Content Syndicate's words don't add up

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Content Syndicate‘s tagline is “words on demand” (I am dying to insert some sarcastic quip about blogging here but I’ll restrain myself).

The pitch from the entrant in last week’s Seedcamp contest is to help content providers and buyers to commission, distribute buy and sell content that’s exclusive, customised and personalised. To do this they’ve built a platform to offer content services to all media outlets in all languages which will handle the life-cycling of buying, selling, commissioning, payment security, you name it.

Sounds like tall order, but after 9 months of operation they they have 87 clients and 30 employees spread across their home base of Dubai as well as India and the US.

Content Syndicate is designed to be an end to end solution. Publishers can put out a commission, rather like an RFQ, and freelance journalists (of which there are many) pitch to take the piece. Media firms in turn can buy content with a credit card and also talk to the writer direct. A publisher pays 60% of the commission up front for an article, there are two revisions possible and then the rest on delivery. I see problems here in that the professional review process is much more complex than this model.

A freelancer can also write an article “on spec” and put it into the system for a publisher to pick up or tweak. However, no real freelancer I am aware of does this, and in other quarters this is just called blogging.

CS claims that smaller publishers – being the vast majority of the 200,000 publishers on the planet – don’t have time for syndicating content and that CS will handle this too. All they need to do is upload all their content into the system. This is worrying – I think I’d rather take my chances with an RSS feed.

My questions about the practical running of this platform were met with optimism by the founders, but in in my world all publishers like to deal with writers direct, especially because the issue of writing for a title is so complex. Every title is different and there is no such thing as an “off the peg” article. Perhaps where CS could succeed is in the buying and selling of rights to generic content for corporate and customer magazines and the like.

But I don’t see it succeeding inside the full-blown professional editorial market.

  • Kyle MacRae

    We tried something sort of similar with ScooptWords last year (, the main difference being that we were syndicating content directly from blogs. Or trying to. Thing is, we knew it couldn’t work unless we built the search filter and transaction tools to bring buyers and sellers together, and it looks like Content Syndicate is doing this rather well.

    (We also tried acting as a dynamic commissioning agent for a while too but that sucked:

    As you say, the marketplace is complex and I’m not convinced that there’s a demand for this kind of service in the editorial world. How many commissioning editors do you know who are short of content, or writers? How many would commission an unknown? How many really want to license off-the-peg articles which they then have to sub into house style? Would you — or would you rather work with one of the 100-odd freelancers bombarding you daily with smart pitches and impressive cuttings?

    However, as well as brokering generic content deals, I can see potential for bringing together editors/researchers and punters/writers who have deep knowledge of specialist subjects. Blogs are useful here, assuming that those with the knowledge can be arsed blogging about it, but there might be value in an intelligent platform that connects the dots more easily. An expert content network or some such…

    Congrats on the TC gig, btw!

  • Ian Delaney

    Agreed, Mike. We’ve both been editors for years. Who do you go to when you’ve got a paying commission? The freelancers you’ve worked with for ages and you know you’ll get decent, usable copy from? Or do you ‘crowdsource’ it and see what turns up? Meh.

  • http://ContentSyndicate Maddy Reddy

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the post and considering us.

    There are a few things, I would like to clarify, considering we had a 10 minute ‘rapid chat’ during the rush and busy schedule Seedcamp.

    1.) Its founder. At this stage, we have no co-founders.

    2.) Our revenue streams come from two sources – corporates and publishers. Corporates (be in an MNC or an SMB) need content of all kinds, from newsletters, brochures, web content, blogs, translation, press releases etc – all of it is customised content, we’ve been delivering that quite successfully – the past 9 months of our young existence. We deliver this in up to 218 languages across volumes (from a few pages to thousands of pages).

    Publishers – like anyone else, want to make money, maximise the value of their assets (read content), save time and money.

    Currently their revenue streams are from advertising and subscriptions. Our aim is to create a third revenue stream from their content – everything from DRM, licensing, marketing, hosting, payments is handled by us. There are no set-up costs, licensing fees, software, servers etc to instal. Its simple to sign-up and free.

    For them to set this up on their own would cost a lot of time and money and they have full control over it. And for a buyer, it offers only a limited selection.

    We’re targeting the trade publishers, B2B, small and mid-size publishers as this forms a bulk of the market.

    For generic content, features etc its pretty straight forward like you pointed out.

    You raise a valid point: *For customised content, as opposed to a lone-ranger freelancer, our range, volume of content is much more. In fact, we would love to have more quality freelancers sign-up as it complements our efforts. And we don’t believe in crowdsourcing model, as I’ve been an Editor myself.

    Our aim is to help editors/publishers streamline the process of getting the content or ‘comissioning it’ (as opposed to blogging).

    We take a detailed brief, stylesheets, writing samples etc and we have a qualified team of content providers to deliver the story on time and accomodate revisions, corrections. We are building a global team of qualfied full-time editors, more resources and services, and a delivery platform.

    As an ex-freelancer myself, I don’t think I could have offered that to a prospective client.

    Its like asking ‘Why are large companies outsourcing their complex software development, back office services? Can’t they do it themselves, or can’t they rely on loads of freelancers or ‘crowd source it’?’

    The answer should be self-explanatory.

    I guess, we’re doing something right as we’ve been growing consistently and actually making some money.

    Either ways, we would love to take your feedback, so we can keep improving.

    Thank you,

  • Kyle MacRae

    Not that it matters but my earlier comment has been awaiting moderation for nearly 24 hrs. Just thought I’d mention it… :)

  • Mike Butcher

    Kyle – my apologies, I have released your earlier comment from spam purgatory (it was because it contained a link). And thanks, nice to be back….

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