Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beware of geeks bearing gifts

Don't expect the geeks in your office to get much work done tomorrow.
Because Wednesday, Jan. 27, will be something akin to Christmas for geeks. For it is on that day that Apple will unveil their long-awaited, much-rumored ... something.
Most of the tech world expects the product Apple will unveil to be some sort of tablet-style computer, i.e., something sort-of, kind-of like a Kindle.
But better.
And cooler.
And as excited as I, a bit of a geek myself, may be about the arrival of the iSomething, I'm a little bit concerned about what it may mean for B2B publishing.

To understand why, let's look back at a bit of history.
In April 2007 I wrote a post in which I attempted to share my concerns about a pervasive and troublesome issue in B2B -- our industry's inability to respond to change.
In that post I said that " I expect someone will soon build an "iPod of reading" -- a new, portable device that changes how we read in the same revolutionary fashion that the iPod changed how we listen."
And I wrote that whatever the next big thing in media might turn out to be, in B2B "our next big problem is going to be our inability to respond to the next big thing."
Nearly two years earlier, in November 2005, I wrote a piece asking "How will we create/consume content in the future?"
In that post I wrote about my love of the Bloomberg terminal and my yearning for a user interface of the future that would ease both the consumption and the creation of journalism.

Now, it appears, the future is here.
It's possible, of course, that the iSomething will turn out to be iNothing. Or maybe the iJustaLittleDisappointing.
But given Apple's history with portable devices for consuming, communicating and creating, I'm expecting the iSomething could turn out to be the iChangesEverything.

But if you look around your newsroom today can you honestly say the people there are ready for something that changes everything?
Heck, how many of them are ready today for the stuff that changed everything a few years ago (mobile content, database reporting, multimedia production, Twitter, etc.)?

In other words, if the iSomething turns out to offer a better way to communicate and/or to create, I worry that only a tiny percentage of B2B editors have the skills to capitalize on that or have the mindset to find it exciting.
More troubling -- at least to me -- is that the iSomething may very well turn out to be nothing more (and nothing less) than a better way of consuming print-like material. That, in essence, is what the Kindle is. It takes print, with all of its limitations, and distributes it in a new, arguably superior, platform.
And there's nothing that worries me more than the illusion that the answer to B2B's many woes can be found by slapping print content on to a screen.
Even if it's the coolest screen ever.

Or, as Rich Maggiotto, chief executive officer of Zinio, said, "It’s one thing to shovel print content onto a screen. It’s another thing to think about how to reinvent your content for that medium. That’s the publisher’s responsibility."
And can you honestly say that your newsroom has the enthusiasm, the will, the interest or the budget for that in 2010?

2 comments:

  1. Paul,

    I'm a marketer, not a journalist. I'm anticipating a new category of devices that enable multimedia creation. Two years ago I was all about creating quality (useful and relevant) textual information as a solution to the rejection of promotional materials by B2B prospects. Today, the bar has been raised. People don't have time to read even quality content. The content must be delivered in convenient, easy to digest morsels. That means audio (voice over), video, graphics and a smattering of text. I think Apple has the best shot at pulling off a device that can consolidate those capabilities in an intuitive, easy to use package. I hope the iTablet is that device.

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  2. Though Paul is right about a lack of interest and ability on the part of many in B2B trade media to take on these new developments, I think the key word behind B2B's inability is budget. When you look at what these new devices will enable, I see it requiring far more resources than most B2B properties have had in years. Ironically, these new platforms are probably better suited to B2B than most commercial media (due to B2B's often educational/tutorial nature), which could mean a whole new era for B2B. But from the outset, it looks like it will require quite a bit of funding to create the compelling video/audio and text resources at a high level of frequency.

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