Publishing is Now a Beginning, Not an End

The shift from print to online media requires us to change a lot of our assumptions about marketing and publishing, but perhaps no transformation is more powerful than this: In the online world, publishing information is merely a starting point, not an endpoint. If you grew up with mainstream media, this is a difficult concept to internalize. In the print world, publishers carefully assemble and verify information, submit it to a rigorous editing process and then commit it to posterity on paper. Once it’s published, it’s permanent. The opportunities to redistribute and evolve the information are severely limited.

Online media flips this equation. Today, published information is infinitely changeable. A story or message may morph and expand as times change and readers contribute their own perspectives. Look at Wikipedia as a shining example of this. A story on Wikipedia begins as a “stub.” Over time, additions, enhancements and corrections may develop that story into a work of vast scope and depth. All of this is performed in full public view. People with differing perspectives debate the facts and arbiters harmonize conflicting views. The true story may not be known for months or even years. That’s okay, though. As details emerge, the living document is revised to reflect the latest information. The original publication is just the first stage of a process.

Online publishing also transforms our assumptions about distribution. In the print world, publishers and marketers are limited to disseminating information through the media they have at their disposal. Circulation and mailing lists guarantee a certain readership, but there’s little upside beyond that. Aside from the occasional reprint, the potential reach of information is limited.

The online process is very different. Information is published first and then disseminated through a network of partners, third-party commentators and search engines. Content never dies online. A document may find new relevance for a buyer who discovers it on Google a year later.

So how does this relate to marketing? For one thing, messages aren’t one-way anymore. Your audience expects to contribute actively to the development of whatever content you produce. You’re no longer under the gun to be the definitive source of information. You can reach out to your readers for help in enhancing and commenting upon whatever you publish. Your customers appreciate that. Involving them in a conversation is the best way to build a lasting bond.

You should also look at your customers, business partners and the community of bloggers and online publishers as potential distributors. By making your content available through RSS feeds, you open up new channels that may enable you to reach an audience that’s orders of magnitude beyond what you originally intended. Why not contact some influencers in your market and ask them to publish your RSS feed? Many of them are hungry for information to stoke the daily demands of their blogs or websites.

The idea that information may not be fully baked when it reaches the public is difficult for many people to accept. But attitudes are changing. Today, the public beta test is an accepted model. The same principle applies to publishing. Speed and discussion can be just as important as fit and polish. Use this to your advantage by engaging in conversations that make your marketing messages a collaborative effort.

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