What If We Just Slowed Down?

In the early days of the internet, it was all about accessibility.  You could find up to date information on all sorts of topics.  You could join newsgroups and constantly learn more about your favorite subjects without waiting for books to be published.

Then things got bigger.  Lots bigger.

And then we had twitter and blogging and everything was about instantaneous information.  You’ve gotta have the latest news and opinions NOW!

Sure, instant has a ton of downside and there’s crazy pressure to put out a story, even when you don’t have all the facts, but it’s still a good deal overall.

But now, we’re beyond instant.

Now we’re at constant.

And constant really sucks.

There’s endless content all the time from everywhere.  It doesn’t matter if it’s anything useful as long as more pages are being created and more pageviews are happening and ad revenue keeps climbing.

So we go from people being excited to share ideas to people feeling pressured to share ideas fast, to people just sharing regardless of whether an idea exists.

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As absurd as sports reporting is… it’s nothing compared to reporting about sports reporting.

The content hurricane is so fierce, we’re even reporting about that.  Yep, we’re making content about making content.  And we’re doing it by the truckload.

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But why?

If you ask anyone that does marketing-ish stuff on the web, they’ll give some gut-reaction claim about how frequent creation/distribution of content leads to engaged and loyal fans who will see and click lots of your ads share your message with friends.

And they know this because they read it somewhere on the internet.

But it’s all simple math.  If we cared about advertising revenue, content should be scarcer and of better quality.  Quite simply, TV (despite the endless array of channels and reality contests) is infinitely scarcer and better quality than the internet at a whole.  Sure, there are great websites out there, but when you aggregate things, it’s not even close.

And engagement on TV is tons better.  I’m only 330 words in and the majority of you have given up on this post by now.  But those same people will have their eyeballs glued to a special one hour episode of Honey Boo-Boo.

And that’s why TV can charge CPMs of $40 and up, while websites are lucky to snag $3.

But let’s forget the whole revenue thing for a bit.  Because there’s a bigger issue than just dollar signs.

The web could actually be really really good if we just eased off the gas a little bit.  By not going for the constant media mentality, we’re unlikely to lose many fans because it’s so easy to get notified when new stuff is posted.  There’s RSS and email subscriptions and social networks and google now and hell, even bookmarks.

The idea that people only come to your site because you have something new to read every 3 minutes is absurd.  That model might work if you’re posting rubbish top 10 lists like the Huffington Post, but it doesn’t matter if you’re actually creating something worth reading (complete and total offense meant for HuffPo there – their site is shit).   So unless you know that nothing you write is worth reading, why get caught up in that game?  (And if you know none of your stuff is worth reading, why are you writing?)

The prevailing problem is we’ve tried this and determined it doesn’t work.  When things first went digital, all the long-form journalists from traditional papers/magazines went to the web and basically repurposed their print pieces online.  There were certainly some disappointing moments when people definitively knew what types of content readers were clicking on – but revenue was the big issue.

Again, ad revenue online is nothing like in traditional media.  And rather than find a way to charge more for ads, the major media outlets just tried to get more ad impressions.  So they focused on SEO-friendly articles, headlines that grab clicks, slideshows, etc.  Essentially they said “screw substance, we need volume.”  And that pushed us to the horrible place we’re in today.

But that doesn’t mean well done long form content doesn’t work online.  It does, just not the way we want it to.  For one, we can’t charge a paywall AND show ads – users will revolt and get their news elsewhere (unless you’re a niche source that helps people make money – like WSJ, MorningStar, etc).

You also can’t just throw ad boxes online and expect to be rich.  Check that, you shouldn’t expect to get rich from anything you do.  There’s a nasty entitlement from online so-called businesses, where they think just having a website grants them the privilege to cash in.  That mindset may have gotten you by for a little while in the late 90’s, but that was a long time ago.

We’re no longer stuck with whatever news can get delivered to our door.  We don’t have to put up with the one decent clothing store in town.  The accountant down the street isn’t the only option for getting our taxes done.  You’ve gotta really give people a reason to come to you.

And it pains me to write all this, because it’s nothing new.  Not a fucking word of it.  Yet, every day I see sites that are seemingly online for no purpose at all, yet expect to make money.

When they have the sad realization hit that nobody cares about them, they usually blame Google for not giving them more free traffic.   Then they go do some shady link buying or write even worse headlines to get more traffic.  And then things get worse and they blame Google again.

All the while, the website owners are the ones cheating the system and ruining the web with their non-stop garbage.

Whoops, I was in the middle of a statement.  Oh yes!  Ad boxes.  So many sites use contextual banner advertising, that tries to match advertisers up with the content on a page.  It’s usually a nightmare because the ad networks don’t really know what a page is about and the people buying the ads are largely morons that expect their advertising to be automated…

If you seriously want to make money, you need that traditional mindset.  You need to actively sell ad space, not just throw a change jar on your front door and hope people donate.  You think the Chicago Tribune gets Macy’s to buy two 6×21 slots in the main section of every paper because they put out an “advertise here” flyer?  Fuck no.  They get it because some salesman spends his entire life making sure the marketing folks at Macy’s are happy.  And even though their rates have certainly been slashed in recent years, the Tribune gets a ton of money out of that deal.

But when you have a website, you expect the advertisers to come to you.  How backwards is that?  You’re the one with space to sell, go out and sell it.

Back to the matter at hand.  We’re quickly approaching more websites than people.  Damn near every one of those websites has a blog.  And probably 99% of them have nothing unique to offer, yet they expect your money.  The only way sites have figured out how to solve this is by attempting to grow rapidly and constantly via new content.  The ad impression race is a dull one, but it’s going to end in a  horrific crash.

Please, jump off before it’s too late.




Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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Author: Jay

Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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