Explosion in the Content Factory: Fragmentation Shakes the Foundations of Publishing

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No Shard Left Untagged
Media fragmentation challenges every stage of the traditional publishing workflow. "Most people are still struggling with it," says Frappaolo. "It represents a radical change to the way individuals approach this application." Authors must anticipate how story arcs won't survive slicing and dicing of paragraphs, and now the article abstract must be immediately apparent. For editors, a simple "see picture below" reference no longer works when copy and images get parsed and reassembled in unpredictable ways. Publishers must create rules for versioning of content, for how the shards of a database come together as a different online catalog for every viewer. When and where can bits of a drug description appear with a pharmaceutical company's syndication partners, for instance? Content is as much for search engine robots to detect as it is for people to read. "Now you need to write in a way that can be easily found," Randy Marcinko, CEO of MEI, tells his consultancy's clients.

Unifying silos of content into a flexible XML database is de rigeur for most publishers, but bleeding edge aggregators like Factiva already foresee content being parsed and reassembled in ways they can't yet anticipate. "It's very highly structured," says Alterman, "with metadata describing subjects, companies, languages, headlines, datelines, publisher names, sections, page numbers, lead sentences, and paragraphs." Future-proofing content entails mincing the data to the finest grain. For publishers in areas like pharmaceuticals, every drug description graph must come tagged with rules for how it can and can't be lifted and used in different cases, says Frappaolo. And on the back end, aggregators must ensure both security and tracking on every piece. "User authentication information is more robust than headlines and stories," says Goldstein.

Dispersing content to portals, RSS, and search, also pulls readers in to you from many directions. Fundamental web design concepts like the importance of a home page are disintegrating. One of the world's largest B2B magazine publishers, Prism Business Media, will re-launch all of its sites in the coming year. "And they have been focused on making all article pages more like landing pages," says Prescott Shibles, VP of new media. Side doors are the new front doors, and that changes both editorial and design. "I get our editors thinking about how they would present an article if that was the first thing visitors saw," he says. Every piece of content, every page, must communicate the full value of the brand now.

Content Fragments, Organizations Consolidate
Infrastructure reorganization seems to be the most immediate effect of media fragmentation, but everyone is coming up with different answers. For ALM, which provides legal case databases, newspapers, and magazines, pouring information to so many new venues required a total rethink of the company. "Our desires and our reach are a little beyond our technology, so we are playing a game of catch-up on the infrastructure side." says Berkowitz. "There are many publishers that are in exactly the same boat."

Newspapers, books, magazines, and case databases have traditionally been in different units. In order for the content to flow across sites, devices, feeds, etc., however, ALM has determined that both the database and the business information silos need to be merged. What was structured by platforms is now consolidated by data types, so Berkowitz and a colleague now oversee the "legal information" for all platforms. "It's a big step for us. This company used to be nothing but silos," he says. "Now it works as if all content belonged to everybody. Every business relates to one another."

While these days no one believes in running discrete newsrooms for different platforms, most trade publishers are exploring "hybrid" models for content and technology. Much of the technology and database can be centralized. But many business publishers struggle over how much of their content creation should be consolidated into digital "hubs" or portals. They fear over-centralization distances editorial and sales staffs from the niche markets they serve. "It is not straightforward to have one newsroom to produce it all in one way," says Alterman.

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