Before the internet, content was consumed from printed copy, magazines, newspapers, and for video, through a television. Consumers could find their latest fashion and style tips from magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vogue and GQ. Gym rats could find tomorrow’s abs workout in an issue of Men’s Health. Foodies could discover recipes for their favorite dishes in publications such as Cooking Light and Bon Appetit. In its heyday, the selection of printed content seemed broad. It’s only when you compare it to the selection of content available to us today that you start to realize that there actually wasn’t that much choice.
If you think back to the 90’s and early 00’s, which magazines were you subscribed to? Do you still read these publications in print or digital format in 2014? Little choice resulted in a higher level of loyalty to a brand meaning a lot of people tended to stick with one publication. I remember growing up and the only newspaper my father would read was The Times, I haven’t seen him with a newspaper in hand in around five years and the apps on his iPad suggest that the way he consumes content has changed dramatically.
The internet has changed a great deal over the past 5-10 years. The concept of a ‘destination site’ is on the decline. Back in the era of the magazine you would open your printed publication and consume the content available to you. In this digital age we enter a search query and trust that a complicated algorithm will provide us with the most valuable source of content on that topic. This eradicates all need for an index or glossary and speeds up the content consumption process; essentially it makes it easier for us to consume content. The destination site is in decline due to the ease of access to so many different publications and the vast amount of content that is now available to us.
Social media has had a massive effect on how we consume content. The ability to share content with our friends and peers has opened up a social aspect to content consumption and regularly leads us to view content that we usually wouldn’t be interested in. Content shared by our friends takes on social authority, one of the most powerful endorsements possible. Facebook currently leads the way with 38% of users regularly clicking on links shared through the social media site and Buzzfeed has built their business on it. The discovery process has changed, browsing social media for news and trends is now a huge part of it, this not only allows us to keep updated but also allows interaction. Interaction in real-time is something completely alien to printed publication and brings something new to content consumption altogether.
Graphic via Jeff Bullas (http://www.jeffbullas.com/2011/06/09/do-people-share-more-on-facebook-or-twitter/)
Apps are a great example of how content consumption has changed. For example, the StumbleUpon app allows users to identify their interests and hobbies before use. The app will then search the web for content that you will find interesting based on the information you’ve given it. This tailored content is only available because of the data that you provided it with, something which was previously unavailable with printed content.
An app can give the user an experience they couldn’t have previously had with print. Take the Flixster App for example - in the past consumers would have used publications like Empire Magazine to find out information about upcoming movies. A movie app allows the user to consume both written content and video content along with similar content for movies decades old. Can you imagine searching through a 15-year backlog of Empire magazines to find the review of that one movie you’re looking for? With a simple in-app search you have access to a huge amount of information in a matter of seconds.
On the flipside, big publishers such as The Guardian and NME, well known for their printed publications, have developed apps of their own. The switch to digital has not been easy and it has resulted in most publishers looking for new ways to monetize their content. Brand loyalty still exists, and the editorial quality of these publications is still a big draw, but they're now having to distinguish themselves from their competitors more than ever.
How has technology affected content consumption in the past 20 years? The rise of the desktop computer shortly followed by the development of search engines instigated the first big change in the way we viewed our content. The ability to search for information from your own home negated the need for a library and made content consumption easier.
Following desktop came the rise of mobile and tablet devices. To have the power of the internet in a portable device greatly altered the way we view our content. The demand to have information whenever we want, wherever we want greatly increased and mobile quickly became the most popular way to consume content. Mobile technology has given us the ability to act on impulse to find information, a great example of this is second screening or omniscreening, something which most of us will do every day without even realizing.
Graphic via Media Post (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/178637/the-whole-story-second-screening-by-genre.html)
We have seen dramatic changes to how we consume our content in the past 20 years. The internet and cloud storage has allowed us to store and process huge amounts of content and data alleviating the need for printed documents. We now have access to a staggering amount of information online and that information is made extremely easy to access through the mobile devices we use every day.
Users now expect content which is relevant to their interests. This has been provided by a huge increase in content sources and the channels through which they can be discovered. As long as the content that the user is viewing satisfies them, they care less about who produced it and how they got there.
This all raises the question of what constitutes good content? The value of content has historically always been attributed to the masthead of a newspaper or a magazine’s logo. However, given the way content is indexed and accessed these days we’re living in a time of content democracy, where social authority, search algorithms and interest-based aggregators combine to feed us information from a vast range of sources- but dialled-in on whatever impulse we want to satisfy at a particular time. Good content satisfies those impulses, regardless of whether it is delivered by a prestigious global publisher or a one-person blog.
Content, and the way we access it, has fundamentally changed.