Before You Commit: Other Considerations When Thinking About Content Aggregators

In January 1996, Bill Gates wrote an essay entitled “Content is King,” where he stated that “content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting .”

This Bill Gates article started the mantra “content is king,” motivating content providers to produce over 1.5 billion websites by 2019, a count that changes every second. Google’s search engine now tracks over 130 trillion pages of information and 300 hours of videos are uploaded every minute on YouTube.

These stats may explain the birth of Content Aggregators and what keeps them in the business of curating content. We are all familiar with the process of searching for information on the Internet, and how quickly time is consumed.

Content Aggregators offer an attractive value proposition — they perform the search, curate the best, and offer the results for a price. Now, there are even different types of aggregators that are creating a growing issue, such as those who skim breaking news from other online news organizations.

Of interest to this blog are those who curate online learning content. The number of Content Curators or Content Aggregators offering services continues to grow, with a promise to make training as easy as streaming a video or creating a playlist. And why not? From 2011 to 2014, the majority of venture capital investments in education went to Content Aggregators.

With the promise of a one-stop-shop, Learning Content Aggregators provide an enticing environment to organizations faced with compliance training deadlines, and professional development requirements that can’t be satisfied by internal course development alone. The pressure to meet these requirements grow exponentially the larger the organization.

Some reading this article may be ready to subscribe to a Content Aggregator. But before committing to or renewing a contractual agreement, take a moment and consider the following issues never discussed by Content Aggregators.

Content Aggregators are motivated to, well… “aggregate”

Investors in the education market, as with other industries, look for quick exit strategies to pull out their investment dollars, so they push for fast growth. Content Aggregators acquiesce to the two demands initiated by their investors:

1.) Content Aggregators must increase their course offerings.

Like sharks who must move to force water through its gills, Content Aggregators are always looking to sign content authors, if they are to develop larger libraries. Those receiving dollars from venture capital have given some control over the direction of their company, even if investors are minority owners.

Investors already bought into the concept that organizations are attracted to substantial course titles and expect no less. Fortunately for these investors, Content Aggregators drink their own “Kool-Aid.” Fueled by a one-size-fits-all approach, they go about the business of increasing libraries.

  • Content Aggregators sign up content providers indiscriminately, with minimal concern over the subject matter or if they already have similar courses in their libraries.
  • Content Aggregators ensure authors shoulder the costs for updating their courses, often with minimal policies of how often updates must occur.
  • Content Aggregators invest substantial marketing dollars selling quantity as a benefit.

However, this drive to increase library sizes introduces significant problems to new and existing subscribers, when quantity over quality is sold as a benefit.

  • Course inconsistencies, such as varying navigation interfaces and course lengths spanning from minutes to hours, become distractions.
  • Subscribers must work through redundant courses by different authors found in larger libraries, creating even further confusion when they offer conflicting advice.
  • Companies must monitor training activities, as their employees work through irrelevant courses in libraries that include non-business content, such as cooking and hobby-related training.

TIP: For additional information to the challenges created by larger libraries, read the article entitled “Why Content Aggregators Compromise Your Learning Program.”

Content Aggregators are aware of the problems created by their one-size-fits-all strategy. To address these issues, they are reorganizing their curated content into smaller libraries and categories, so it’s easier to locate specific training. Some offer Content Advisors or Experts to ensure companies can successfully work through their vast libraries. Not to worry, associated costs are automatically applied to the subscription program or offered as an add-on service.

2.) Content Aggregators must increase their subscriptions.

Aggressive subscription models sold to investors mean that Content Aggregators must grow their subscriber count. Revenue is poured back each year into marketing, with a focus on securing companies rather than individuals. Pricing models are presented to organizations based on a cost per course. The larger the libraries the smaller the perceived cost per employee.

