Content dust bowls

The Economist recently ran an article outlining the rise of “content farms”, companies that “produce content at a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it.”

A similar story is told at 48 Hours Magazine, which recently crowd-sourced its content from about 1,500 submissions contributed over a weekend. The magazine expects to sell the final product for $10 or $11 via a “print on demand” option, Magcloud.

Although experiments with new or different business models are always welcome, I worry about the underlying premise. Conventionally-produced content is not too expensive; it’s too narrowly deployed.

Crowd-sourced and “write for hire” content models focus fundamentally on filling content holes on the cheap. I’d rather see publishers developing more agile content models that support their ability to “write once, read many”, deploying news and information in a variety of ways across multiple media platforms.

Content farms can work, and firms like Demand Media and Associated Content can and probably do make money commissioning content to fill holes. Still, their solution feels temporary, or perhaps barren.

In the 1930s, planting the same crops year after year, without a longer-term view, undermined a great resource and helped turned real farms in dust bowls. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to content.

Edited May 25 to add: bnet reports that two Hearst newspapers have signed up with Demand Media for provision of commissioned content.

Edited June 6 to add: Yahoo recently agreed to acquire Associated Content, one of the companies profiled in this post.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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