When the Intermediary is not Adding Value

Smiling Curve of Publishers

The chart is from a smart post by Ben Thompson# where he adapts to publishing Acer founder Stan Stih's idea that both ends of the value chain command higher values added to the product than the middle part of the value chain.

Shih called it the “Smiling Curve.” Thompson articulated how not so smiling for traditional publishers:

The problem for publishers, though, is that the free distribution provided by the Internet is not an exclusive. It’s available to every other newspaper as well. Moreover, it’s also available to publishers of any type, even bloggers like myself.

This reminds me of the conversations we used to have about how content aggregators cash in. Delivering something of value that you cannot get somewhere else so easily is what works.

I have been a strong proponent of RSS. It stands for Real Simple Syndication, and RSS is still a major way to publish and pull content directly from the source, with no intermediaries, not even email.

Why is this important to you? If you read voraciously, say you have upward of thirty, fifity, seventy blogs you like to read to keep tabs on what is going on in your industry, it is impractical to go to each one, or to get all those posts by email. Then there is the issue of algorhitms deciding your posts should be categorized as promotion, as Seth Godin found out#, when they are not.

Yes, email is a good way to provide personalized content, offers, etc. However, if you publish a blog, you should always offer the option for people to subscribe through a reader.

Google may have killed one of its best products (to me), however other readers stepped in to fill that gap in experience. I loved the idea of drawing content and sharing together — pull content privately, then share directly from the reader onto Google+. What I wrote at the time:

The share layer will follow what you consume. It will also be where you create, communicate, and schedule. The best part is that they share your data about activity with you. Brilliant.

Reader could have been evolved into a very competitive experience. Alas, I was in the minority of users as sharing over the impermanence of Twitter and Facebook streams had already taken some hold.

Today I use Feedly to syndicate content. Other options include The Old Reader, and a few others (here's a spreadsheet# with more alternatives, it's a bit old, so you'll need to verify).

The point is the intermediary needs to add value both to the company that offers it and to its audience for it to work out. Experimenting with an existing form and model is a way to find that value when things have changed — and if you rely on technology for anything, which at this point many of us do, things have changed.

When I read about Seth's adventure with email delivery, which could also be mine for all I know (I publish every day, did my post go to your spam folder recently?), I thought about the question of intermediaries vs. direct and remembered Thompson's post.

Mainstream publishers are in a tight spot. With them are all businesses that rely on other mechanisms to reach customers. Selecting an email provider, or a technology, or media to deliver content and experiences on your behalf, means you are now relying on an intermediary to do its part and represent you fairly.

Leaving it to the social networks to help with content discovery and building on their platforms may get you eyeballs and traffic, yet it should not come at the expense of keeping your own site in order with the proper products and service experience. I wrote a post about five years ago about how social media is like sharecropping. The references may be a bit dated (Friendfeed anyone?), however the concept still stands.

This warrants a bit more thought when planning campaigns or programs beyond the creative asset. Speed works both ways, by making it very convenient to click and buy, or to be a complete turn off based on context, for example.

In both cases, you will likely have a very hard time at understanding why easily.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

, , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *