Skip to Content Skip to Main Navigation

Tapping Into Your Content Goldmine Means Thinking Differently

22nd April 2011 Posted in Blog, Content 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This was the feature article in this month’s TechCom Manager newsletter, reprinted here with permission. Click the previous link to subscribe to the newsletter.

Scott Abel

Image for Technical Writers Specialists or Generalists

I’m going to let you in on a secret. You’re sitting on a gold mine of content that is just lying around hogging up server space. Some of it may even be hidden in physical archives, concealed in printed documents, or stored on microfiche.

A goldmine, you say? Yep. A big, untapped source of revenue just waiting for someone to claim it. If you’re smart, you’ll tap it as soon as possible…before your competitors realize they should be doing the same thing and beat you to it.

Let’s consider the music industry. Apple revolutionized the biz by making it possible for music lovers to easily and affordably download music to mp3 players, devices that didn’t exist just a decade ago. Despite their overwhelming success, they — and their music industry partners — are still missing opportunities for making money.

Consider iTunes. The online mall sells individual songs, collections of songs (albums), movies, television shows, books and other entertainment content. The songs sold on iTunes are made up of smaller components of content referred to as “tracks.” There are vocal tracks, bass tracks, percussion tracks, horns, and so on. Tracks are mixed together to create discrete versions of a song. There might be a radio version, an instrumental version, a karaoke version, and various remixes. This approach has been successful. It has allowed publishers to make revenue by recombining existing tracks into new versions customized to be attractive to various audiences.

But, in our socially-enabled world of user-generated content, this approach is no longer sufficient. Today, music lovers aren’t just playing songs, they’re remixing them into new music products called mashups, without the assistance (or permission) of the music publishers.

Mashup artists like myself combine tracks from a variety of sources. We scour the web for pirated files, digitize analog recordings we own (snatch songs and sounds and spoken voice recordings from lps, cassette tapes and other media), and we use software designed to isolate and separate the tracks that comprise a song. And we’re doing this without the permission or involvement of the copyright holders.

While mashup artists see our creative effort as “Fair Use,” most music industry pros say mashup artists are thieves, violating copyright by using unlicensed material. But, I see it another way. The whole situation is a giant failure on the part of the music industry to see a great new opportunity and monetize it.

Here’s what should happen. Music publishers should alter licensing agreements to allow for distribution of individual tracks. By doing so, publishers create an entire new music offering: buy a song for .99 cents or the song plus the individual tracks for $1.99. By adding these products to the mix, music publishers open up a whole new revenue source.

A few more tweaks to the licensing agreement and user-generated mixes go from illegitimate to legitimate. Apple could add a remix section to iTunes and allow users to upload their mashups so other users could purchase them. Apple could use its “Genius” technology to recommend mashups. Using this model, the original copyright holders, artists, iTunes and the mashup artists could all share in the profit. A win-win for everyone.

Apple could make it even sweeter by adding mashup mixing software to iTunes, making it easy for novices to make both new audio (and video) mashups, published legally and providing yet another new source of revenue to everyone involved.

Book and magazine publishers, movie studios, newspapers, museums, photographic archives, government agencies, trade and industry associations, and other content producers could provide similar access to their content. They could make agreements with other publishers — even competitors — to provide access to a collection of content components for customers to use and repurpose legally (for a fee).

In fact, nearly every type of organization, including yours, could benefit from making your content components available to other departments for reuse. It makes perfect sense. It’s about making our content work for the organization. Getting the biggest bang for the content buck.

It’s time for us to break the old school idea that our content components aren’t marketable until ‘we’ weave them into products (books, movies, magazines, songs, technical manuals, user guides, training materials, etc.) It’s clear that consumers want the flexibility of repurposing our content assets and we need to seek ways of monetizing this desire. It’s also clear that creative reuse inside our organizations could provide us many benefits once we actually start to think differently about our content.

Where do you start? On your own turf. What would you create if you had easy access to all the content components in your department? What would you reuse? Where? Why?

Then, ask your customers what they might create if they had easy access to relevant content components produced by your department? What would they reuse? Where? Why?

Chances are your department (and by extension, your entire organization) is filled with discrete content components ripe for reuse. Spend time figuring out how you might leverage these hidden assets in useful and innovative ways that improve the customer experience.

Think outside the box. Go ahead, stray outside the lines. Enlist the help of your customers. Enlist the help of your staff. Find out what your competitors are — and aren’t — doing with their content. You might be surprised to find there is a gold mine of content right in front of you.

Suggested Reading:
The Making of a Mashup Compilation: Aurally Volume 1” for more on mashups and how Scott creates compilations of the musical concoctions.

Download a free copy of “Fundamental Concepts of Reuse” by Ann Rockley, from her book “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy” to learn more about content reuse as it relates to documentation and training departments.

About the Author

Scott Abel is a content-management strategist, structured XML content evangelist, and social networking choreographer whose strengths lie in helping organizations improve the way they author, maintain, and deliver their information assets.

Scott’s blog,, is a popular online resource for content professionals with an interest in content management, content standards and content technologies. Scott writes regularly for trade and industry publications, blogs, and newsletters. He also helps produce several industry events, including the Web Content conference series and Intelligent Content Conference with Ann Rockley and The Rockley Group. Scott is also a popular dance music mashup artist, DJ, and music producer who has been spinning since 1982.

More articles from Scott Abel:

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply