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Content Is Bad for Business

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At this very second, you're reading content.

Is your TV on? If so, there's content on it. Music in the background? More content. Is it NPR or Pandora? Miley Cyrus or Ludwig van Beethoven? Doesn't matter, it's all content.

The word "content," applied to great creative work, just feels wrong. It flattens everything out, makes everything seem the same. It diminishes the skills of the artists who create great work. And its overuse by people in media is symbolic of a business that's losing touch with its creators and customers.

After all, audiences rarely use the word "content." They watch movies, read books and listen to music. But to many media executives, all of those things are "content." Consumers know the names of their favorite producers, authors and performers. Some media companies -- a lot of them -- actually refer to creative people as "content producers."

Given the way the media business is changing, everyone involved, from artists to executives, should have tremendous respect for the talent and audiences who are at the heart of it all. We should value the creators, strive to understand the connection they have with audiences and listen closely to our customers. If we don't do that, how can we anticipate their needs and adapt as new technologies and new business models emerge?

Tech companies started all this years ago when they introduced new devices that recorded content (TV shows), streamed content (music), captured content (photos) and stored content (documents). But the media guys were right there behind them with lots of discussion about producing content, distributing content and monetizing content.

And you thought there was something special about Breaking Bad. Nope. It's just produced, distributed and monetized content. Exactly like Goodnight Moon.

Words matter. They tell you something about the speaker or writer, and how they feel about what they're saying.

People who have an affinity for something use terms that convey their affection. Art lovers describe their favorite works as oils, acrylics or charcoals, not "pictures." Foodies don't cook; they braise, poach, broil or roast.

Look at the words we use to describe our vehicles: sedan, SUV, crossover, truck, minivan, roadster, coupe, hog, semi.

Calling them all "cars" would be wrong.

Saying that anything with wheels is a "car" would be nuts.

Yet "content" is used for absolutely anything from a Shakespearean tragedy to a Vine of your dog.

How deeply-rooted is this language in corporate media? Just look at the job listings from some very large companies that are advertising for "content producers."

Executives at a major-market TV station want a content producer for "researching, writing, editing, producing and gathering content."

Sounds like they want a news producer or reporter, really.

Another company is looking for a content producer to "create engaging, shareable content under tight deadlines." Got that? No? Maybe this will clarify: "Conceiving, writing, shooting, editing and producing video content in real time."

Sounds to me like an ad for a video producer. One who doesn't work in pretend time, of course.

Here's my favorite, from one of the largest media firms in the country. They want a content producer who "produces news content that is enhanced with additional assets such as video content...."

Wow. How often does one get paid to enhance content with content? And what creative person wants a job that sounds like that?

Let's drop "content" and instead talk about features, TV shows, historical novels and photos. Let's show our respect for artists by calling them designers, writers and editors. Never again let us use a single term to describe operas, documentary films and college-freshman term papers.

Because as any good media executive knows, after they've been produced, distributed and monetized, they're all just assets anyway.