Why Content is King
How media creates power
Strategy trivia time! Here’s a fun quote from 1996. Do you know who said it?
“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”
If you guessed it was a media tycoon, like Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch, then you’d be wrong. It was actually Bill Gates! He wrote it in an essay titled “Content is King.”
I find this quote kind of amazing. Today, most of Gates’ peers (technology executives and investors) would vehemently disagree with it. I know this because I’ve experienced it personally. If I had a nickel for every VC that’s told me media is a bad business and I should really stop fooling around with content and build a proper software startup, like a civilized person, I’d be, umm, well-capitalized ;)
And, look, I get it. Technology businesses really are amazing. Bill Gates might have been wrong in 1996. But I think great media businesses are massively underrated and misunderstood in technology circles.
In my experience with Hardbound, Gimlet, Substack, and now the Everything bundle, I’ve come to believe that content can create incredibly strong moats. There are properties inherent to narratives and ideas that make them naturally powerful — kind of like how social networks, marketplaces, and platforms are inherently power-prone.
But not every media business benefits from them. There are winners and losers. To understand why — and, in the process, improve your chances of building and picking winners — we’ve got to dive into the mechanics of how these powers actually operate.
I have long searched for a book or essay that lays it all out, but couldn’t find a comprehensive guide. So this is my attempt to create one.