I heard a radio presenter the other morning, talking to a caller.
He asked the caller what sort of music he liked.
The caller said he had everything by the Beatles.
The presenter said “Me too, I love their stuff.”
The presenter had a young female sidekick.
She said “Yeah, but you’ve got it all on CD.”
The presenter said “Don’t you listen to the Beatles then?”
She said “Of course I do, but I’ve got it downloaded, you’re just old fashioned.”
The caller said “Well I don’t know what you’ll think of me then. All mine is on vinyl.”
They both gasped “Vinyl?”
The caller said “Yes, I prefer the sound on vinyl, it’s more authentic.”

The presenter said “Fair point, but I like CDs because the sound is cleaner.”
The young woman said “We’re in the 21st century now.
You don’t have to have racks of plastic, just download it and you get all the music without the clutter.”
The presenter said “Well there you are, three different views on how to listen to music. But one thing we all agree on is what music to listen to, so let’s play some right now.”
And they went into a Beatles track.
And I thought that’s a really good demonstration of content.
See, I’d been confused by content.
I had seen the word being used everywhere and I felt left out.
Content Management.
Content Marketing.
Content Analysis.
Content Control.
Content Validity.
Content Curation.
Content Locking.
Even ‘The 2012 Custom-Content Conference’.
What was content, why was it important, and why didn’t I know about it?
Well it turns out it’s just a clever switch between the container and what’s in the container.
The container is the delivery system.
Content is what gets delivered.
Because new media gurus want to sound more important, they reposition the process.
They turn it on its head so the delivery system is what’s really important.
And what goes into it is just stuff to be delivered.
As if the delivery system came before what goes into it.
Well not quite.
Without anything to go into it, we wouldn’t need a delivery system.
No one sends empty envelopes in the mail.
Waiters don’t give you empty plates in a restaurant.
You don’t order a round of empty glasses in a pub.
You don’t gift wrap empty boxes as presents.
No one goes to the cinema unless there’s something on the screen.
You don’t go to an art gallery unless there’s something on the walls.
You don’t watch the telly when it’s switched off.
And you don’t listen to an iPod, CD, or a vinyl disc unless it’s got some music on it.
In this case the Beatles was the content.
Which worked across all the different formats.
So the important stuff is the content.
And the content is what we’ve always been doing.
And the content can be available through any delivery system.
Because the content is the creative part.
The rest is just technology.
And the technology is there to facilitate content.
Not the other way round.
Without the technology, the content would still be there.
We’d find another way to deliver it.

But without the content, the technology wouldn’t be there.

  • Simon Davies

    For the first time I’m not sure you’re entirely right with this. If you ordered a bottle of wine and the waiter brought you an earthenware mug to drink it from, as you would have before the technology changed, wouldn’t you prefer he brought you a wine glass? Yes, (good) content is key – kind of an obvious thing to say – but how people prefer to consume it changes as technology opens more possibilities. Or am I missing your point?

    • Ashwin Gopal

      you’ve got in your final sentence. of course some ways of delivering wine would be better than others. but if it’s bad wine, a fancy wine glass isn’t going to help it beyond a point.

  • Adrian Harrison

    Superb summary of what a lot of people have lost sight of in our and other creative industries

  • David Moody

    Very nicely put. Now that everyone produces content, there is so much out there that most of it can only be seen by a tiny number of people. So the role of the creative mind to produce that rare thing that is noticed and is deemed valuable enough to pass on / recommend / comment on / re-package or to re-work and add value to – so it is seen by and impacts on many people – is more important than ever. 

    • Tom Wnek

      When marketers talk about content, as in branded content, it is to distinguish this type of unacknowledged marketing activity from traditional advertising. The (disastrous) idea is that as ads are more and more distrusted and ignored by consumers, advertisers will outflank them by burying their products within the programming; music; conversation, in whatever form.

      The argument about the relationship between form and content, or medium and message, is another matter entirely.


  • Paul Keers

    But of course, there IS a difference between them.

    The chap who listens on vinyl plays through the tracks in the order which The Beatles decided – then pauses, as he turns over, and then plays side two, also in the original order.

    The CD listener plays them in the right order, but might just press the remote control and skip a track or two, and certainly won’t pause between sides one and two because there is no pause.

    And the download listener…well, they might not even download all of it, just the bits they prefer. And then they might play it on “shuffle”, and get even those few tracks in a different order.

    So the container actually does alter the content after all.

    • http://www.cstthegate.com Dave Trott

      Inasmuch as you can get oil through a pipeline, or delivered by an oil-tanker, or buy it in litre cans, I guess so.

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