Q&A With New York Times Meredith Kopit Levien on Native Advertising Launch

Meredith_Kopit_Levien_NYTimes

All prognostications for 2014 (including my own) point to native advertising as A Big Thing to watch this year – and it is. The FTC’s December workshop thrust native into the spotlight, but nothing has amplified the fact that native advertising has arrived more than the New York Times launch of Paid Posts, its native product that launched this week with Dell as the first advertiser.

Late as the Grey Lady may be to the party (virtually all other members of the Online Publishers Association already have some form of native advertising on offer), the Times is the Times; a standard bearer in media, publishing and journalistic best practices.

Native advertising has been both delayed and controversial at the newspaper of record. Executive Editor Jill Abramson has expressed strong reservations. Publisher and Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. very recently distributed a native advertising “manifesto” to staff.

So with the new product finally launched, I caught up with the Times’ EVP Advertising Meredith Kopit Levien to pose some questions about native advertising at the Times. Most are based around the best practice recommendations in my recent research on the topic of native advertising (download available here).

Q: Native advertising is highly labor intensive and requires “feeding the beast” with content. Your first advertiser, Dell, is led by Managing Editor Stephanie Losee, who has  a very strong editorial background. Will the Times have difficulties finding other clients up to this challenge?

Levien: We see a lot of clients who have developed their own newsrooms or who have always-on content strategies. Social media gave everybody the opportunity to be a publisher. The amount of maturity in the marketing is growing. There are a whole lot of marketers who have an always-on content strategy. Using that in conjunction with the Times’ content division is how we’ll produce content. Intel [another enterprise with a very mature content organization] and a handful of others will launch this quarter.

Q: What formal policies does the TImes have in places around church/state divisions? 

Levien: We’ll establish more over time. The brightest, clearest, most important is the newsroom is the newsroom. It does not touch [Paid Posts]. That will not change. That’s an important separation to keep. The others fall out from that. Also, Paid Posts carry a label and full disclosure.

Q: The Times is hiring freelancers to write Paid Post content. Can these same freelancers also write for the editorial sections of the paper?

Levien: That’s an evolving discussion.

 Q: Dell’s commitment is three months. What about other advertisers’ commitments? And given this is a premium product, will you limit how many advertisers can run Paid Posts at any given time?

Levien: We are establishing minimums. We don’t want to do this as a one-off. We also require that all content be original, not repurposed for the Times.  We’re not in any danger of the consumer thinking there’s too much of this on the site.

Q: If advertisers can’t bring their own content in, can they get your content to-go, so to say?

Levien: Once we co-produce the piece, the marketer can do with that what they want – the marketer has ownership. That’s the to-go model: using our content for their purposes.

Q: What metrics is the New York Times tracking to gauge the success of this program?

Levien: We are using an incredible vendor named SimpleReach. They have built a custom metrics dashboard. They give a marketer the same metrics the newsroom uses: pages, views, etc., also social referrals. How much traction is the content getting compared to editorial content? Secondly, is it trending on the social web, and if it is, what can we do to amplify it?

Q: Many publishers offering native advertising solutions, like Hearst and Buzzfeed, are offering training and educational programs to advertisers and agencies. Will the New York Times follow suit?

Levien:  Certainly in the early months we’re going to do collaborative education with the partners we bring on. It’s not out of the question we wouldn’t turn that into a program.  We have a  lot of knowledge about how content moves through our platform.

Q: There’s a great deal of role confusion when it comes to native advertising. Brands, their advertising agencies, PR agencies – everyone is jostling for position in this space. Who do you anticipate you going to work with?

Levien: There is  much more transition that will happen between paid owned and earned media. We’re mostly working with the brands, but there’s a huge role for the ad agencies and the PR agencies. Lots of brands have agencies who are helping to add to their content capabilities. We’ve tried to organize in a way that’s friendly to an agency buying.

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Content: Why Influence Matters

Do name-brand journalists still require the backing of name-brand media outlets?

Recent headlines strongly indicate that the byline is being rapidly decoupled from the masthead. Glenn Greenwald left The Guardian to start his own media venture, backed by

Influencers_Altimeter

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Technology veteran Walt Mossberg, together with the redoubtable Kara Swisher, are walking out of the Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal door, taking the AllThingsD team with them. David Pogue abandoned the venerable New York Times for (of all possible media properties) Yahoo. And, most recently, Rick Berke is to leave the New York Times for Politico.

