The Fleeting Value Of Content

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Most content screams into an empty universe.

It’s nice to create content with the intent of reaching a broad and targeted audience, but it’s becoming harder and harder to do this. No matter how good the content is. Yes, the best content always rises to the top, but when the amount of content being produced rises exponentially and is being published at a frenetic pace, it becomes a lot harder for individuals to filter the signal from the noise. It’s a challenge that many of us lamented as Blogging became that much more prevalent and commercial in the early 2000s, and it’s becoming an even bigger challenge in a world where content is created in channels like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google +, LinkedIn and more.

Content is short. Content is long. Content is text, images, audio and video. Publishing content is free.

It has come to the point where it’s no longer about publishing on a topic that no one else has covered (because it seems like every topic has been covered), but it’s now a world of perspective. What a grand world this would be if I was the only one Blogging about New Media, Marketing, Advertising and Communications. What you get here is, simply, my own take on specific topics (and if you’re hungry for others, just look to the left and click on some of the links in my Blogroll or check out Ad Age Magazine’s Power 150).

This means two big, important things:

  1. Making money with content is very hard.
  2. Making your content resonate for a long period of time is very hard.

Being a publisher is very hard.

The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article yesterday titled, Content Deluge Swamps Yahoo, that focused on how Yahoo (and other big online publishers) struggle to make money because, "As Web traffic explodes, Internet companies are struggling to profit off ads shown next to the articles, videos and other content offered to viewers. It’s a simple rule of any market. The more information that is created, the more the value is reduced. And despite attempts to woo spending with bigger, bolder and more targeted ads, services that help consumers navigate that content, namely search, remain the big money makers online." Strangely enough, I was reading this article at the airport having just attended Yahoo’s upfront event. What was Yahoo’s response to this challenge of more content equaling a reduction in value? Why, more content, more channels and more content, of course. Don’t take this as a slight against Yahoo (it’s not), but this is how publishers (and this includes some Bloggers that I know, as well) react to this value reduction. They publish more in hopes of capturing or maintaining the audience that may be slipping away into other channels and – without really thinking about it – are simply adding more value reduction to all of their inventory.

Beyond the value, we’re not spending a ton of time with all of this content, either.

A friend of mine has been grappling with a conundrum: should they release their next book with a publisher or simply give it away as a free e-book? If you sell a book, this immediately limits the ability to get the story to spread, but if they publish it for free – in a world where free content is everywhere – will that guarantee that their thoughts will be valued, spread, read and really thought about? It’s a serious challenge for many people who create content. The HubSpot Blog published a post yesterday titled, Shelf Life of Social Media Links Only 3 Hours, that looked at a new report issued by the URL shortening service, bitly. Here’s what they uncovered: "generally, links shared on Facebook, Twitter, and via direct sources like email or instant message have a shelf life of about 3 hours. This excludes YouTube, where people remain interested in links for more than twice that – 7 hours! And while you can expect that the majority of links will only remain interesting for less than 2 hours, others can generate a lot more interaction and clicks, lasting for more than 11 hours." For a great visualization of this, get ready for your head to spin: Business Insider – Chart of the day: The Internet Has A Short Attention Span.

You’re doing great if your content can last 12 hours. How depressing.

Bloggers already know this. They post something that they think is ground-breaking, earth-shaking and game-changing and everyone is talking about it everywhere… for a couple of seconds… for a couple of hours… and then everyone is on to the next thing (and that Blogger is already on the the next Blog post). It’s hard going if you’re really looking for your content to make an impact. We’re learning (as the world of content evolves) that it’s hard to create value for content when it’s not a scarce (or limited) commodity, and that most content has but a fleeting moment of time to get any true attention.

If that doesn’t get you thinking about your content as media and as a marketing imperative, I’m not sure what will…


  1. Mitch, you nailed this. There is too much content out there. The idea of “content” (which is a word I’m hating more and more) has been debased by the sheer amount of it.

  2. Well, Mitch, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. I’ve been struggling with this for a while now. For so long, the “best practise” was to have good content, and share it effectively. But we’ve become so inundated with content that it makes it difficult for even “good” content to rise to the top. So, do we stop creating? Or slow down how much we’re writing, podcasting, publishing? Perhaps we’ll go back to a model of quality over quantity. Those who can’t create quality content will simply fall off the map, leaving all internet users with the remaining few who can consistently produce engaging, share-worthy content. Once people are sick and tired of reading crap, for lack of a better term, perhaps they’ll also be willing to pay for the good stuff.

  3. I agree, and as a content creator I’ve been finding it more and more discouraging knowing how repetitive and unnecessary some of the work I do is. Not all of it, of course – and there’s a pleasure in creating, even if you’re not the first one (because who is, really) – but there’s certainly an amount of fatigue that’s setting in.
    That said, all of human history is repetition, to a certain degree, so maybe I’m just getting old. 🙂

  4. Stories last; “content” doesn’t. Human stories, about people who want things and what happens to them when they try to get those things, that’s what lasts. Stories like that mean a lot more than the future of social media, iPhone 37 or whatever.
    I’m not knocking you or your blog, Mitch, it’s just a general statement. A lot of content is just out there filling a perceived vacuum with the intent of selling something. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just that the vast majority of published content isn’t really designed to be memorable over the long haul or to make a difference to the life of the reader. And so it’s just noise.

