Is Web Content Turning Art Into A Commodity?
I remember when I was a young, hopeful, aspiring writer, sitting at my desk, dreaming up new worlds and putting them on paper. I just knew that when I grew up, I would make my living as an author. That someday my name would appear alongside Twain, Wharton, Vonnegut and Hemingway. That I would write and publish, to great acclaim, the Great American Online Content.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that is seriously what waits for so many hopeful young writers.
Content is . . .
We’ve heard it before—hell, we’ve featured it on this blog numerous times—content is king. Content is what gets your brand in front of customers, what brings them back to your website.
Where does that content come from?
In the past, it didn’t much matter—and to many businesses it still doesn’t. Just having content that search engines would find and index and put in front of Internet users was enough. Content became an unspecialized product, a widget, readily available for exchange and exploitation by the market.
Online content was—and to a large degree still is—a commodity.
Think about what that means for writers — for all artists. Tim Krieder expresses the problem well in his New York Times op-ed “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!“:
The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I—henceforth, “content providers”—were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art”—writing, music, film, photography, illustration—to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.
No one dreams of life on an assembly line. They dream of showing the world what they can do, revealing themselves to the world through the Great American Novel, or the heart-hammering symphony, or the boundary-razing artwork.
But that’s not what the commodity of “web content” is. It’s just the opposite. Instead of earth-shaking, paradigm-shifting original thought, it’s a constant regurgitation of information already easily found on the Internet. Instead of artists saying, “Look what I can do,” we get content providers saying, “I can do that, too.”
How this relates to your business
If we accept that the commoditization of artistic creation is a dark path, that doesn’t mean we can just abandon it. Content is still king and businesses still need customers. How do we reconcile business needs with preservation of our cultural future?
It isn’t easy. Nothing worth doing ever is.
Change your mindset
Your focus should not be on what you’re posting online, but why you’re posting it. Every time you post new content for no other reason than to keep to a posting schedule, you contribute to the problem. Stop creating filler and start creating something meaningful and worthwhile.
Not every swing can be a home run. Everyone understands this, but you must recognize it when you promote your latest blog post, white paper or infographic. Don’t cheer every swing with the same intensity—save your loudest cheers for the home runs.
Promote the hell out of your best stuff, the stuff you want your business to be most associated with and remembered for, the stuff that will last. Promote the unique, the controversial, the thought-changing.
Letting your audience know about your latest link round-up is fine, but don’t use the bullhorn to do it.
Think of yourself and your content providers as artists
Masterful artists constantly hone their skills. They learn not only from their own experiences but from the successes and failures of other artists. They practice. They experiment. They are their own worst critics.
For writers, it’s a straightforward process: Read. Write. Edit. Repeat.
Approaching content creation with the idea of practice and self-improvement might mean that you don’t publish everything you write, but that doesn’t mean what you wrote has no value. This can be the most difficult idea to accept, especially from a business perspective. But the moment you create something merely as filler is the moment your writing—your art—becomes a commodity.
In short, make something worthy of your readers’ time.