The quality these journalists have in common is a degree of brand value so high that it can be decoupled from the media property that launched and/or fostered it (and leveraged to support other endeavors). These are journalists who have become true influencers.

Influencers are influential individuals with an above-average impact on (some niche within) society. An influencer can be anyone from an international pop celebrity like Justin Bieber to a niche industry celebrity like Danny Sullivan.

Leveraging Niche Industry Influencers

A prime example of a niche industry influencer is Duncan Epping, a VMware engineer and blogger who’s mobbed by autograph seekers whenever he appears at an event. You’ve likely never heard of Epping, and you’re not alone — I hadn’t either, until I learned about him from John Troyer, VMware’s social media evangelist.

Troyer heads up the company’s vExpert program, which he describes as such:

Basically, [it's] our content army. The vExperts are not all bloggers, but we do pull their posts together here. My goal is to have the first two pages on Google filled with their content when you search for VMware. But it can’t be all about us — it’s also about what’s in it for them. We give them free licenses for our software. We just granted 35 free tickets for our conference in Barcelona. We hire them to work on a freelance basis for us and for our agencies.

VMware’s investment in the vExperts program has paid off handsomely in terms of content marketing. The company has built an invaluable resource — a respected community of experts producing excellent content — that keeps on growing. This year, VMware anointed 581 vExperts to the five-year-old program. (Each year, there’s a formal application process; applicants get in based on their knowledge and contributions to the community.)

Influencers: Turning Owned Media To Earned Media

Leveraging influencers — be they journalists, bloggers, or subject-matter experts – can be an essential cornerstone of content strategy. Content is owned media which, by my definition, does not entail a media buy (i.e., it’s not advertising). However, just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come — at least, not without some degree of traction. Influencers can, in this regard, be a solid replacement for a media buy.

Consider this case study from an enterprise technology company. Twenty-four influencers were commissioned to create content around themes related to the brand’s products and initiatives. In total, 128 blog posts, infographics, videos and images were produced and shared on the influencers’ channels and promoted (with disclosure) across their social networks.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published.

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Going Native

Native advertising.

Everyone’s talking about it, but what is it, exactly? It has something to do with ads that don’t look like ads, but rather provide a degree of value in terms of being content. In that sense, native advertising is certainly a form of converged media as it combines paid media (advertising) with owned media (content) – often with the goal of generating earned media (social interaction, UGC, etc.).

Yet brands have been paying publishers to run their own content since forever. Does that mean “native advertising” simply a neologism for what we used to call advertorial? Or branded content? Maybe it’s sponsored content?

If native advertising somehow differs from older models of advertorial, sponsored or branded content, where are the lines drawn? Does “native” necessitate some sort of technological framework to carry and/or distribute the content in question (à la products offered by The New York Times, or tech start-ups such as OneSpot or inPowered)? Does it mean a publisher’s in-house agency (think Buzzfeed, Gawker Media) was commissioned to come up with the creative?

Bottom line: The term “native advertising” raises more questions than it does answers.

The value proposition of native advertising is, however, clear in a digital environment of banner blindness and plunging clickthrough rates. Pre-roll ads are skipped or ignored, email subscriber rates are eroding. Given any kind of choice, consumers are saying a clear “no” to interruptive advertising.

Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing – a pull strategy – and plain, old fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the “advertising” part) is a fashion that’s “native,” i.e. organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, utility, for example).

Native advertising’s promise, therefore, is better performing ads – but only if metrics are defined that are “native” to “native.” DM goals likely don’t apply in this case. Highly customized ad solutions mean more revenue for publishers (and boy, can they use it now). Also, deeper creative engagements for agencies, and hopefully, a better user experience for consumers.

The fly in the ointment is that without a real definition of native advertising, it means anything you want it to mean. Or anything whoever’s trying to sell it to you wants it to mean. Confusion in the marketplace is not a good thing (though it can benefit certain constituents).

This is why, as a research analyst, my next project will be to define native advertising, as well as to map the landscape of products and technologies related to the practice. (I’m also part of an IAB taskforce that will work to define the term – it’s therefore important to note the research will be my own work, not that of a committee.)

As this project is just kicking off, I’d love to invite your input. What do you believe native advertising is? Isn’t? What are the important companies in the space? Please let me know, either via email or in the comments section.

I’ll report back soon. Watch this space!

A version of this post originally published on iMedia Connection

Image creditwww.bydewey.com

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Media Model Threats: The New York Times vs. Grand Central Terminal

4:15:13 4:36 PM

Recycling Bin, Grand Central Terminal

Digital is hardly the only disruption threatening media business models. So too is…reclycling?