  5. Doesn’t this perhaps argue that the ‘content’ is itself time-dependent? If a blogger posts something “groundbreaking, earth-shattering and game-changing” one day, and is already on to the next idea by the time people have stopped reading the post, then surely the idea was NOT in fact game-changing?
    In many of the blogs I follow (including this one), the content builds from post to post – a reader has to stay current with the blog in order to understand where the big idea came from, and expects to see that idea carry on into the next post, and the post three weeks from now.
    If blogging is like story-telling, then ideas are like story arcs: the arc may be a one-shot or a novel by Tolstoy. I agree that this is a marketing ploy/media strategy that needs to be planned for. How far the idea goes may well be determined by how easily it can evolve into a conversation.

  6. Hmm..
    I feel like.. well I’m an artist.. so what I produce is content… or we can classify it as content. Its not really the same deal as a blog post, a tweet, or a podcast.. but its still content.
    I don’t know that.. It seems like it’s been ages since it was like “yeah, just produce a lot of content,” so.. I mean for me its like.. content plays a roll inside of a larger strategy.. and whats important is that larger strategy.
    Like that just seems so stupid obvious to me.
    I think.. I just think this means the game is more complex is all. And I think..
    God, am I really going to say this?
    Look.. the way the game has been played up till now is based off of a whole set of assumptions which were all dependent on the constellation of certain ecological forces.. it was upon this foundation that the common notions of the game.. of social web stuff.. and when I say common notions.. I mean the notions you’d find from the very best players in the game.. were built.
    But in a world where change is the biggest thing in competition.. you can not build a foundation on presumptions of ecosystem constellations.
    Err, let me explain
    Twitter.. um, how long does it take for someone to invent twitter in there mom’s garage? Twitter works a certain way.. ok.. and then we got whatever other social network web whatever…. all of these things work a certain way.
    But on the one hand you look at the social networks in there current state… and then you look at… “what should the social web look like.” There’s a giant gap there.. I mean I remember having a conversation with Laura Fitton.. I don’t know.. must have been 3 or 4 or something years ago.. talking about what twitter needed to do.. and now we see that in Google plus. But if you had eyes to see it was obvious back whenever.
    My point is there’s a gap between a kind of ideal.. and the earthly manifestation of that ideal.. and people are making idols of the earthly manifestation.. or.. the shiny objects.. instead of looking at the bigger picture of whats going on. But that gap represents unmet need.. and in a world where the barriers to entry are low..
    Err, I think it’s best if I shut up..

  7. We have the collective patience of a three year old. We are busy being busy, we don’t read we skim and we are chasing the next shiny thing. Measurement and return on the investment become good enough and we’ll get ’em next time.
    Could it be our seemingly endless appetite for a larger audience? Is it our inherent need for a pat on the head? Or is is that collective impatience to make a buck the moment we hit publish?
    Chicken meets egg when we decide to slow down the production of content and focus on the best we can produce. We are wooed by the same metrics that can disappoint us so we keep chasing the high of better numbers.
    I worked with a guy who said “Don’t let your short-term greed get in the way of your long-term greed”. His point, we are all greedy but we all want it now. And companies chase infinite growth in a ever-growing landscape of choice.
    The tea cup was decimated years ago yet we keep the fire hose on full.

  8. sorry Mitch, I like you so my tone is not directed toward you, it’s toward the system.
    My 85 year old aunt said it best when I told her how great the Internet is with all this information and she said, ” what’s the big deal about that, something is special when it is rare, value is about supply and demand, when there is tremendous supply it’s of less value.” Smart woman my aunt.
    The laughable system of Google rank based on things including frequency and links, among other things, is causing digital pollution. I’m not saying it is poorly written or unnecessary, it’s just there because it needs to be so we are seen.
    The content industry is created to be seen and then that same industry uses the logic that in order to break through the “signal to noise” is to create more content, oh yes, “quality” content, but content nonetheless. The answer is not limiting content, albeit you could do that with financial parameters, but the value is the connection of individuals primarily and the content serves as that conduit.
    the social web has not become what many ideally thought it would. Searles comment points to this. The 800 pound gorilla for me is that information as it exists on the social web is in conflict with financial compensation. The abundance of anything usually shows how average (similar) things are. Yes the content is mostly average. The value is in the network as many of demonstrated. Some have benefited financially from the network they have built. Ironically some in the network wonder, WTH here I am raising that guys stature and I’m getting nothing. I’m producing all this content, with little to show for it.
    The idea of assembling the free content in a neat little package, (book ) and selling it under a unique label is the way most who have something to show for their contributions to the show web. So be it, that takes effort and a touch of unique ideas, and whoever works hardest to sell it then they should reap the rewards. That’s the American way.

