According to US News, Google and Facebook recently wrote obituaries for the journalism industry. Google announced that "journalism and technology increasingly become one," and Zuckerberg announced the creation of personalized social feed "newspapers." Meanwhile, the Harvard Business Review is saying that the advertisers of the future will operate more like newsrooms. As publishers struggle to monetize their content, they increasingly eliminate their fact checking departments, and journalists that ignore pageview journalism starve.
The phrase "information wants to be free," once the battle-cry of quasi-anarchist cyberpunks, has become a slogan used to line the pockets of search engine and social network monopolies at the expense of content creators. Journalists are payed 12 percent less in real terms today than ten years ago, and despite the Panda update, quantity is still paying better than quality. Meanwhile, content marketing is becoming the most promising road forward for online marketers.
Is content marketing journalism's savior, or its harbinger of death?
The Opportunity for Content Marketers
There's no doubt that the sad state of journalism is an opportunity for content marketers. As more and more high quality publishers discover that the only road to profitability is a walled-in garden, they will also end up walling themselves out of the search engines and social networks. The quantity-chasers will lose the faith of their audience, and the primary source of high quality free information will become the content marketing industry.
Content marketers can earn the money to pay their journalists because direct sales pay orders of magnitude better than advertisements. "Information wants to be free" works in their favor, rather than working against them, because increased awareness translates into product sales. We may soon discover that content as a loss leader is more profitable than content as a commodity ever was.
But it begs the question, will content marketers take the soul out of journalism? Will we forever lose any semblance of neutrality?
Rumors of Journalism's Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
I maintain that content marketing is, in fact, a good thing for journalism. For starters, content marketing is not advertising, as we've previously said. The modern consumer is more savvy than ever before, and the vast majority of them can smell bias a mile away. The goal of content marketing isn't to sell: it's to build trust and remove barriers to sales. It's to maintain that trust in order to retain customers and spread awareness through word of mouth. This doesn't happen when content is obviously skewed and biased.
Furthermore, content marketers are actually less influenced by the threat of "pageview journalism." While pageviews of any kind will earn revenue for traditional publishers, only relevant pageviews are useful to content marketers. Anybody who's had a passing education in content marketing should already know that priority number one is to be useful to the user. Content that solves a problem for a user helps convince them that the associated product will help them as well.
Not so for traditional publishers. Their content doesn't need to solve a problem of any kind. It just needs to draw attention. Hence the National Enquirer and the tabloid empire. There's no reason to suspect any less bias from traditional publishers than from content marketers. Any organization that seeks profit will have inherent biases, regardless of where that profit comes from.
Despite the threats traditional publishers face, content marketers shouldn't expect a free ride. Consumers are increasingly willing to pay for content again, in part driven by the shift toward mobile, in part because the pendulum is swinging back away from information overload.
Meanwhile, the content marketing industry is growing at breakneck pace, and marketers can expect to face a great deal of competition. Online audiences are not the captive audiences of yesteryear, and you'll need to bring genuine value to the table if you expect to get noticed. All of this competition is going to make content marketing more expensive, but more profitable as well, as consumers increasingly latch onto sources of information that they can trust.
The average consumer now prefers to research products on Amazon rather than Google. We can expect a similar shift in content over the coming years, as consumers increasingly choose walled gardens over search engines. It's best to get yourself established as a thought leader before that happens, or the barriers to entry are going to get quite a bit higher.
Image credit: Ron Mader