Recently I was privileged to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, which this year is celebrating its centenary. In addition to many rare and privileged experiences (Deep in the basement, New York’s oldest computer dating from 1911! Popping open the VI of the famed Tiffany clock and sticking my head out over Park Avenue!), our scarily knowledgeable guide shared an interesting fact about the threat to print publishing posed by the paper recyling bins installed in the terminal in 1990.

On Day One of the recycling program, the new bins collected an astonishing five tons of (mostly) newspapers discarded by commuters, making it America’s largest recycling plant overnight. However the program had done its homework, and knew six tons of paper waste passed through the station daily. So where was the missing ton of newsprint?

Left on the trains? No, they looked. Thrown out with the regular trash? Not there, either. Closer scrutiny was called for, and the case was soon cracked. Commuters (including many affluent ones sporting mink coats and Armani suits, noted our guide) were fishing papers out of the newly installed recycling bins to “recycle” the papers themselves. The terminal, noting a trend, issued a press release. The story was covered on the evening news.

The next morning, the phones at Grand Central Terminal were ringing off the hook. The New York Times was enraged to learn that terminal’s recycling program was undercutting newsstand sales.

The result? Since 2001, the Times has been paying a pretty penny for a contract that reportedly lasts into perpetuity to maintain the on site recycling bins — bins that are taller and deeper than any commuter could ever hope to snag a discarded paper out of.

Problem Solved?

Perhaps the Times has gained newsstand sales as a result of this measure, but it’s one that calls into question the nature of the newspaper and magazine business. Does the Times want to sell news – or papers? The two are no longer intrinsically bound. Digital-only subscriptions are an increasingly important part of the Grey Lady’s revenue model.

But not important enough. So long as publishing – and ad rates – are dictated by outmoded print circulation numbers, publishers will push papers harder than they will content.

Case in point: After acquiring an iPad, I phoned the New Yorker to request my longstanding subscription be switched to digital only. Heck, I travel too much to even collect the snail mail edition from the mailbox.

Condé Nast was more than happy to comply, a rep informed me. All I had to do to secure a digital-only subscription to the magazine was agree to pay double – double – the annual subscription rate for the print/digital bundle.

Recycling indeed.

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First Media Disruption of the Year: Samsung + AP + Twitter

sponsored samsung tweetsEven when you know what’s coming, you never know exactly what’s coming.

Paid, owned and earned media are converging, sure. As a result, workflow and roles are changing radically. But even when you’ve been watching this space microscopically for many months, the next manifestation to come down the pike is almost always a surprise.

The first surprise of this year is a stunning example of how quickly media convergence is moving, and how rapidly roles and workflow are changing. Last week, during CES, Samsung paid the Associated Press to run sponsored tweets in the AP’s Twitter feed.

And the “media buy” was brokered not by a media buying (advertising/paid media) agency, but by Edelman, Samsung’s PR agency (earned media – or make that paid/earned media?).

[Disclosure: Edelman is a client of my employer, Altimeter Group]

By definition, PR agencies don’t buy media, right? Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking with the New York Times about Ricochet. Many of the initial campaign results are truly impressive, but since the product involves “buying” New York Times content (not just ad units), the market is confused. Media buyers are calling it a PR product. PR is saying if it’s a buy, then it’s a media buy.

Digital silos, a new twist on that classic waiter’s line, “Sorry, but this isn’t my table.”

Disruption Across the Board

A PR agency functioning as media buyer isn’t the only radical shift in this bold experiment. For as long as there’s been publishing, it’s been pretty much the rule that the publisher sells advertising on his own media property. Now, while Twitter can arguably be defined as owned media because AP controls what’s on their feed, with this campaign they are selling sponsorships on Twitter – and Twitter doesn’t get a cut of the revenue.

Precedent? And how. As Carree Syrek of Kinetic-Social put it to Adweek, “What if Target or Walmart want to start charging CPGs like Procter & Gamble for Foursquare ads? Will the social media platforms allow brands to leverage those properties twice without having to [pay]? Will they let them essentially double dip?”

Twitter’s letting this one go, for now, despite the fact it pulls a U-turn around Twitter’s own ad product. All parties were quick to point out the sponsored tweets weren’t automated and otherwise complied with Twitter’s sponsored tweet guidelines.

Pushback? Some, which is to be expected. Criticism came both from users (a handful) and a few media observers, who worried the move blurred the lines between breaking news and pay-to-play content.

