The Difference Between Services And Content
By Mike Masnick, Tue Apr 05 02:30:00 GMT 2005

As the call to monetize mobile content gets louder and louder, some are looking towards content's under-appreciated cousin, services, and wondering if that's a better fit.

The line between content and services can often be quite blurry. After all, many services really are just the delivery of content. However, the real difference is in what the person is actually paying for. Services are considered an ongoing offering that fulfills a need. Content is just seen as an end product -- and as an end product it's easy to devalue once it's been delivered, since it's essentially free to reproduce and distribute (weak DRM attempts aside). In other words, people are more comfortable paying for a service, because they see it as paying for the ability to get future information, than paying for content, which is often seen as already created information, which could be reproduced, free of charge.

This lesson is becoming more important as the newspaper industry tries to move into the future and is increasingly eyeing the mobile platform as the best way to do so. Newspapers on mobile devices is a natural fit for many. It keeps the portability aspect of the newspaper (some would say it enhances it) while adding additional features, like the ability to do alerts or tie other stories together.

However, too many think that moving the news mobile is just about figuring out a way to charge for the same sort of content (news, sports, weather, stocks) that is already available free of charge in many cases online. In this line of thinking, the Internet may be a lost cause, since it's already been set up as "free," but the mobile space has more flexibility since the mobile operators still control the gates (and the tollbooth!).

The problem, though, is that people who use their mobile phones for news know better, and recognize that the content is the same, and the ability to reproduce it is the same. The article at E-Media Tidbits linked above, points out that the success stories in mobile content are things like a mobile dieting service and voting on the next winner of these Idol TV shows. The writer wonders what could make the news so "sticky," in order to help the old media folks move into the new age.

Just like others, this comparison is confusing content with services. The dieting service is a service to help people lose weight going forward. It may be "content," but people already know what the content should be (eat less, exercise more, etc.). The service of reminding them, giving them a pep talk, and continuing into the future is what users value. With the TV voting, it's about interacting and being a part of the program. The news media, for the most part, hasn't figured out how to offer a real service. They just deliver content. The stickiness isn't from better or more desirable content, but in figuring out ways to offer content as a service that people will find value in moving forward -- whether it's rapid alerts to specific news stories or connecting with others to discuss the news -- it has to be about more than just the content itself.