The “content” business

One thing I’ve learned from the blogosphere (from Doc Searls, primarily) is that I should bristle anytime I hear someone in the media business use the word “content.”

I think it goes back to a long-ago quote from John Perry Bartlow that Doc pointed to:

“I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business started going away”. This was an unfortunate side effect of the Net’s ability to transport and deliver every form of digital art. Broadcasters and publishers came to adopt the language of container cargo–and to believe that they were now in the business of “content delivery” rather selling the writing, programming and other forms of art that their first sources produce and their final customers buy.

Believe me, no writer, photographer,  moviemaker or graphic artist thinks of his or her work as “producing content”, even if its called that in a business context.

For the next couple of days, I’m hanging out with about 350 men and women who run large and small companies in the “business-to-business” media space.

I’m at the annual spring meeting of the 99-year-old organization that used to be called the American Business Press. A few years ago, it (we – I was a board member at the time) changed its name to American Business Media because the companies generate less than 1/2 of their revenues from things like advertising, rather they’re in the business of running trade shows and maintaining databases and consulting and owning online media with famous brand names.

Most of the people at this conference are suits (like me). They talk about “integrated media” products — which means packaging together everything one produces and selling it all at once. Unfortunately, they have decided to use the word “content” most of the time to describe the buiness they’re in, as in, “We’re in the content business.” But because of that whole Doc-don’t-call-it-content thing, I bristle when I hear the word.

Earlier this evening, I spent some time visiting with an iconic figure in American business-to-business publishing –someone whose name I won’t mention, but whose name is synonymous with at least two American industries.

This person has been a hero of mine for a long, long time, but he’s always treated me as if I were a peer. As I talked with him tonight, I kept thinking to myself, this is a person who would never call what he creates “content.” And then it struck me why: he’d never call it content because he’s one of the few people running a huge media company today who started his career as a writer (albeit, for his dad) and still writes regularly.

And so, I  decided once again. I’m not in the content business.
If I wanted to be in the content business, I would have chosen shipping or pallet-building or selling Rubbermaid products as my career.

What I do ain’t content.

Update: Although (see comments) what Rafat does is content. And, I must say, some of my favorite content.