But very much to Samsung’s credit, the sponsored tweets, limited to a very modest two per day for the five-day duration of CES (so 10 tweets in total) were very clearly marked “SPONSORED TWEET.”

Edelman’s EVP/Global Strategy and Insights Steve Rubel has blogged articulately about how his firm reached the bold decision to venture into paid media, where few, if any, PR firms have gone before. The post is worth a read.

Steve and I carried on a conversation (on Twitter, over DM of course) about the campaign. No word from him on the specific goals of the undertaking, the applied metrics or results (in his defense, it was ongoing when I asked).

Like him, I believe this type of campaign is a glimpse into the future in which brands partner with the media companies they formerly ‘just’ advertised with. There are opportunities for native advertising, curation, sponsorship, creation and more.

Is there a revenue model behind this that can sustain media companies, particularly as their traditional ad revenues continue to erode? That’s the question.

In the meantime, it’s important to note Samsung’s sponsored tweets in AP’s Twitter feed very thoroughly satisfied one campaign goal that’s very squarely in Edelman’s wheelhouse: it drove a ton of (earned) media coverage.

This post first published as a column on iMedia

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Why the Future of Mobile Advertising is Native Advertising

reading-mobile-deviceOne reason it’s so hard to pin down mobile advertising is due to the fact that “mobile” is quite possibly the most imprecise term there is when it comes to adverting and media. Tablet? Yes. Phone? Indeed. E-reader? Laptop? Phablet? Sure. Also, that must-have thing that’s coming down the pike next.

The sizes, functions and purposes of a multiplicity of mobile devices vary greatly, meaning there literally cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to mobile advertising. However is there is one universal truth about mobile, that will hold as true in the future as it does today, it’s that real estate is limited on mobile screens – much more so than on other digital devices. And that’s what’s limiting mobile advertising.

Mary Meeker’s most recent state of the internet presentation proffered the much-cited statistic that ten percent of media consumption now occurs on mobile devices, yet mobile commands a scant one percent of digital revenues. Yes, this is where internet display advertising once languished, back in the day. Eventually things evened out.

Will mobile advertising repeat the pattern? Don’t be so certain that straight display advertising will ever gain the traction on mobile devices that it enjoys on devices connected to monitors and other, larger screens.

Disparate as the world of mobile hardware is, all mobile devices are linked by a common factor: real estate is scarce. Display advertising on mobile screens is proportionately more intrusive, annoying and unwelcome.

The “year of mobile” we’ve been talking about for more than a decade has surely arrived already (heck, an estimated 17.4 million iOS and Android devices were activated this past Christmas day alone). But the year of mobile advertising? It’s still a ways away.

What we’re waiting for is the rapidly growing trend of native advertising to spread more effectively to mobile devices and platforms, and we’re not there yet. Currently, most forms of branded content as advertising occur on publisher sites that help to create them (think Buzzfeed, New York Times, Boston Globe, Gawker Media). Technology from companies such as OneSpot and InPowered that pushes relevant, branded content into ad units are pretty nascent on the internet and don’t yet have mobile strategies. Facebook (as everyone knows) is working on the issue. Some have posited large-scale mobile players such as Samsung and Yahoo may tackle mobile native advertising this year.

In other words, hurry up and wait.

Will 2013 finally be the year of mobile advertising? I don’t think so, but that long-awaited era may be on the horizon. The solution to ads on mobile devices that consumers accept and value (as opposed to the 50 percent of clicks on mobile ads purely attributable to “oops“) will be content, not advertising driven.

 

 

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Pay to Play: Native Advertising Shakes Up Publishing Models

There are a ridiculous number of names for it: native advertising, custom content, sponsored content, branded content, content marketing, collaborative content. Or you can kick it old skool and go with plain, old fashioned “advertorial.”

Whatever you call it, getting brand-generated content onto the pages of “real” publishing properties is becoming a real business, albeit in many guises. It’s all part of rapid convergence of paid, owned and earned media.

New York Times-owned Boston.com is the latest in a fairly long line of publishers to sell sponsored blog posts under the rubric “Insights.” “Our advertisers, and particularly our smaller advertisers, have been creating their own content. They need to get it exposed. As much as 50% of small businesses are blogging. The one thing they want is to have people see their material,” as Boston.com’s executive director-business development explained it to Ad Age.

Boston.com aligns its advertisers’ posts in the appropriate editorial section, e.g. lifestyle or real estate.