  9. Well Mitch, it’s entirely your fault ☺ – well maybe not just your fault, but think about it for a second. For years every “Online Consultant†has had a sure-fire way to engage and be noticed by the web crowd – Publish, Publish, and Publish. You got to have a blog and you got to be on Twitter and you got to be on Facebook and … It seems that people have been listening to the advice and now we have reached the point where everybody is talking but nobody is listening.
    It kind off reminds me of my inbox. Years back everybody needed a newsletter and we all got flooded in our inboxes and now we see the same happening to publishing on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
    People are getting better and better at curating content, as you say yourself, quality will always rises to the top and therefor it might be that now is the time where we all should focus on the second part of what the “Online Consultants†have been preaching for years – Quality, Quality, and Quality in all that you publish.
    This of cause is mostly a problem for the English speaking part of the world. The rest of us still have a few years to reach the same point of content blindness as is happening in your part of the world. Maybe if we can succeed in pushing the second part of the “Online Consultants†preaching ie. quality, then maybe just maybe we might not face the same problems that you are facing today.

  10. Based on the stats you’ve shared, Mitch, this post is already history. Nonetheless, this topic has been in the air in one way or another during the past month.
    Here’s a link to my post about content quantity and value from last week that by now is really ancient history. Maybe someone will connect to it in the future in some kind of online time capsule.
    I hadn’t seen the Hubspot post and will circle back to it. It’ll be interesting to see what speakers will be saying about content at the Inbound Marketing Summit this coming week.

  11. It’s ironic that Tim Berners-Lee invented the web so that engineers could share, discuss and update information more efficiently. This has turned in some areas into a popcorn culture where people must read the next big thing now, governments are worrying about the ability of children to read properly due to scanning web pages and websites sell professionally written essays to any student who wants to pay for them.
    Kneale, I agree with you, I love the web and all the good aspects of it and make my living with it but in some ways the amount of content and the speed which content becomes old isn’t always a good thing.
    Having said the above I think these statistics need to be investigated in more detail. One main issue is is that the report seems to focus on the age of links and how many people link through a short link rather than for how long the article or part of it is being shared and read.
    Text is often, re-linked, copied, quoted and moved through multiple systems and locations, either in whole or in part. So for instance an excellent article, infographic or video can have a shelf-life of years and some can even fluctuate in this eg if one of the better known writers quotes from an older article and links to it, then this will drive new traffic to it.
    I’d also like to see what the difference is between news, news analysis, white papers, reports, case studies and other types of content. Some of these stay in the public perception considerably longer than others with news being the shortest.
    And if this is the case then as people say in the UK and have been saying for years ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’, so nothing new there except that due to health and safety regulations, fish and chip shops don’t use newspaper anymore 🙂
    The very best writers don’t just re-write todays news but do much more and in this there can be huge value that can last for many days, weeks, months or even years. Of course the same applies to other formats such as video.

  12. You are right, but where is a solution?
    Still I like to write. I use the blog as my private notebook. I have a hidden goal: to built up a source of valuable information about my topics. I try to gather contents which lasts over the day. And I have given up earning money with my blog. Although a clap on the shoulder sometimes helps 😉

  13. This is really interesting. I’m glad you’re talking about this Mitch, because I’m concerned about the ROI for new content publishers. I think it’s gotten noticeably more saturated just in the last six months.
    You lost me on the last sentence. Content is becoming increasingly ineffective … how does that make it a marketing imperative?

  14. Mitch…I think we need to have a a couple analogies to what truly is a content dilemma. One analogy is that we all used to fish for content on a lazy river that has now become a torrid rapids with the content flying by us at a pace that is beyond our human capacity. Thus the shortening lifespan of content (as well as our attention)
    The second analogy is that we have all become content archeologists and that quality, authoritative and compelling content actually has a very long shelf life that is discovered over and over again.
    The fishing has become harder and more frustrating but the archeology is becoming richer and richer.
    There has always been good and bad content in existence as well as content that is meant to last and content that is not. Let’s not get too discouraged… There is a lot a valuable content being produced and discovered everyday and content continues to bring people together to create social and commercial value.

  15. It’s an issue that I’ve been grappling with recently too, Mitch, and the bitly piece brought it home. I spend way too much time on writing each blog post. That’s against the grain of what’s in vogue today. Push content, not great or even good content. Just get it out there. How does one argue with someone who has a product or service to sell that the only way to get noticed is via frequent, SEO type content? And should I stop spending so much time on writing posts with each only having a shelf life of a few hours? Perhaps we’re going through a “correction” period? I wish.

  16. Setting aside my professional communications hat, and thinking only from a personal blogging experience, I think there is a very positive element to this issue. If this is true (and obviously it is), we can only assume it will get worse, which means, in my opinion, that people can go back to actually focussing on the content, worrying about the message in the words, the quality of the product. If you can’t compete with volume, don’t. Be different. Focus on the quality of the content.

  17. Publishing on the Web has become so saturated, that we have to now limit ourselves to those we know deliver specifics. Target markets have evolved (and narrowed) at such an incredible pace in the last ten years.
    On the upside: There is an answer for even the most distinct questions.

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