The Value of Content

The other day Faster Times posted an article from Oliver Miller about his time at AOL writing bullshit articles for their bullshit news, and the maddening pace at which they pump out crap.  I see nothing different between this and the crazy shit happening on Kindle with eBooks being used to spam people.  The content is itself useless, except as some vain attempt to drive traffic through advertising. Seth Godin shared his thoughts a few days ago about starving bullshit news people by not paying for crap content.

I don’t understand why people are playing at a losing game like that at all.  As content becomes less and less valued it just drives down the quality of the product and nobody will trust the content producer any more, thus perpetuating a downward spiral of their product.  I’m not an economist and I can tell you that.

As I was writing a few weeks ago, content value is being recalibrated these days.  The disconnect is between the vast overhead of the older content production systems and the new distribution model via the internet.  Older fatter companies are hemorrhaging money and don’t know how to staunch the flow.  The Atlantic had a great article about why Netflix is cleaning house and movie production companies are failing.  The simple factor is that Netflix understands how to capitalize on internet distribution, has an order of magnitude lower overhead than movie production and provides content at a price point that is damn near impossible to pass up.

News providers have been playing this game of advertising, sales price, and content for a long time.  We’ve also pushed ourselves beyond the realm of necessity for news as well.  We have multiple channels running 24 hours full of talking heads, there are thousands upon thousands of websites providing all sorts of news at the drop of a hat, many of them doing it because they feel passionately about it.  And that’s changing the news game.  There are people who are providing more valuable content than traditional news sources, and they’re providing it for free or next to free via targeted advertising.

The best story about embracing internet culture and making a successful go of it is The Atlantic.  Like most magazines that have been around for a while The Atlantic was losing money and losing subscribers.  But they turned it around and started to turn a profit for the first time in a LONG time.  And they have some of the best articles online.  They are high quality writing, not cranking out filler, and getting more and more people to read all the time.

Sure there is a tension between content development and sales.  But there are ways to make it work without being a spammer or a vapid click-through link wasteland.

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