Is curated content a viable publishing model?

The core dilemma of online publishing is that revenues are lower than traditional print publishing, yet the cost of original content remains high. So there has been much talk of the curated model, where editors select articles published elsewhere and signpost readers to relevant external content, rather than create it all in-house.  If well-executed, this is valuable to readers suffering from an overload of information and paucity of time, particularly in business to business markets.  But if the scope of the publication is wide, even curation is a mammoth task.  Enter the automated indexing systems which gather relevant articles from multiple sources and tag them.  Great time-savers, but there is always the risk of the jarring note of a feature that doesn’t belong; maybe you saw the articles on misplaced ads that circulated recently…

Given this tension between low cost automation and expensive human editors, I was interested to meet Neil Thackray of Briefing Media last Friday, and learn more about his latest venture, The Media Briefing, which combines a powerful semantic indexing system powered by Idio with a human expert editor; in this case Patrick Smith.  They only launched last week, but already have links to over 30,000 articles – and have no plans to increase the staff beyond Patrick.  Here’s some insight into how an online publisher can combine expert human insight with a powerful automated indexing system:

1.  Editor selects the right sources

Trawling the whole web is too time-consuming, so an expert human editor can just pick their favourite sources to follow – both established publications and individual bloggers – and then direct the system to extract and index articles.

2. System creates and categorises tags

Idio can identify names, companies and topics within articles, and then learn connections between different tags – eg Murdoch, Times and paywalls, so it can link articles across people, organisations and topics.

3. Editor improves the indexing and connections

An editor who knows his industry can also link articles across current themes, which helps the system to learn that these connections exist, and therefore link more articles.  This intelligent linking means readers stay longer on the site as they find more relevant articles.

4. Readers feedback on hot topics

Views and comments quickly show which topics, people or organisations are of greatest interest to readers, shaping the priorities for menus and featured articles.

5. Editor commissions original content

Informed by the relative popularity of external articles, the editor can commission original features and reports on the hot discussions of the day.

So this sounds like a powerful alliance between a sophisticated indexing system, a knowledgeable editor applying a little intuition, and, not least, the feedback from the audience.  It’s still early days for the Media Briefing, but I think they are testing out a new approach to curated content that could be of great interest to other publishers struggling with their online business model.

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About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.