This requirement to grow their user count has unintended consequences:

  • Individual subscribers are only remembered as their renewal dates approach.
  • Keeping existing customers is secondary to attracting new subscribers. Special pricing and/or bundles are only available to new customers.
  • Securing more authors and supporting a growing subscriber count means annual fees are subject to increases to cover operational costs.
  • Subscribers are never told they pay for redundancy, irrelevant, conflicting and possibly outdated material.

Content Aggregators answer to investors who demand a return on their investment. And depending on the dollar amounts they secured from venture capital, aggregators may have to satisfy investors before they can address customer requirements.

Content Aggregators tend to isolate their authors

Authors are dependent on Content Aggregators to deliver their learning materials, once they sign an agreement. Their identities are often hidden unless name recognition helps generate demand. Content Aggregators want subscribers to develop a lasting relationship with them and their services, rather than with authors.

Netflix has been a very successful movie aggregator over the last 20 years. The key to their success, among other things, is allowing subscribers to consume movies for a single price rather than a per-title rental, an all-you-can-eat concept readily adopted by Learning Content Aggregators.

However, Netflix will soon face challenges in this space from Disney and other studios, who have pulled out their own content, deciding to offer similar subscription services. With 133 million Netflix subscribers, why would any studio want to break away? Simple. They all desire a direct relationship with their consumers, rather than through Netflix.

Content Aggregators haven’t experienced this exodus of learning authors just yet, but they share the same issues facing Netflix. Aggregators tend to isolate authors from learners, positioning themselves as intermediaries.

Why should this concern current and future subscribers to Content Aggregators?

  • Support questions go directly to Content Aggregators, who then communicate the issues to the appropriate content authors. This tends to delay resolutions to problems when questions and responses go through an intermediary layer.
  • Content authors receive feedback from consumers through the Aggregator layer, if at all, which hinder the update process. Online courses are easier to improve when feedback goes directly to the course creators.
  • An intermediary layer also means authors won’t understand what additional training is needed or wanted. They will have to rely on other sources to determine what content to produce in the future, potentially creating more irrelevant titles.

Successful Content Aggregators aren’t standing still. Some are buying the rights to the learning courses they offer, transforming them into content owners. Original authors receive financial incentives to keep their content updated. And when they don’t, Aggregators must outsource updates to consultants, as required.

Recently, a new “selective aggregation” model has been introduced where Content Aggregators become publishers. Armed with stringent selection criteria and editorial power to influence final video output, Content Aggregators reward authors by sharing revenue.

While these moves are designed to address complaints by subscribers about outdated training, content inconsistencies remain, exacerbated, even more, when new authors have to update content they didn’t create. And with tens of thousands of courses in curated libraries, subscribers continue to maneuver through extraneous courses, just to locate the training they need.

Call to Action — Engage Content Vendors

Rather than rely on Content Aggregators to provide your online learning library, why not go directly to the source? There are multiple types of content providers, from small, subject matter experts, to experienced vendors with an established sales channel to market and sell their content.

There are also Content Brokers, learning professionals who established special relationships with content authors and vendors. Unlike Content Aggregators with an all-you-can-eat strategy, Content Brokers match customer objectives and goals with specific content that best satisfy requirements, while establishing a direct relationship with the associated vendor.

In the interest of transparency, MaxIT is a Content Broker committed to benefits of delivering Micro-learning content from award-winning Content Vendors. What are the advantages of engaging Content Vendors, whether directly or through a Content Broker?

  • Customers pay for smaller, manageable libraries with quality content.
  • Customers find consistent training navigation and course layout, removing the distraction when the interface is inconsistent.
  • Customers provide feedback directly with the Content Vendor, who desire to improve their content, welcome and encourage comments, suggestions, and support questions.
  • Customers help Content Vendor through surveys to determine what new courses to produce.
  • Customers receive consistent monthly updates to libraries, as they are released.

Remember, our mission is for you and your employees to become a top performer in your industry. We encourage your feedback, so add your responses or comments on this blog below.

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