The Emperor Has No Content

One inescapable fact—yet somehow beyond the ken of almost all digital publishers—is that an enterprise based on a volume ad strategy by definition destroys and denies content and user-experience value, while excellent content and UX strategy is an effective ad strategy. Digital publishers, however, tend to be fully invested in the idea that their product has no value whatsoever beyond lending some inarticulate gravity to the actually important stuff on the page: the ads. Failure is the new black.

Tell me, where are the automobile dealerships where the cars and trucks are free for the taking, but in order to get one you must navigate a carnival midway maze of booths where hawkers from partnering jewelry companies, tax services, and sportswear brands ply you with offers along the way? There are none. Auto makers and their dealerships aren’t that stupid. Their profit model is based on selling their product. Oh, and what about the grocery stores where everything on the shelves is free for the taking, but the aisles are filled with shoe salesmen, credit consolidation service agents, and pharmaceutical reps who follow along with you, working to get you to purchase what they’re offering? There are none of these either. Grocery companies are smarter than that. They’re invested in their products.

Well, digital news and magazine content publishers are that stupid. They pay armies of skilled reporters, writers, editors, designers, programmers, artists, and researchers to produce their distinctive product…and then work to sell it according to an ethos that proclaims the product has no value.

As you might expect, there are consequences to this destructive approach. You see, when an industry profit model does not include the product, the industry and its market get rather turned inside out and upside down. It becomes a race to the bottom.

Dystopian Publishing

Online publishing is largely broken because media outlets are built to seek profit not from their product, but rather from the distractions and obstacles they conspire to place between the customer and the product. It’s a strategy that destroys quality, destroys confidence, and destroys the product consumption experience. It’s irrationality on parade: publications set up to destroy the very things they are supposed to deliver. It should come as no surprise that such a product tends to sell poorly.

This model is the ideal for digital publication success today. Expend enormous energy and capital in producing a product, and then devote nearly all of your strategic energies toward the advertising value model that will deface and obscure it.

Digital publishers don’t need a cleverer and more elaborate ad strategy. Digital publishers need a value and UX strategy for their product. But they’re oblivious and disinterested. This fact becomes clear when you ask a couple of very simple questions:


Q: Why not romance highly valuable content and create an excellent reading experience, and then put the ads at the end of articles where they’ll be seen with satisfaction?


A: If ads are at the bottom of the page, they’ll seldom be seen! (I’m not interested in content or experience quality)


Q: I see. Why must the end be “at the bottom of the page”?


A: Duh! That’s just where the end has to be! (I’m not interested in how clever and delightful experiences can be designed for digital environments and devices)


Q: Oh. And why won’t many people ever get there?


A: People don’t read whole articles very often. (I don’t know and don’t care how to improve my product)


Q: I see. Then why do you publish whole articles? And why don’t you work to improve the content and reading/user experience so that readers will read whole articles very often?


A: *crickets*


The real answer to the last is that content publishers do not, in the end, believe in the power of their product to command productive commercial activity. Yet to answer honestly would expose publishers for what they are. They’re professional demagogues; claiming to produce an important and viable product, but actively denying its value and investing no confidence where the metal meets the meat. Left to the results of the quality of their product, they know damn well they’d perish.

Here are a few questions I think are fairly interesting: Why do writers write whole articles? Why do publishers publish whole articles? Why would a publisher publish something that they don’t believe will be consumed fully? The answer is that digital publishers are merely going through the motions while their actual business is to throw lots of ads onto web pages. Avoidance of the substance and consequences of this activity compounds an irrational and destructive situation.

Publishers: There’s nothing wrong with fitting ad strategy and revenues into a publication profit model. But why rely solely on strategies that work to destroy and deny content quality? Why concentrate on strategies that, despite whatever success they generate, are 50% destructive? Why not work on strategies that are inherently 100% productive? Why so willingly concede your industry to advertisers at the expense of your own quality?

Publishers: Advertisers do not currently have your interests at heart, for they can currently succeed as you fail. As with everything else in the world, a strategy based on healthy self interest is the only one that can allow for mutual success. Why not build an enterprise founded in and dependent upon the quality of your own product and let the success of your partners flow from that?

The Answer: The Emperor Has No Content

If the content is valuable people should pay to read it. Modern publishers don’t care about content. They nearly all acknowledge they’re headed for a cliff, and they’re relying on a destructive and hypocritical strategy, which they do not control, to save them. That race to the bottom is gaining momentum and everyone but the publishers and their readers are profiting from it. And rightly so.