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I'm a huge fan of the Online Journalism Review. In fact, I check the website just about everyday, at least once. However, after reading one of the latest blog posts "Five more lessons for getting it right, this time around," I thought I'd provide a healthy debate and perspective on Niles' assertion, "Don't make the syndication mistake."
While I fundamentally agree that licensed content should not replace original content creation (in fact, I'd argue that it should only complement and support it), the syndication market has rapidly evolved over the past 5 years, creating a new architecture for news and media and providing huge opportunities for publishers and content buyers.
1. Syndication isn't what it used to be.
I agree, the traditional AP model – where the same article is syndicated across thousands of news publishers around the world – no longer works in today's digital age. However, we now live in a world where gaining access to highly targeted, niche, syndicated content is very much a reality and possibility. With the amount of amazing content being created today through different mediums (multimedia, video, images, text, infographics, etc.) and by a huge range of credible journalists (not just traditional reporters but also bloggers, infographic designers, artists, etc.), it seems like a mistake to simply brush off syndication as a valuable form of distribution and, in turn, a means of getting high quality content. The decision is no longer a trade-off between original content creation and a "national syndicate" like the AP -- and the landscape shouldn't be laid out in such black and white terms. As a publisher looking to create a new business section, wouldn't you want to complement your in-house editorial efforts with a unique mix of content from respected sources such as Forbes, Bloomberg and The Economist?
2. If brand loyalty is defined by targeting, engaging and inspiring your niche audience, curation is the key to finding your voice.
Niles focuses on traditional publishers in the article, but licensing syndicated content is also a great opportunity for brands. For example, imagine you're the content marketing strategist for a major fashion retailer. Your entire job is dedicated to building, articulating and spreading your brand's view on fashion trends through your blog and content marketing efforts. Creating high quality, original content takes a lot of work and time, as it rightfully should. However, imagine that you have the opportunity to license and streamline a huge range of voices and perspectives into your content marketing strategy – from bloggers such as The Sartorialist to the Fashion Toast, magazine publications like Inventory and Elle, major fashion sites like Style.com or The Cut. Whether you're a content marketing strategist, an online editor or traditional publisher, the key is meticulous curation. If done right, highly curated, syndicated content can be hugely valuable, cost efficient and sustainable long term. Curating a variety of relevant, niche perspectives not only supports the evolving definition of today's "journalist," but also helps to build your own unique voice, better engage your audience and increase the likelihood of people staying engaged and on your site.
3. The syndication market is enormous and an obvious draw for newsrooms and publishers struggling to increase revenues.
Niles argues, "I wouldn't bet my future on a business model built on aggregating content equally available to other publishers. It didn't help the newspaper industry and it won't help sustain the online news industry, either." While I wouldn't "bet" my future on any one model alone, I would expand on this point: outbound syndication creates a huge opportunity for publishers and brands to monetize their content and create new forms of revenue. And that in itself could help sustain the online news industry - and perhaps even help it thrive.
- For content providers: Syndication offers an alternate source of revenue apart from advertising and helps publishers gain greater publicity. If you're already creating high-quality, respected content for your own publication, why not share it with the world and get paid more for it? For example, NewsCred is already helping over 700 publishers distribute their content while still maintaining a strong level of control (and also getting paid for it).
- For content buyers: Using licensed content to create and/or support highly-targeted editorial sections (for example, the Olympics, the Grammys, the election), can attract new forms of advertising revenue, while helping you quickly adapt to current events and stay relevant with your audiences. Moreover, with shrinking newsrooms and tight budgets, it helps you reduce the in-house costs of content creation.
- For audiences: People today want and expect a range of curated, trusted perspectives. The fact is, if you deliver a quality, relevant content experience - whether its your own content or a mix of original/licensed – loyal audiences will pay for content.