Is Monetization Ruining Content?

Call me naïve, but I’ve always believed a great product sells itself. A great television show naturally generates viewers, a great sports team brings in more fans (except in Florida), and a great website attracts online readership.

Great content is easy to monetize. You simply place the right brands and messages in front of a captivated audience.

While content is constantly moving to the online world, many marketers are still slow to embrace the Internet as a viable advertising medium. We throw around terms like “semantic,” “contextual,” and “optimization,” and other Internet-popularized terms at marketers to increase their comfort and trust in our medium. We can’t understand why marketers don’t see the same way that we do.

Could it be something as simple as content? Call me a cynic, but I believe the Web lacks great content. I get a laugh from Fail Blog, but can we be serious with ourselves for one second? With silly throw-away content such as this pervading the Internet, how can marketers not be weary?

Our efforts to monetize the Internet are undermining the very content that we are trying to use to engage audiences. I might say to myself “I am going to build a _______ (fill in the blank with website, network, demand-side platform, targeting mechanism, etc.) today and try to monetize it tomorrow.” My attention shifts from making sure my product is great to finding ways to make as much money in the shortest amount of time possible. I’m so focused on selling my product, hitting a goal, and placating my investors that I can’t develop and improve my product. And the product is the very reason why my audience comes to visit my content in the first place. I’m shooting myself in the foot.

Two of the greatest advances in the way we use the Internet never had monetization in mind. Twitter founder Evan Williams certainly wasn’t thinking of how he could get brand advertisers to sponsor tweets and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg probably didn’t design Facebook to accommodate a 728×90 or a 300×250 banner. Great content has never been focused on monetization and ironically those are the channels to where marketers have been migrating in droves.

Every few years, there is a new hit TV show that just resonates with viewers. It is critically acclaimed, the cast will win Emmy’s, the show will move to CBS on Mondays, and marketers will love associating their brand with that show.

A few years to build a brand and following is a lifetime on the Internet, but can you name any new technology, publisher, website, or service that has captivated a viewership in the last year so universally? Is it because every new product has the single focus of short-term profiteering? Are we back in 1849 again? Not everyone became rich in the gold rush.

Counterpoint: the sheer size of the Internet will always dilute quality of content, so we should focus our efforts more on finding our target audience instead of creating it. The amount of company and consumer-generated data has exploded over the last year, and ways to effectively reach and verify a target audience with less waste will appease marketer concerns. Understood. I’m still coming to grips with the fact that BlueKai might know more about me than I do myself.

However, I’m still waiting for that next great site on the Web that is filled with rich and engaging content. Once identified, I’m positive savvy marketers will follow.

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