Boston.com has joined a growing list of sites offering some form or another of custom content to advertisers, including Forbes, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and Gawker Media. Gawker is so high on the model that they maintain a list of top-performing sponsored posts to inspire and lure advertisers.

Content that morphs into ad units takes on other forms as well. inPowered (formerly Netshelter) is a new advertising product that turns “expert” content into a ad unit. Say you’re Samsung, and Engadget just ran a rave review of your latest smartphone, for example. inPowered turns that review into an ad that can be run on other publishers’ sites.

Arguably, another model of advertorial are those publishers whose business model makes them increasingly reliant on content contributed by outside experts, rather than their own editorial staff. What was long a trade publishing model is now commonplace on mainstream B2B sites, from content marketing plays such as American Express’ OPEN Forum, web pure-plays such as the Huffington Post, to established editorial brands, most notably Forbes. While arguably this isn’t advertorial because the contributors don’t pay the publisher to contribute (and in some cases are compensated, albeit never handsomely), the reality is this, too, is a form of content marketing. Contributors are selling their companies, professional services, domain expertise and personal brands.

“Native advertising” takes many guises, and an equal number of pricing models. Some publishers charges basic CPM or CPC rates. Others calculate costs based on positioning on the page, maintaining a “featured” position over a predetermined period of time, as well as additional and often premium pricing for adjacent ad units from the brand contributing the content (think brand “surround sound”). Sometimes the publisher will help create the content (think Buzzfeed), more often it’s incumbent on the advertiser or their agency both to conceive of as well as to execute the creative.

The real challenge of this type of advertising is an entire set of new standards and practices publishers must define as the traditionally inviolable wall between editorial and publishing becomes increasingly porous and permeable. It’s not as if sponsored, branded and contributed content shouldn’t happen. It should, but within limits and parameters it’s incumbent on the publisher for setting and enforcing to maintain and defend brand credibility while at the same time exploring new models.

Some publishers are do better at this than others. Before the ad or editorial teams open the doors to contributed or branded copy, publishers must define and commit to these eight critical points.

Set and maintain editorial standards: Every publisher has standards in place. Some, such as the New York Times, employ a public editor (sometimes called an ombudsman) to represent the needs and viewpoints of the reader and to critique editorial. Publications opening themselves up to native advertising and contributed content require someone in a similar role. This person almost certainly does not work in ad sales.

Create a style guide for guest contributors This is a good idea for corporate blogs and publications, too. A style guide sets expectations and streamlines submissions. What are accepted spellings for the publication (email or e-mail?). Do links spawn a new window, or take the reader off the site? How much white space should there be between an image and text? With expectations set, production goes a whole lot faster.

Edit, and don’t forget to copy edit Regardless of how thorough the style guide, contributed copy must always be subject to the publisher’s editing process. If staff contributors are subject to editorial scrutiny, it’s even more critical that non-professionals be fact and spell checked, as well as accountable for attributions, sourcing and veracity. Seems like a no-brainer, yet at least one very venerable brand posts contributed copy as-is. It’s not unwise, though this will vary by publisher, to also subject advertorial content to at least some degree of editing.

Never, ever open the CMS to outsiders A very prominent media brand that publishes a great deal of contributed “expert” columns allows its contributors to post their contributions directly in the CMS. The result? Pretty much what you’d expect. This memo went out to contributors last July:

**Reminder** Using expletives can offend and alienate your readers and hurt your credibility. Please don’t use foul language in your posts and be especially mindful to never use it in your headlines.

Don’t base compensation on link bait ability Many publications don’t compensate expert contributors. Others pay on a per-item basis. One very staid publisher, hoping to build traffic to their site, experimented with a model whereby contributors were paid based on the traffic their columns generated. Result? “National Equirer”-level headlines and content in a business publication.

If it’s paid, disclose that it’s paid Boston.com’s paid posts appear in a sidebar box prominently labeled “Special Advertiser Feature.” Gawker’s paid content runs under the rubric “Sponsored.” Content that SAP and Microsoft pay to publish on Forbes.com are not explicitly designated as advertiser content. Paid content is nothing to be ashamed of. But it is something to designate.

 Vet contributors The five Ws of reporting: “who, what, when, where, why?” are all perfectly legitimate questions to pose to content contributors and content advertisers. Publishers are not only entitled, but obligated, to ensure content running on their sites adheres to standards that will uphold the publisher’s own brand and ensure the value of the publication to readers and advertisers alike over the long term. It’s not only fair to ask these questions, it’s obligatory.

