of things brilliantly—I’m working on another post to delve into it more deeply!)
These are just a few of endless examples—Tumblr, Polyvore, and MySpace (yes, there are still millions of users on MySpace—more than Twitter) are just a few more. Millions of users are spending the vast majority of their time online at places like these, not searching on Google. And even when the time comes to make a purchase, it’s often unnecessary to go through Google. It’s worth thinking about that when you evaluate how much time and money you should invest in SEO and SEM.
Fred Wilson on “Style, Design, and Voice: The Merging of Content With Technology”
Fred Wilson spoke to The Publishing Point yesterday about the intersection of content and technology. The talk was inspiring—full of interesting points and observations. Here are my key takeaways. (Debbie Stier also shared some on her blog.)
The media landscape is constantly changing: Yes, we already knew this, but Fred’s talk drove home just how true it is. He talked about social media he uses to discover new content (boxee, WeAreHunted) which I was only vaguely aware of, but which will undoubtedly grow in importance. Lesson? The time you spend reading about technology and innovation is time well spent. The future is here already, always.
Discovery beyond search: Social networks have radically changed the way we discover content. Fred noted that consuming content in a vacuum no longer feels natural to him (or anyone younger than he is)—they want to share it. But with so many people sharing so much online—300 million+ on Facebook alone—the value of the individual share has decreased. Enter filters, which give added value to select shares based on popularity and/or quality (like Twitter’s promoted tweets system). For instance, Fred’s favorite news source is Hacker News, curated entirely by users. Traditional curators—publishers!—take note.
Liquidity and protection: “People who want to steal your content will steal your content. DRM is a tax on your best customers.” So true. The way to avoid Napster syndrome? Be aggressive. License your content and get it out there legally. People are willing to pay for quality content—Fred’s a big fan of subscription models—but the creators need to get their content discovered and to show readers why they should value it. There’s no better way to start than to get your books—and your brand—out there.
Do it now: More than anything Fred’s talk reminded me of the need to act now. Publishers shouldn’t be afraid of technologists—as Fred said, they don’t know how to create good content. Publishers do. But when they refuse to participate fully in the social web, they hide that fact from, well, everyone. It’s time to focus on where publishers really add value in a digital, linked world and streamline the rest. I think there will always be a market for printed books—collectors, as Fred called them—but the focus of publishing should be on consumers (who no longer need to be collectors). We’re not and have never been a printing industry.
With the way we interact with content and each other changing rapidly—every.single.day—asking questions like “will the iPad save publishing?” is a waste of time. Publishers will save themselves by proving their value to readers. And there’s no app for that.
Were you there? Have thoughts? Let’s talk on Twitter.