17 Dec 2009

Is Article Writing Dead?

We've had junk food for years, now welcome to junk content.

And, just as junk food is not only the local market stall selling cheap sausages sizzling in recycled oil but is also a profitable global enterprise, so junk content is moving away from the scrapers and automated writing tools and going legit - or at least global.

AOL, that dinosaur that survived when the meteor hit, is churning itself into the disposable portal it was always doomed to be. You've no doubt read it in many places that the best way to write profitably is to launch lots of niche websites with minimal yet SEO-targetted content. Be smart and diligent enough and the numbers will start to stack up. The more worthless the content the higher the likelihood of someone clicking an advert just to find a quick exit to something potentially more interesting. This is now the AOL business model.

In "The End of Hand Crafted Content", TechCrunch writer bemoans this race to the bottom but vows to move on and stay competitive. For every bit of software, or cheap human, that spews out a mangled version of an original article and then rams it in front of an ignorant public, there are systems to track and list the origins of a story thereby rewarding once again the original producers.

The bottom line is money. The old media barons such as Murdoch were surprisingly late to the party as they couldn't figure out how to make any money on the net. They still can't figure it out but are desperate because the new media is eating away at their very existence. Murdoch's threat is to hide behind some payment system. I find it laughable that he should think this a good idea and he should take a long hard look at AOL to see his future. Maybe he should buy AOL and they can sink together.

But the sad truth is that shit sells - and free shit on the net is even better. There was some delusion a few years back that the internet would be different. Back then it was largely filled with techies, scientists, geeks and academics. They are still there but the noise to signal ratio is getting larger... and larger. But in the end we all create our very own individual internet. If a particular portal is spewing out crap we will find another one, assuming one will still exist.

For the writer, one has to decide whether you want to run a junk food franchise or your own gourmet restaurant. In physical space, both models co-exist. In cyberspace, where the food is free and paid for by fluctuating advertising the specialists will flounder, unless they stick together. Arianna Huffington is less pessimistic and insists that the likes of the Huffington Post can prosper in this free for all. But a close look at her final comments shows she can see the same kind of constellation taking place. The single solitary writer has to go where they feel most comfortable and where they will find an audience.

Many writers (or at least American writers) are making some money on eHow. This site shows what the bottom looks like when it is calculated by an algorithm. eHow is owned by Demand Media and they have developed a strict model of article titles they commission based on search and advertising bucks. You won't find anything on life, the universe and everything, but rather life, my family and that stain on the carpet. These are life's minutiae; things that some people obviously need to know, otherwise the article would never get written. But the pay is low and the quality I've seen is truly dreadful. You can read the full article at Wired and you can even copy the same model - just try to write better articles!

Original content is supposed to be king, but in the English language the word 'original' can have many meanings. AOL's writing factory is original in the sense that nobody else could put together those same words in that same order and think it worth publishing. eHow is a step up in that they hope their articles at least appear to be useful, or useful enough to be a stepping stone to an advert. When I take a step back and look at my favourite feeds I find that the writers are either paid a wage or are in another paid employment and write part-time. If originality is valued then it has to be paid for. How that is going to happen in the current online business model I just haven't figured it out yet.


  1. I dunno about this blog post. Mags are dying. True. I do blog. A lot. Is my writing online Junk? S___? I dunno. My words are my words in articles (online and hard copy), books, and online. These words help to promote my books. It's all related.
    Countless bloggers are not pro authors and that does bug me because I've paid my dues. But candor does shine through on some of the blogs--and I enjoy reading them. No, I won't stop blogging because it's a great avenue to spread the word about my published works (yes, by a real traditional publisher) in hard copy: trade cover, mass market, kindle, and article writing (it still exists but less than more). Writing is writing. I sincerely don't feel I run a fast food drive-thru. To me, it's a column.
    http:www.calorey.blogspot.com The Writing Gourmet

  2. Hi Cal
    I kinda feel the same - and I too have been published by a traditional publisher. I think part of the article is about the concern that junk is no longer in the hands of spammers but is being produced en masse by at least one large portal. I guess there are times when it's depressing and times when it's motivational to do something better.

  3. Excellent tips. Really useful stuff .Never had an idea about this, will look for more of such informative posts from your side.. good job...Keep it up


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