A manifesto for 'smart content' in publishing

A manifesto for 'smart content' in publishing

"Smart content," writes Ixxus' Steve Odart, "knows what it is, where and how it has been used, and where and how else it could be used." And in his manifesto, he tells us that publishers must "become very smart about how we get and hold attention." But, in an echo of Brian O'Leary's pivotal presentation, "Context First: A Unified Field Theory of Publishing," at Tools of Change in February 2011, Odart finds that "there's still a very strong product-centric mindset to the way that most publishers work."  In his manifesto, he calls on publishers "to change the inherent DNA of the organization in a way that puts content at its core." — Porter Anderson  


Publishing as we know it is dead

That's speaking from a traditional point of view. No longer do consumers need to be spoon-fed what books to read and content to consume; even my mother can go on Amazon on any device, without any training, and do all of her Christmas shopping in way that’s fast, intuitive, and tailored exactly to her needs.

Publishers – and indeed any organizations working with content – have suddenly had to become very smart about how we get and hold attention. There’s no one-size fits all: I might wish to consume information from a (frankly archaic) desktop computer, whereas my son has very different preferences. As a publisher, if you’re not able to provide your content to the consumer in the way that they wish to consume it – bearing in mind that that way may not even remain static for one individual consumer accessing across multiple devices – then you’re in a lot of trouble.

So we need to think smart about our content. Things are beginning to change, but there’s still a very strong product-centric print mindset to the way that most publishers work. That means that all the way through the content lifecycle – from authoring, to editorial, to production – in the back of their minds, they are still thinking throughout about the product that that content is destined to go into. That content’s fate has already been decided by them; they’ve imprisoned it before even setting it free into the world.

To release that content into the wild

We need to go back to where content is being created. We need to change the inherent DNA of the organization in a way that puts content at its core.

"Smart content" is granular content that can exist in its own right. You don’t know where that one piece of content is going to end up, because you don’t know where you’ll be in a month; 6 months; a year down the road. So how do you make that piece of agnostic content work for you?

For starters, your content needs to be enriched with all of its relevant information as metadata: that could be the rights associated with it, the context in which that content is being used in a particular product or initiative, how many times it has been used across all products and initiatives. Equally, you need to build semantic links between your content, in a way that maximizes its value at the point of consumption: for instance, including other ‘suggested content’ alongside, opening up research as data APIs, or creating digital products that can be constantly curated and updated automatically to evolve over time.  

Just being able to search for content is no longer enough

You need to be able to facilitate accurate, useful discovery of content. That means proactively highlighting and surfacing potential relevant content – giving your users things they didn’t realise they were looking for. This can be an end-consumer searching for information, but equally it has massive applications for someone authoring within their content terminal. Related content can begin suggesting itself to them from across the entirety of the organization’s content environment or product store, making it easier to author and build new products, vastly increasing efficiency and enabling true content reuse.

‘Smart content’ – content which knows what it is, where and how it has been used, and where and how else it could be used – is content loaded with potential, and unlocking this value is what will give publishers the flexibility, the adaptability and the agility to remain competitive in an ever-changing market.


We're interested in having your "Five-Minute Manifesto" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article, Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones renews his call for the FutureBook audience to reflect on five years of digital "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response is so robust that I've extended our deadline for submissions of manifestos to Monday (7th September). See below for details and a list of those published to date. Your statement, preferably no more than 500 words, should be sent to Porter.Anderson@theBookseller.com. Please send along a headshot and short bio, as well.

And mark your diary for The FutureBook Conference, 4th December, The Mermaid, London. More details are coming Tuesday 8th September.

#FutureBook15 manifestos:

Main image - iStockphoto: Serknor