The curation business model

The curation business model is a great favourite of mine.

When a client comes to me looking for a way to pivot their business into something new and more successful, I’m always looking for a successful model to use.

I’m a collector (and curator) of business models, I’m always stealing them from all sorts of places, and the curation business model is one I use a lot. But not a lot of people talk about this model or even know that it exists.

How the curation business model works…

Consumers (and business buyers) are swamped with information.

curation business model

We’re surrounded by different things we could buy, different models, different types. If you’ve ever tried to buy a car or a printer, you’ll know that the choice can be overwhelming. We used to choose by brand, but nowadays this isn’t such a good guide, as a lot of the major brands are made by the same company, and different models within the same brand can be very different. And a brand which used to be really good, might be complete rubbish now.

So we need some help in choosing what to buy.

We used to go to a middleman to help us choose. We would buy our holidays from a travel agent, our insurance from a broker, and our cars from a second-hand car dealer. But we can’t be bothered with these people anymore because we can easily buy directly online. So while more and more people go on holiday, fewer and fewer of us go to a travel agent to book that holiday. We just don’t need them anymore.

This is where the curation business model comes in

As a business model, curation means collecting, say printers, displaying a selection of them and helping people to make the right decision. Doing this online means that you don’t need a showroom of printers, or even buy any of the printers, you just have to know what’s a good printer, and be able to write about them.

Enough people will be so happy to find your recommendations, that they will buy the printer from you. Or from an affiliate link on your site, so you earn a percentage of the price of the printer.

Where curation goes wrong

Of course, many, many people do this sort of thing. In a totally rubbish kind of way.

Just Google ‘best printer’ or ‘best small car’ and you’ll get dozens of sites showing you printers and cars. But most of these people are not curating their choices for their readers, they’re just sticking up a bunch of links to printers or cars.

Without a careful choice of product, guides on how to choose the right one for you, and some guiding principles, what could have been curation becomes a catalogue. Or even worse, it’s a jumbled list of out of date affiliate links for unavailable products.

Good examples of curation as a business model

There are some lovely examples of curation out there.

Martin Lewis at Money Saving Expert is a brilliant curator.

He took an area he knew about, financial products such as loans and credit cards, and took a crusading journalistic approach to his subject. He wrote at length about what people should buy and what they should avoid. Then he kept the information up to date and involved his readers in very active discussions. He was on your side, so much so that he was completely open about his affiliate links. Money Saving Expert even gave you an alternative link if you didn’t want them to get the commission. He sold the business for £87m!

Responsible Travel is another example. They had firm principles about environmentally-friendly holidays and collected up hundreds of them. They helped the small holiday providers put their holidays online and helped holidaymakers to choose how to spend their money.

Of course, they charged a fee. But they became a trusted channel to market and a good place to buy. I think Responsible Travel could have gone much further in demanding high standards from their holiday providers. I wonder if there will be an alternative sometime soon, curating the higher ethical standards many people now demand. If there is one, let me know and I’ll write about it.

Take a look at Bags of Book Lists, a lovely independent children’s bookshop in Lewes.

They specialise in curated collections for schools. Instead of relying on high street retail, they’ve put together collections of books for schools to use, all of which are set up for different parts of this year’s curriculum. They’ve made buying the right books for schools really simple, so teachers don’t have to research what’s good and what’s not, but can rely on getting the right books for the right age group.  A fantastic example of how curation works as a business model.


Some more business models for you

Membership business model

Project-based business model

Products business model

Recurring income business model

Prostitute business model

Picture credit – thanks to Mike Boudreaux