The New (Old) Content Model … plus a CEX recap

How Do We Know?

I’m writing this less than 24 hours after Content Entrepreneur Expo (CEX) 2024 concluded.

It’s hard to express the feelings that occur when an event like this comes to an end. I’m exhausted, both physically and mentally. But I’m also still glowing (if that’s the right word) from knowing the event made a real impact on so many of the 400 people from 10+ countries who came to Cleveland, Ohio for three days.

But let me take you back to before the event started.

My wife and I headed down to Hotel Cleveland (formerly The Renaissance Hotel) Saturday afternoon to check in before the first welcome reception. With hotel key in hand, we headed to up room 1412.

We opened the door and almost simultaneously said “you’ve got to be kidding.” The room was the exact same room we stayed in for the inaugural Content Marketing World (our first event), which took place in 2011. Same exact room.

So many feelings. Content Marketing World changed our entire business. It changed our lives. Our business went from losing significant money from 2007 to 2010 to profitable and over one million in revenue (because of CMW) in September of 2011. That first event, where I was hoping 100 people would come to Cleveland for a strange marketing event, ended up attracting 660 people. Four years later that event was 4,000 strong and became the largest single business event in Cleveland, Ohio. The next year we sold it for a s*it ton of money.

And now, 13 years later, we arrived back at the beginning. Where it all started.

After dropping our luggage off in our “old” room, we headed down to see the staff and check things out.

Kelley, our incredible meeting director, wanted to show me the main stage. So we walked into the grand ballroom. I immediately headed up on stage to check things out.

What do you call it when your life flashes in front of your eyes. Well, that happened. At least the last 13 years. I was standing on the same stage in the same exact place where my life took this huge, incredible turn. Hard to express to be honest. I joked with Kelley, saying something like “I’m not sure what it says that I’m back in the same exact spot where it all began. Is that good?”

I didn’t know the answer.

Sure, this was a completely different event. An entirely different business and a uniquely different audience, but still…

I wasn’t sure of the exact feeling. I can’t name it. I guess I was asking myself if I’d done enough, or was doing enough, to make a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s kind of my career goal now. How can I use my talents, my time, and my relationships to help this new group of people live better lives in some way?

I didn’t know the answer to that either. I mean, I knew I was doing some good, but was I “really” doing enough.

Fast forward to the start of the event.

I met old friends and new friends and people who were executing on some amazing content projects and businesses.

At the opening reception I met a very excited couple. Apparently, one of them bought my book Content Inc. and changed their entire business because of it. At some other event, the first creator recommended it to the second creator. This their first meeting. I’m not sure what happened, but now they are married, and they create content together as part of the same business. They said that they fell in love with each other because of my book.

I didn’t see that coming.

Then, one woman came up to me and said that listening to my podcast This Old Marketing (with Robert Rose) was the best part of her week. She said she recently went through a divorce, and everything was going wrong. The only thing that stayed constant in her life was our silly one-hour podcast.

Then, one of our keynotes presented on stage how they left their job (where they were completely depressed with life), then wrote a book and started a business that resulted in almost one million dollars in two years…all because they attended the first CEX in 2022.

There were so many conversations with people who came up to me with stories like this. It was as if God was just showering me with proof points after I had doubts of my value just a few hours before. It was like, “hey idiot, here’s another example.”

I would have never known any of this if it wasn’t for this small in-person event that took place in Cleveland, Ohio.

I’m not sure the point of all this for you, my amazing reader. Maybe this:

You are creating things. Maybe it’s a newsletter like this one. Or a book like Content Inc. Or a podcast like This Old Marketing.

And maybe you don’t quite realize if it’s making an impact.

Joe Pulizzi, Justin Moore, Roberto Blake, Jay Clouse, Soundarya Balasubramani

I’m here to tell you that it most definitely is having an impact on people. You are changing people’s lives. You are making a difference. You just don’t know the specifics yet.

I’m lucky that we hold an annual event where I can learn first-hand…but trust me…this kind of stuff is happening for you as well. Know that this is true and keep doing your thing.

The New Model for Content Entrepreneurs

Here’s my PowerPoint presentation from CEX24. I hope you find some value in it.


I wanted to describe how the content creation business model had changed and what we need to do about it. So…I had to go back to how I started as a content entrepreneur.

I remember reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” from Robert Kiyosaki.

Robert says to have a successful business you need to create assets you have control over.

And then, I was working on an analysis of The New York Times as part of a consulting deal. The Times creates hundreds of pieces of content a day…but they are not valued on that. They are valued on their customers and proprietary databases.

The simple realization you come to is that you can’t value a media company on the amount of content, you value them on the audience and the buying power of that audience.

So when we started our own content brand, Content Marketing Institute, back over 15 years ago, my goal was to build assets.

So, the 2000s Content Entrepreneur Model looks something like this:

  • Articles/Blogs on MY website
  • Newsletters
  • Research
  • Print Magazine
  • In-Person Events and Webinars
  • Books
  • Podcasts

Then social media came around, and we started to move our time and content from assets to networks owned by others.

  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Twitter/X
  • Facebook
  • Amazon

And at first, this seemed made sense. It was truly amazing. A free network where we could gain followers and build audience.

And it was great, until it wasn’t.

The algorithms have won.

We thought we won the content lottery with social media. We changed our business models, but so did they. We lost organic reach with algorithms that prioritize user experience over our brand and connections.

You have followers that aren’t yours. You have content that your followers can’t see. They can remove you from the platform at any time.

We (collectively) stopped building assets and instead invested all our time on rented land.

And now, we need to go back to the beginning.

I believe that success for content entrepreneurs in 2024 and beyond will need to look more like it was in 2007.

It’s not impossible, but improbable to build a successful content entrepreneur business on rented land.

Assets first. Social media on fewer channels and only when it makes sense.

The updated model looks like this:

  • Email Newsletter
  • Podcasts
  • Pick one or two social channels (TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, X, FB, Insta)
  • Communities/Membership/Tokenization/SMS
  • Courses/Webinars
  • In-Person Events or Online Events
  • Direct Sale of Physical Books/eBooks

The goal: build more assets.

If you’d like to get all the recordings from the event, you can register here and purchase the digital pass. They will all be available in a couple weeks.

Thanks to everyone who attended. I so appreciate you.

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