‘Legacy Content Can Be Mined Gold’: A Few Words With Matt Dellinger

In News by Erin L. Cox

‘A vast pool of quality legacy content amounts to a huge, permanent brand advantage,’ says Rights and Content conference speaker Matt Dellinger. But how can it be deployed?
Image - iStockphoto: Tomas Sereda

Image – iStockphoto: Tomas Sereda

By Erin L. Cox | @erinlcox

‘What Do We Do With All This Stuff?’
Matt Dellinger

Matt Dellinger

Digital content strategist Matt Dellinger has overseen complete digital archive projects for magazines including The New Yorker, Vogue, Esquire, Aviation Week, and Aperture.  

In this work, he has helped these magazines maintain their brands and  better connect with their readers, helping to monetize the digitization process.  And, because Dellinger is not only a content strategist, but also a journalist and author of Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway (2010, Scribner), he weighs the challenges and benefits across the entire value chain from writer to publisher to reader.

Looking ahead to his participation in the June 13th conference, Rights and Content in the Digital Age, Dellinger shared some insight into his role in working with brands—and how mining the backlist can provide better connectivity to future readers.

“A certain amount of magic comes from focusing on what makes each publisher and their archives special.”Matt Dellinger

Publishing Perspectives: What does a digital content strategist do?

Matt Dellinger: “Content strategist” is one of those newfangled titles that’s used very broadly and may sound, at times, contrived. To me, a content strategist is a person who thinks equally about editorial goals, business goals, and technology — to develop a plan that balances all prerogatives. And that describes well what I do.
Scanning a huge untapped archive presents a perfect content strategy problem: “What do we do with all this stuff?” A smart strategy for how to get the most value out of newly digitized legacy content requires, by nature, a multidisciplinary approach. How can these images or articles or assets amplify our message and solidify our voice? What audience are we hoping to meet? How can we monetize this material? What processes and software and delivery platforms do we need to make this happen?
A publisher can’t truly answer any of these questions without answering all of them. So my job, by necessity, is more holistic, communicating and translating among a range of stakeholders.
“A quality digital conversion could be justified as a preservation step, one that will also make the material more searchable and usable internally.”Matt Dellinger
PP: What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to working with brands on digitizing their archives?

MD: I’ve found it’s very important to approach each project fresh. Putting into place a great solution for one magazine doesn’t mean it’s a model for the next magazine. The content will be different, the audience has unique demands, there are more or fewer sponsorship opportunities, etc. There’s a pull to standardize the process as much as possible for all publishers, but often a certain amount of magic comes from focusing on what makes each publisher and their archives special.

PP: Many publishers don’t see the immediate benefit of creating digital archives or, in the case of book publishers, don’t have the financial ability to digitize their backlists.  How do you address these challenges?

MD: Tight resources and uncertain demand are almost universal concerns, and they underscore the importance of a good strategy. Often, in fact, a brand doesn’t have a good sense of what their archive contains, making it very difficult to decide its potential value and commit to a business strategy and delivery platform. In that case, a well-designed phased approach could help.

For instance, a quality digital conversion could be justified as a preservation step, one that will also make the material more searchable and usable internally. Once that’s complete, the brand will have better visibility into the content’s potential as a product, and at that time can explore marketing and technology options, which almost surely will have evolved.

“For brands, archival content becomes a crucial differentiator against upstart competitors. Maybe there are dozens of blogs positioning themselves as ‘authoritative’ on fashion today, but how many brands have been authoritative since the late 19th century?”Matt Dellinger

PP:  With the rise of digital publishing, both magazine and book publishers are looking for new ways of capitalizing on digital content.  What do you see as the future of content?
MD: Well, certainly the future of content is digital. Which means digitization is a crucial first step to making your legacy content accessible across new platforms and products, and becoming nimble enough to stay in front of a fickle audience.
Importantly, though, I believe that the history of content can play an increasingly valuable role in the future of content.
Our media today is fragmented and fast, full of quick takes and borrowed insights. The gatekeeper role that brands have played is less secure, the delivery platforms more democratic. In this landscape, quality legacy content can be mined gold.
By nature, archival images and articles and books are more curated, harder won, and far more precious. For readers, this material provides depth and perspective that can be hard to come by. And so for brands, archival content becomes a crucial differentiator against upstart competitors. Maybe there are dozens of blogs positioning themselves as “authoritative” on fashion today, but how many brands have been authoritative since the late 19th century?
A vast pool of quality legacy content amounts to a huge, permanent brand advantage, if embraced and leveraged well.

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox is the Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives and a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.