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The Age of Consultative Content

September 16th, 2004 · No Comments

[via Veer] EContentmag has an interesting view on the shift that’s starting to happen in publishing:

Publishing used to be a fairly top-down affair; seasoned and expert editors enlightening readers about what was new, hip, and necessary to know. Publications served a kind of authoritative role. A few snail mail letters to the editor trickled in, and every so often the marketing department would run a poll to find outin the most general termswhat readers wanted in their magazine. But the Internet and email have permanently transformed that familiar relationship between readers and editors, creating a two-way feedback loop that works persistently and in real time. As a result, readers become more demanding; they expect their content to be more responsive, perhaps even to serve them in more specific, personal ways than any editor would have imagined a decade ago. The Internet has changed the terms of the reader/editor relationship, and at the outer edge of this trend are content providers that are starting to profit from recasting themselves as consultants rather than authorities.

To wit: Conde Nast’s new shopping magazine for men, Cargo, which includes buyer’s guides, reviews, and shopping tips and strategies. While Cargo and its Web complement Cargomag.com were launched by savvy Web veterans who wanted the site to be an integral piece in the editorial mix, even editor-in-chief Ariel Foxman was surprised at the level and kind of involvement readers sought. “We get an incredible volume of emails,” he says, “and they are very specific, asking for story topics and following up stories with questions.” Readers want to know where they can buy that nose hair trimmer or find an obscure designer cologne. And the editors rise to the occasion by hunting down answers and either responding directly or incorporating the info into a section of the magazine called, appropriately, Search Engine. “It’s turned into something much larger than a service magazine,” says Foxman, “It’s turned into a really vibrant interactive community.”
“For a magazine like Cargo, which bills itself as a buying guide, it is great to have these specific questions,” says Melissa O’Neil, online editor of Cargomag.com. “We can react to what they are looking for.” I would go further. This is a content provider morphing into a consultative service for readers, a highly responsive, on-demand system in which editors satisfy readers’ tastes and needs in near-real time. In some cases, it involves using this voluminous feedback to determine article topics, but it could also mean hunting down information and resources for individual requests. In this consultative model, editors regard readers as the expertsexperts about their own information needs, which editors must satisfy.

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