Podcast content portals -- more like strip malls

Go independent, and stay independent, and federate on terms that favor the content providers, not the mall owners. Go United Artists, down with MGM (circa 1938). Long live the micromedia companies, not those who wish to squeeze them in the name of getting attention.

I replied to a few blogs on PodTech's Robert Scoble's musings on the notion of "content malls." I'm not sure the current iteration of these "malls" will work very well. They are creating a cycle that promotes a mass audience approach to what will become decreasing quality of content, given the economics. The model may very well implode within 12 months.

This podcast portal thing has devolved into a hybrid approach between the page-view mass advertising model and the pure sponsorship of custom content model. My hunch is that the hybrid will not work as well as either model on its own. For the Scoble content mall model to work, the mall provider must insist on being the exclusive purveyor of the content.

But that runs counter to just about everything. In the bricks and mortar world, Crate & Barrel can put stores alone on Michigan Avenue -- or as part of the Mall in Burlington, Mass. They are not locked into one exit off of Route 128.

When any of us posts a story, analysis, podcast, or blog on the Web, anyone can link to it -- and many do more than that. It's not really very exclusive on the Web, except for the Wall Street Journal and some New York Times columnists. On the Web only the very best and rarest content is "exclusive."

Is there anything on PodTech or PodShow that attains such a lofty quality and brand stature that it warrants exclusive bidding? Will advertisers pay a premium, or the lowering common denominator, to reach through this stuff? Won't the best content simply go off and build a boutique and grow it into a store, sans mall, and keep all the revenue?

People, you makers of content gems, if you can afford -- and the costs have never been lower or the technology easier -- to build your own storefront on a busy byway then you won't need to rent a cubby hole in a mall at shakedown rates. If you are producing good content then the Web is your mall, not some VC-flushed directory cum platform experiment thinking they will re-invent media on a $4 million budget and then flip it before the thing implodes.

And to think that bloggers came up with this model? An exclusive content model is anathema to blogging, to the Cluetrain Manifesto, to the bazaar vs. cathedral. I'm pretty sure this is why Steve Gillmor is so unhappy doing Gillmor Gang at Podshow, and why that show may be history, at least at that venue. Steve should have gone indy after IT Conversations, no doubt. Learn from his mistake.

No, the real long-term model for rich content is the search model. Just as Google allowed us to search and find the best HTML content on any subject, this too will be the best model for podcasts, blogs, video-casts, and whatever the next generation of Web content may be. The rankings tools like attention and gestures may well improve, and they will be brought to bear on the automated collection of relevant content on any B2C or B2B search -- perhaps in the context of a purchase or just some research. Or just entertainment ala YouTube.

Producers, get a sponsorship for the content creation up front and make it valuable and accessible to interested audiences, even micro niches, who will find it as they need it -- that's the model. Forget the ads until the audience reaches a critical mass, and then sell ads against the niche if you must. Looking for ads first is backwards.

There's no need to go back to the past on content distribution. Malls are so 1970s -- when small, human-scale downtowns were hollowed out by pasture-sized malls in the suburbs along major highways. This is not the direction we want to go on Web-distributed content. We can stay people-scale on Web content without the equivalent of online malls. Automated rankings, aggregation and search -- that's how you want to distribute your great content -- and how you want to find it -- not through some carnival tent where the only value they add is a hawker out front yelling some blather (and taking a big cut before skipping town).

Go independent, and stay independent, and federate on terms that favor the content providers, not the mall owners. Go United Artists, down with MGM (circa 1938). Long live the micromedia companies, not those who wish to squeeze them in the name of getting attention.

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