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What the Decline of Print Means for Digital

Plenty of sobering news about the print industry has been released over the past week.

Yes, print is in steep decline. So is print advertising. It’s important not only to ponder and understand why print is declining so precipitously now, but also to draw some lines into the future and understand how this trend might impact digital media going forward. The implications are big for advertisers and publishers alike.

The most stunning story is from eMarketer, predicting that online advertising will surpass print ad spend — this year.

The firm estimates digital newspaper ad revenue in the U.S. grew 8.3 percent to $3.3 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, newspaper print ad revenue dropped 9.3 percent to $20.7 billion. Magazines fare only slightly better. In the U.S., print ad revenue is expected to rise a below-anemic 0.5 percent to $15.34 billion this year, up from $15.3 billion last year. Digital magazine ad spending grew 18.8 percent to $2.7 billion last year.

This is due not only to the internet, of course, but to a proliferation of mobile devices that decouple newspapers and magazines from dead-tree publishing. It’s already happened with books; e-reader editions outsell both paperbacks and hardcover books on Amazon, and have for some time.

As e-reader devices conflate with tablets (think: Kindle Fire), readers are inevitably eschewing print in higher numbers still. Among tablet owners, according to a recent International Data Group survey, 72 percent of professionals worldwide say they’re buying less since owning a tablet. Seventy percent buy fewer physical books, and 49 percent buy fewer DVDs. (And naturally, readers who can afford tablets are in a much more desirable demographic to most advertisers than those who cannot.)

Like Facebook adoption a few years ago, tablet adoption is in its hockey-stick phase. There were 64.7 million tablets in the world globally at the end of 2011, according to IHS iSuppli. By the end of 2015, that number will metastasize to 287.2 million.

What can be interpolated from all these trends — a proliferation of tablets, content migrating to digital formats, advertising dollars accelerating their shift to digital from print — is that not only print is changing. The ways that print adopts to digital formats is changing as well in ways that will fundamentally change the use and perception of the written word over the next few years. Writing has always been literally flat and two-dimensional. That’s going to change — and very soon.

Already, there’s a growing market for enhanced ebooks, books created for digital formats that go beyond flat text into video, audio, games, and other multimedia and interactive features. As prices for tablets plummet (the Kindle Fire is priced at just over $100, and you can get a free Nook by signing up for a year of The New York Times), books will become more like apps. In fact, it will soon be hard to delineate where “book” stops and “digital platform” begins.

Before purists get all up in arms, don’t worry. There will always be plain-text versions of the Bible, Shakespeare, “War and Peace,” and other classics of literature. But going forward, publishers will look very closely at how they can enhance the titles in their catalogues, or turn books into a single component of transmedia storytelling.

Marketers, take note. These changes in the written word — how it’s conceived, presented, and experienced — apply to you, too. For a soon to be published research report on content marketing, we recently interviewed 56 marketers, many of them at Fortune 500 companies, about the content channels they’re using. They were asked what’s important now, what channels are diminishing in effectiveness, and where they plan to place more marketing emphasis in both the short and long term future.

Overwhelmingly, these marketers say they’re looking to video in the future (with mobile running a close second). “Visual information” is on the rise overall. What’s on the decline? Articles. Columns. Digital PR. Long-form content. White papers.

Do you see a trend here? I do. The written word is in decline in digital channels. It won’t ever vanish, but it is diminishing and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Publishers and marketers alike are compelled to start considering, now, how to add more visual and multimedia material to written pieces to make them stand out, to encourage opt-in and tune-in from target audiences, to deliver appropriate content to mobile platforms, and to make complex information easily and visually digestible — in a hurry. (Infographics are becoming very, very popular with marketers, as are charticles with publishers.)

Now, this is not a call for hysteria (the written word is dead!) or over-reactive fiats (nothing we produce can contain words anymore, ever!). Both those statements are utterly false and nonsensical.

But we are seeing some very real and very fast moving trends here: a shift away from paper and on to digital devices; advertisers following those eyeballs; changing consumer expectations as they consume written content on faster, cheaper, multimedia-capable devices; and marketers’ need to create and deliver messaging that’s experiential, compelling, engaging, and that drives the message home in an easily digestible format.

So, that white paper your department is working on? By all means publish it as a written document. But at the same time, you’d better start concocting ways to deliver its message in interactive, digital, visual, and multimedia environments.

Or risk being the sound of the proverbial dead tree falling in a very dense forest.

Cross-posted from iMediaConnection 

image: http://www.recyclingsupply.com

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