Better Internet Content, Part 3 (Or, Does Original Internet Content Sell?)

Question: does good, original Internet content sell?

Maybe not. Some of the bigger names on the Internet these days: Facebook, Twitter, Google. Microsoft. Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Netflix. And what’s the one common thing among all of them? They provide tools for people to use, instead of creating original content. Even Netflix, which boasts of some original content, started off as a platform for easy access to existing content made by others. They couldn’t have made this far by starting off with original content. (Wouldn’t have the money to create originals anyway.)

What does that say about original content online?

They don’t sell. Period. People refuse to pay for digital content, and would rather pay for productivity tools, streaming tools, and tools that make their physical lives easier. News sites struggle at making people pay for content, and the general attitude towards Internet content: they’re either bad and don’t deserve to be paid for, or if they’re good, they should be free. Otherwise they’re not that good anymore.

For people like myself who want to create original content with the Internet, this is bad. But it’s not news. From the dawn of the Internet, the main form of payment for content has been through ads. In fact, many refuse to even accept ads, as they download ad blockers to block ads while they enjoy their free content. I dare say that this general attitude towards payment online is what steered the Internet towards becoming more of a tool than a host of content. If there’s no money to be made from creating content, then why spend time on it? And: why invest in content creation if you can have your users create it for you?

And so we see the reign of the technological upstarts that look for opportunities not in creating new content, but in uprooting existing establishments and selling old content in their new, digital packaging.

A sad situation. For all its creative possibilities, the Internet is now nothing more than a glorified tool.

But what’s sadder than that is the fact that most don’t find any problem with that. Most people using the Internet, I believe, have never seen the Internet as having the potential for rich, original content. (If you don’t count weird viral videos and cat pics, that is.) When they think the Internet, they think: shopping. Free videos. Chatting. Emails and productivity tools and a free, gigantic reference library.

And no amount of whining is going to change this. The mindset is so entrenched, even when the day comes when adblockers become so powerful there’s no free content that can survive, people will simply go back to accepting ads. That’s it. Getting the same people to therefore pay for content is like asking them to give their car keys to a stranger. No f**king way.

Of course there’re exceptions. There’re some sites that actually survive, by getting some paying customers to cover for the freeloaders. But the exception is not the rule, and as long as most never entertained the thought of paying for anything online, online content will continue to be rubbish. And it’s not even the fault of the creators of these rubbish, too. Why is Hollywood making superhero movies almost exclusively these days? Because they sell. We voted for them.

We vote for rubbish content by refusing to pay for better content.

It seems, then, that the conclusion is this: if you want to thrive via the Internet, load your content with ads. There’s no way round it. You can certainly control the quality of your ads and even improve the visuals of them, but there’s really no surer alternative. Once upon a time, I hoped for the day when people will recognize quality content online and pay for them, but now I know how delusional I was. Invest in creating good, original content if you want to, but don’t count on selling them directly. Put up the ads instead.

Yes, the price of ads is going down. And down. And down. But it doesn’t mean there’s no money to be made at all. As the prices of ads get driven down, the only way to thrive is to have more loyal visitors than the rest. In the future (probably already here), survival online will depend on whether you’re a first tier website that has an enormous or niche traffic, or if you’re a second tier website with average to low traffic. If you belong to the former, congratulations – you just might be able to thrive online, by getting healthy revenue from either volume or higher priced ads. If you’re in the latter, like most are, don’t even dare think about giving up your day job.

So no, good, original content online doesn’t sell—not directly. You’ll almost surely have to put up ads to earn some revenue. But create quality content anyway, if that’s your call in life. There will always be more people watching those cat videos than your carefully crafted content, but create anyway. Coz we didn’t come to this world just to make money, did we?