Are Recommended Reading Lists Worth Paying For?
We're sinking in a sea of content. It's impossible to keep up. Even very narrow, niche-oriented topics seem to have an endless supply of new content produced about them every day.
How do you keep up? If you're like me you have your regular list of sites to visit, RSS feeds to scan, tweets to keep up on, etc. I'm convinced I'm still missing key articles and stories that should be on my radar but aren't.
I've written before about the notion of a content concierge and I think we're getting closer to this becoming a viable model. Think of it as someone, probably closely aligned with an algorithm, that's constantly scanning the latest articles, blog posts, etc., on a given topic. They're reading everything and only recommending the very best so that you don't waste time on all the rest. The service is real-time, so the recommendations change throughout the day.
You're probably convinced these services already exist with names like Digg and Stumbleupon, to name a couple. I would argue those slant way too far in the social, crowdsourcing direction. I have nothing against those services but I want something that has more of a unique, known and trusted, maybe even predictable name behind it. And when I say "name", I mean an individual or small number of individuals, not the entire social community.
When I'm on the road I sometimes use Yelp to discover dining options in the area. It's great. But when I'm at the hotel I'm even more likely to ask the concierge for their recommendations and I've never been disappointed. The hotel concierge earns their salary by knowing the best places to eat and visit. I don't know them personally but I figure they got their job because they know the best. That's exactly what I want in content recommendations. My time is limited and I want an expert to tell me where I should invest it.
There are plenty of links shared via email, Twitter, etc. Anyone can publish a book these days but that doesn't mean everyone is doing it. The same holds true for curated link sharing. Anyone can do it but many of the most interesting experts aren't.
Steve Rushin is a great example. He's my favorite sports writer and he's on Twitter. Take a look at his tweet stream though. You'll rarely, if ever, find a link to an article he read and recommended. I would gladly pay a monthly fee to see the best articles he reads each day. I'd pay even more to hear his thoughts about them.
How many Steve Rushin's can you name in business, politics, local events, etc.?
Keep in mind a guy like Steve Rushin is never going to spend his day making sure he's read every new sports article so he can provide a paid list like this. But he's got a name and a great following, so I'm convinced he could convert that into paying subscribers for a curated list of recommendations. Fans don't care that he hasn't read every sports article today; we just want to get inside his head, see what he liked and why.
So there are really two opportunities here. One is for the existing brand names like Rushin and the other is for anyone else who wants to invest the time in building a reputation for recommending the best of the best.
We don't pay for reading list recommendations today but I'm convinced we will...and it will happen sooner than you think.
Joe Wikert is Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). Before joining OSV Joe was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software. Prior to Olive Software he was General Manager, Publisher, & Chair of the Tools of Change (TOC) conference at O’Reilly Media, Inc., where he managed each of the editorial groups at O’Reilly as well as the Microsoft Press team and the retail sales organization. Before joining O’Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division.