If the recession that started in 2008 changed nothing else, it was the monetization of blogs and online review sites. I was primarily a computer and video game reviewer at that time, and many of the ‘big’ sites seemed to be doing pretty well separating content and administration. From my friends there, the attitude from the site owners was ‘you worry about writing, we’ll worry about getting the advertising dollars’.
But suddenly money was scarce and advertisers wanted to see a return on their investment. Fast forward to now and you can be sure that for anyone paying for advertising, pre-views will be worded in an EXTREMELY positive way, generally there will be other very favorable coverage, and even the most critical reviews will score above 85%. Why? Because the environment has changed and suddenly the sites are more dependant upon big publishers for survival – and the publishers want to use the review sites as sales tools. This means that we have seen sites that fail to fall in line lose preview and early review access as well as advertising money – and some of those sites no longer exist.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well …
On March 7th (i.e. iPad Announcement Day), The Onion posted an article with the title “This Article Generating Thousands Of Dollars In Ad Revenue Simply By Mentioning New iPad”. Here is the body:
SAN FRANCISCO—According to industry sources, this news article is generating a veritable bonanza of highly lucrative advertising revenue by mere virtue of the fact that it mentions Apple’s new iPad. “Current estimates show that the particular article I am being quoted in at this very moment began to accumulate thousands of dollars in ad-based profits as soon as the words ‘new iPad’ appeared in the headline,” said market analyst Jonathan Bowers, who single-handedly and out of thin air created cold hard cash for a media organization simply by adding that the new Apple iPad will feature a high-definition screen and an improved processor. “Furthermore, any subsequent mention of the new iPad in this article—as well as any mention of the fact that preorders for the device start today—is resulting in increased reader traffic and, thus, increased revenues for your company’s ad-based business model.” At press time, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad, new iPad.
The critical line is “Current estimates show that the particular article I am being quoted in at this very moment began to accumulate thousands of dollars in ad-based profits as soon as the words ‘new iPad’ appeared in the headline”. Have you noticed something over the last couple of weeks? Like perhaps a preponderance of articles with the work iPad in the title?
What I have been complaining about behind the scenes at Gear Diary is not so much the speculation – I mean, this IS an Apple product launch – but rather how there were a number of sites who would set up a separate post for EVERY little new detail, even if doing nothing else but parroting information from elsewhere. And THEN you would see ‘daily round-up’ articles on these same sites that brought together the information from those multiple posts without adding anything.
I was calling them ‘link-bait’, but in reality it is worse – it is allowing your editorial focus to be not just influence, but dictated by the push to grab every possible advertising dollar. It might not seem the same as awarding a game a review score of 85% as mandated by contract while burying in the review the fact that the game is broken and derivative … but it is really not much better. By doing nothing else but dumping out a massive string of me-too copy-exact articles, your signal-to-noise level degrades significantly – and you bring down the entire tech blog community as a result.
My image at the top is from Google Reader, and shows a continuous flow of posts from what is SUPPOSED to be a generalist tech site that had 100% Apple articles, with new ones appearing every 5-10 minutes or less. And lest you think I am singling them out, I walked through my RSS feeds and found that on March 7th the overwhelming majority of the tech blogs I follow were heavily dominated by low-content, sometimes repetitive iPad centric posts coming out rapid fire – to the tune of 80% of the content of that site being iPad specific for that 24 hour period.
So these sites made a ton of money by chirping ‘ad words’ at an alarming pace with little content while Gear Diary had two: a reminder and a live blog. We surely left a ton of money on the table, and yet I personally feel much better about the state of my credibility. As for those other sites, I have deleted a few and have a lowered opinion of some others.
As the song says, Money Changes Everything … and when your motivation shifts from pushing content you find important to content that pulls ad revenue … what changes the most is you.