Cashing In with Content by David Meerman Scott

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, November 2005
Published by: Information Today, Inc. & CyberAge Books
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$24.95, CA$33.95

Like it or not, the World Wide Web or Internet or Cyberspace or whatever you want to call it survives, thrives and evolves, with underlying engines of commerce, information, connections, service and entertainment lubricated with one essential ingredient: money. While the notion of an ostensibly free and open Internet is belied by such basic realities as the subscription cost required to gain access in the first place, there are much deeper economic realities and financial burdens borne by anyone (and any business) which has at its foundation the desire to promulgate itself on the Internet. In turn, the manner in which an individual or business promotes itself online is founded on a catch-all term for perceived value, to wit: "content". The methods by which useful and remunerative content is developed, written, created, presented, integrated and otherwise successfully employed on the web is the central subject of Cashing In with Content.

Online content is defined as anything which provides usable substance and added value to the presence of a web site. Content can be a paragraph of interesting research on a particular subject. Content can be photos or videos or new articles. Content can be enticing or otherwise interesting text designed to convince you to purchase something.

The classic definition of valued content has certainly changed in that anything which meets the current definition no longer has to bear any intrinsic value. In fact, the mere existence of filler text—marketing fluff, sell copy, introductory text, a Flash animation, an icon or button and so on—is often referred to as "content". Definitions change of course, like everything else around us, so a post-mortem for the classic definition is unnecessary. Nevertheless, some clear and abiding definitions of what constitutes web site content these days is probably worth having (and understanding) before you embark on a campaign to make the most of your existing content or develop a plan to enhance, replace or otherwise improve your existing content.

David Meerman Scott, the author of Cashing In with Content, is experienced enough, and more important successful enough, to make some rational judgments about what constitutes valuable content. Again more important, Scott's assessment of the manner in which various companies have made lucrative use of heretofore unvalued content is really the point of the book; it's foundation and core idea. He has actually researched and selected 20 companies which he feels most clearly illustrate his views. The site list includes:

  • Crutchfield Corporation
  • Alloy
  • Design Within Reach
  • Aerosmith
  • Dean for America
  • Esurance
  • Booz Allen
  • Weyerhaeuser
  • ebuild
  • Colliers
  • Alcoa
  • Tourism Toronto
  • Kenyon College
  • Sharp HealthCare
  • Dermik Laboratories
  • United Parcel Service
  • Wall Street Journal Online
  • ServiceWare

Cons: Not enough case studies. While the range of real and thriving example companies and their respective web sites surely represents a vastly successful cross-section, so many important business, information and market segments are missing that many people may not be able to connect or identify their content with the important concepts discussed in the book. If you're already familiar with the development of value in content, there's nothing new for you in this book—the author doesn't break any new ground here. There's no mention of the growing value of podcasting. The United Parcel Service (UPS) example is inappropriate in my view in a book that otherwise presents sensible examples. My main beef with UPS is that while it's corporately successful, in my opinion its ongoing and wildly inappropriate attempts at squeezing brokerage and Customs clearing fees out of international (non-U.S.) delivery recipients of items originating in the U.S. is going to get the company into deep trouble.

Pros: Cashing In with Content will no doubt be a revelation for many people. If it's true that most web site owners really don't understand the depth and breadth of currently and potentially valuable content that's sitting right in front of them, then the book will open many eyes to the value inherent in purposing knowledge for specific uses online while recombining it to reveal a whole result that is measurably greater than the sum of its parts. Author Scott has organized and segmented each example site clearly to identify the manner in which the site owner progressively values, organizes and presents the content. My language throughout this review is deliberately non-specific about strategies and other lessons which can be learned while reading the book and I've done that mainly to entice you into reading the thing. It's worthwhile and it will serve as a springboard to success for many web site owners. Most important of all, the author demonstrates how important it is for a web site to present a fully integrated and interoperable complex of ideas, information, products, participation and communications. Part 4 in the book titled Putting Content To Work is a very good and clearly explained, point by point guide. Scott fits together the puzzle of information, pure data, blogs, animations, product content, marketing, merchandising, sales, communication and fulfillment in a way that should make good business sense for anyone who is running madly toward a successful presence on the web, but who hasn't yet come to a deeper understanding of what he's getting himself into. Interesting book. Recommended.

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