Separating content from display

A couple of nights ago, I heard Karen McGrane give a talk on adaptive content. The presentation was exciting for content nerds like me, with its emphasis on the true business value that can be unlocked by thinking about content in the long-term.

McGrane made a point about Conde Nast’s utter dependence on the print page experience as we’ve moved into the digital age (full disclosure: I’ve worked at Conde Nast. A lot.) and how it’s hampered the company’s ability to move forward as digital has taken over the media world.

She discussed how the print business has 500 years of systems and standards, and in fact an entire world view and set of values that have been formed over generations, based on linking content and its delivery medium (the printed page). It’s my utterly biased opinion that CNP did that better than anyone else, creating magazines that were delightful as an object, not merely a content-delivery machine: Our readers at Gourmet held onto the magazine like it was an art object–storing them for decades ( for many readers, it was a point of pride to have the entire 50-year run of the magazine), rereading them, and very rarely cutting them up for the recipes.

It made me realize: Apple is the Conde Nast of the digital device era. The value of the brand is locked up, not solely¬† in the device or in the info it delivers, but rather in melding those two things together in a way that makes both feel somehow better. Conde and Apple both make ‘consuming content’ (the phrase feels inadequate) a pleasure.

I found myself wondering: What if Apple suddenly had to live in a world beyond devices? How would they adapt? iTunes would be golden, but if we move somehow beyond needing a phone or a computer at all, what would the company do?

I think that’s where Conde is now–half of what they are better at delivering than anyone else has simply ceased to be relevant. And sure, it’s a business problem, but it’s also a little sad.