It's no longer about sending people to your website. It's about being at the center of where your consumer is.
There have been a couple of major indicators that the world of publishing and content is shifting away from the traditionally held value that you have to drive traffic to one, specific destination. That world has not only changed, but it's gone.
Need some proof?
- The smart producers of content link out to the best content. The New York Times has not mastered this, but they started experimenting with this technique a few years back, and many considered this revolutionary when it first occurred for a newspaper website.
- Prior to major newspaper websites letting visitors leave their destination for other sites, Buzzmachine and best-selling author of What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis, hailed this concept as "cover what you do best and link to the rest" (February 2007).
- Facebook begins distribution of their "like" button, so that consumers can "like" anything on any site (not just within the walls of Facebook). You can read more about this here: Facebook Isn't (Just) A Destination.
- Even though the iPad has a near-seamless Web experience, publishers still create native apps for the device.
- It was just announced that AOL has acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million (more on that here: Reuters - AOL to buy The Huffington Post for $315 million) and that Arianna Huffington will now become "president editor-in-chief of all of AOL's content," according to the Mashable news item, AOL Acquires Huffington Post for $315 Million.
Don't focus on The Huffington Post part of the equation... put your focus and attention on AOL.
The minute Tim Armstrong left his very comfortable position leading sales and advertising at Google to become the CEO of AOL in March 2009, I knew things were about to change online (and I knew it would take some time). Too many people counted AOL (and him) out. I've had the pleasure of meeting Armstrong on many occasions and knew that when he took on the helm at AOL, things would change. This acquisition of Huffington Post isn't the entire picture, but just another spot on a leopard that continues to change its spots.
Ditch the destination.
If you own media and if you publish content, you need to understand that pushing people where you want them to go in a world where anyone and everyone can publish content in text, images, audio and video is an impossible task. The most strategic move you can make is to now be everywhere you consumers are. Here's what Arianna Huffington had to say about the acquisition of her company to AOL:
"AOL's Patch.com covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost's DNA. Check. Original video? AOL's just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and LA, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year. Check. More sections? AutoBlog, Music, AOL Latino, Black Voices, etc, etc, etc. fill gaps in HuffPost's coverage. Add all that to what HuffPost is doing with social, community, mobile, as well as our commitment to innovative original reporting and beyond-left-and-right commentary, and the blending will have a multiplier effect. Or, as Tim and I have been saying over the last couple of weeks: 1 + 1 = 11."
The new publisher.
You can see by AOL's performance and some of the media punditry that this is a company in transition. It's no longer just about the ISP, the portal destination (aka "the walled garden") and building AOL as the primary brand (regardless of what the current revenue model looks like). AOL is quickly becoming the new publisher. The publisher of the future. AOL owns properties like Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone and many, many more. In fact, many laughed when Tim Armstrong first arrived at AOL and said it would take a few months to better understand all of the properties that AOL owned, and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.
What AOL knows... that others are missing.
There is a sense of both innovation happening at AOL when it comes to publishing and no fear of killing their sacred cows. While many of us have all but ignored AOL, the past few years have been spent shedding the old/non-performing sites and turning the Internet into a world of AOL content sites through acquisition and creation. It's something that companies like News Corp, The New York Times and even Google and Facebook could learn from. Is the model perfect? No. Is the model providing astounding revenues? No... not yet. Like everything else, we need to give this transition time.
This isn't about AOL. It's about the new way content flows in a digital world.
Many people will comment (below and elsewhere) about whether or not this is a good deal for The Huffington Post and/or AOL. I don't see that as relevant to the story as much as what this continues to mean for the dramatic changes in content and marketing:
- It's no longer about a destination. The content is everywhere. You don't just have to read this Blog post and comment here. You can read it on Facebook, on a Blog aggregator and you can comment anywhere you wish (on Twitter, YouTube... you name it).
- If you're a publisher, you can acquire the content sites that you are missing and leave them be to perform as they are. You don't have to assimilate them into a global brand (traditional magazine publishers do this quite well).
- If the content doesn't exist, the platform does exist for you to create it in an original and compelling way. Arianna Huffington and team didn't wait for The Los Angeles Times to have a vision for the newspaper of the future. They created it - using cheap, easy and existing tools.
- Local and niche content continues to become more and more relevant in the digital space. Read between the lines about this acquisition and it becomes obvious that the content masters of the near-future will be those who grasp deep niches and hyper-local spaces.
- It's about the platforms too. This isn't a Web-based world, a mobile world and a tablet world. It's about how connected the consumer now is through their one-line of connectivity.
In the end, whether AOL becomes the next big thing (again) is less relevant to me than the business model that they are creating for Publishers and Advertisers. As it acquires more and more properties across all of the technological platforms, AOL makes itself very attractive to these advertisers by helping them to become more findable (and shareable) in every nook and cranny of the consumer's appetite for content.
What's your take on this publishing move away from a destination to being anywhere and everywhere?