When Your Content Becomes Your Greatest Expense

Software for digital signage has been free and open source for quite a long time. I’m a believer that (almost) all software will eventually become commoditized thanks to consumer price sensitivity. Price sensitivity is also the primary reason I use Google Docs now rather than Microsoft Office. Our price sensitivity toward what we pay for software will continue to have downward pressure on vendors in this market. But what about those pieces in the DOOH ecosystem that are custom-built for a particular project? Like content, for instance. When it costs more than the software, how will we react?

A brief tale from a recent experience may be helpful. Several weeks ago we contracted with a content creation firm to help us draft some content examples for our newly released SignageStudio Lite (an enhanced open source product for digital signage). We agreed on an hourly price and gave them three examples to work on–two tweaked from their existing portfolio and the third a custom-made presentation.

The work came in slowly over several weeks. The first couple of campaigns came quickly. They required the least amount of work as they were minor tweaks to the company’s originally-produced content. None of the three campaigns were over 30 seconds in length. The last piece arrived just last week. The invoice came today.

The total supposed amount of time on all three pieces: 45 hours. I won’t share the total bill. It was astounding. We’ve outsourced stuff like this before. I was absolutely astounded and floored at the total cost both in labor and money. It was far above what I expected. We’ve outsourced work like this before, but this time I was astounded. Was I being gouged? Did they think we were made of money? Did they realize that that’s more than one of our middle-level devs were getting paid? If I’m going to pay that much, that content better be super hard-hitting. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Not only was it mediocre, but these weren’t even full campaigns. We were asking for content examples we could share with users–hardly the pinnacle of what we might request in terms of impactful content.

I must admit, I failed to get an estimate and thus had false expectations as to the total time it would take to create the campaigns. I also must admit that we at MediaSignage may have a bit of a skewed idea on what things cost, since we give away one of the most robust solutions in the industry to 90% of our users without charging them a dime. That likely creates in us a sense that everything is cheap. It would be like someone used to the soup kitchen being forced to eat and pay at a five star restaurant when all he asked for was a taste of something more than just the soup.

Enough with my frustrated rant. I’ll get to my original point. As software products in this market merge toward sameness, one of the only differentiating factors between screen managers is going to be the content. And content costs money. If you want a lot of it, it’s going to cost more on a recurring basis than your reliable and robust hardware and software. Why, because it requires what hardware and software do not: the human element.

We can try our best to automate away the cost of bringing in people to help assist with the work, but that’s unfortunately not available in all circumstances. Because people are one of the most expensive components to any organization, it’ll be hard to cut the costs of regularly updating content if you want to make custom.

This fact alone further underscores the need for great media feeds, superb stock footage and a good system to take it from stock and get it ready to produce without much headache. I really like what the likes of ScreenFeed and others are doing to help further democratize content by making it more affordable and more accessible by eliminating the humans out of the picture. In my humble opinion, automation of the content needs to happen so the content doesn’t become the bank breaker for your signage budget.

Otherwise, content will continue to grow in influence as the most expensive component of your campaign. It’s a lesson I learned a little too late. What do you think? Do you think content creators are overpaid? Or do you find them underappreciated?

  • Chris Soehner

    I DEFINITELY think content creators are WAY over paid! I also think this will change with all the out-of-work content people out there. They will end up under cutting each other eventually.
    I offer free initial content creation to all my hosts & advertisers which can add up to several thousand. After the initial creation, I charge about half of “Industry Standard” pricing. I may lose money in the short term, but I get the sale and make it back in the long run. People appreciate “FREE” as you guys know, and will spend more in the long run rewarding your efforts.

  • http://www.GetDigitalSigns.com Daniel Hochstein

    Lumping all content creators into one stereotype is unrealistic, so I disagree with Chris. We create awesome animated, custom content for our clients, and all others that want creative, unique motion graphics for their own signage service. The fact is, just like any other business (including digital signage delivery), there will be some companies that overcharge, and others like us that provide excellent, yet aggressively priced content, because we want to create an ongoing relationship with our client. Do your research and you’ll find many honest hard-working creatives that will charge a fair price for quality work. That being said, those that want to buy cheap content, and look on sites like fiver for cheap content, will get what they pay for. Creative content producers deserve to be paid a decent wage for their work, just like everyone else.

    • Chris Soehner

      I do agree with you, but there are way too many mediocre content creators who charge industry standard prices, especially when all they are doing is making a power point or keynote presentation exported to video. (At least here in Canada) It really taints the whole industry. I am lucky as I was a content creator (true video editing) before I became a network administrator/content creator.

      • Nate Nead

        The mantra “you get what you pay for” certainly applies, but there must still be a value-add. Custom content can certainly justify a higher price, but if it becomes too steep to get new and engaging content for a rarely-changing audience, I can see many firms simply opting for the cheaper version in mediaRSS. Custom content–by its nature can charge more–but when it becomes usurious, we have to ask ourselves “who is adding the value here?”

  • SS

    Not all content creators are equal. There are those fully deserving of top dollar, yet they charge a reasonable fee. Then there are those that try to ride the coattails of those premiere designers. Those are the ones that deliver subpar content for a premium price. In the end, it’s a matter of having the correct conversation with designer and client to so that both are on the same page. That discussion will often show you the true skills of the designer. I remember two years ago my owner had hired a webmaster to design his site. The entire site was based on flash. I explained to my owner that the site should be designed with iPhone and iPads in mind using html5. The designer disagreed. A few months later we had to hire someone new to design the site. In the end, it’s just as much as the clients job to do homework prior to contracting.

    • Nate Nead

      Unfortunately it’s the minority that damages the reputation of the rest of the industry in the end. Once you get a sour taste in your mouth, it’s hard to get it out.

  • http://www.gmsvideo.com JM Garcia

    Hi Chris. First of all, let me tell you that you are doing a great job. Media Signange is in my experience a super powerfull DS platform that is changing the industry. Keep going.
    About content, I think that globalization plays a good role here. You have super high quaity options in other markets, like Argentina, India, Mexico, but with a much lower price. Is quite difficult to take out the human factor out of the equation, but there are new tools available to make content creation easier and more affordable, like the new from Adobe.
    I offer you a completely free 1 minute video so you can test our content work. Feel free to contact me directly. ventas@gmsvideo.com

  • http://menuat.com James

    I find this very interesting. There’s a company called Menuat that actually allows their customers to be the content creators. You can easily edit your in-store, online, and to-go menu in one simple step. Everything is completely customizable and they are very friendly! http://menuat.com/

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