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Trends to Watch: Content 101

Content is King.

This was probably the first thing I heard when I started freelancing a few years ago. Back then, it was said in comparison to SEO or social media strategies. The theory went that if you produced good content, you were going to get traffic.

Well, things change quickly on the Internet. The saying is even more true these days, but not in quite the same ways.

Everywhere you look there is “content.” Videos, podcasts, Tweets, Facebook status updates, and plain old articles. There are “content companies” whose sole purpose is to manage or produce content. But, almost every savvy startup or company knows they have to figure out how to utilize content to bring in customers.

So, in the mess of content creation, curation, and syndication (and any other-tion you can think of), how do you know what’s what? What are the different kinds of content companies, and how do they make money?

Never fear. Here’s your brief, Content 101 rundown:

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The Media

These are the companies that look a lot like traditional newspapers, just in the digital realm. They focus on reporting and storytelling, often in one vertical. In the startup space, for example, you have PandoDaily and TechCrunch. Nibletz also falls into this category. There are also some very interesting general journalism startups that are playing around with business models to keep more traditional journalism alive.

These companies deal with content in vastly different ways. Some focus on the quality of articles, often producing fewer, more expensive pieces. Others put out tons of articles that are shorter and quicker to read.

There are a variety of ways in which media companies get content in the first place. Some have a staff of writers who are paid to produce, similar to an old-style newsroom. Others solely publish unknown writers, often for free. Most use some hybrid of the two models.

How do they make money?

Good question. As in social media, ads are a big source of revenue for media companies. However, most are also exploring other streams like sponsorships, events, and subscriptions/paywalls. This is a huge source of disruption at the moment, and my guess is things will look very different in 20 years than they do even now.

The Platforms

As in everything else, lines are blurring between “media companies” and “media platforms,” but in general a platform company does not produce its own content. Medium is one example. Users hop online and write whatever they want. They don’t need to write consistently; no one’s looking for a blog theme or any kind of upkeep.

Longreads is another example of a platform, though it is used for curation. Users of the site post their favorite long-form journalism articles and essays from all over the place for the enjoyment of other users. Flipboard is another platform that takes your personal preferences into account as it curates news and other content.

Platforms are also working out new ways to make money. Longreads is a subscription service; users pay a small fee to read and recommend on the site. Medium, however, doesn’t really have revenue yet, and no one’s quite sure how they plan to produce some. Users rave about the beauty and simplicity of the design, so it’s hard to believe they’ll be stoked about ads appearing.

Besides the media companies and platform companies, content is growing in other sectors as well. Most e-commerce companies also have some kind of content to draw potential customers to their site. Big corporations are hiring editors and social media experts to manage the content they produce.

If content is king, it’s still anyone’s guess as to what his kingdom will ultimately look like. But, we can always be sure there’ll be stuff to read on the Internet.