Wednesday, December 6, 2006

ContentNext Mixer: Finding the Right Mix of Hipness and Sanity

The venue for ContentNext's mixer in NYC last night was far from ideal, but it provided an interesting metaphor for this dance between all of the various factions of Content Nation. A night club with velvet ropes and a bouncer outside and disco lights on the inside is just fine for the younger set of Content Nation, but it wasn't very conducive to the group of more grey attendees gracing the event (good luck reading name tags). At the same time, though, people like Dow Jones EVP L. Gordon Crovitz marveled at the confluence of these different tribes into a single group with a perceived common purpose through publications such as that span the merging worlds of old and new media. It's good to have a new "there" there but no one seems to be particularly comfortable with its shape just yet: the "there" is more like an airport waiting lounge filled with transients than a cushy destination.

Gordon's stand-up interview at the mixer with publisher Rafat Ali heralded the Wall Street Journal's forthcoming new print edition, which was a somewhat odd focus for the electronic-oriented crowd, but Gordon emphasized the key point: online usage is driving up print usage, with a ten percent increase in print subscriptions powered by online-only conversions. As younger Content Nation denizens put on their business suits they're accessorizing with the appropriate print content fashions. Crovitz shook off some tugs from Rafat to reveal any radical re-launch of WSJ's online properties, instead emphasizing their continuing efforts to listen to customers and to tune the existing site to meet their needs with a broader array of ad-supported content and more analytical journalism. But Crovitz did lay a little groundwork for the WSJ Online's reworking of its online stocks information service, intimating that it would have a broader appeal: perhaps a little more direct competition with Yahoo! Finance is in the wings.

Rafat gave up on the interview with Gordon after a relatively short while due to the noise levels - the format needs some help, either it's a free-for-all mixer or it's not - so there were a lot of interesting questions left unasked, unfortunately. Like: as more newspaper corporate headquarters get converted into trendy condos what's the real future of ad-supported and subscription mainstream media? WSJ's answer seems to be to keep focused on your users and don't be afraid to claim the value that you offer them. A good an answer as any, I suppose, but as content accessories shift from print platforms to all-electronic platforms it's not clear that venues such as WSJ or any other mainstream media outlet, no matter how well focused, are prepared to play the broader editorial role that many of today's leading content consumers demand.

There's a lot of well-earned pride that goes into the editorial operations of papers like the Wall Street Journal: are they ready to become like the Rafats and the Robin Goods of the world and to take high-quality content under their wing from whatever source presents itself? With so much emphasis on "our" content in traditional publishing houses there are going to be lots of missed opportunities to take a client-centric focus to the next level and to assemble whatever it takes to keep their audiences informed and entertained. If Content Nation can rub elbows over cheese and drinks in a disco, what will it take to get them to do the same online in a wider array of venues? I guess there's a good reason right there to give the next ContentNext mixer a try.
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