The Price of Original Content

Digiday’s mission is to write about where digital media is going. We do it in a way that’s honest about the very real challenges and shortcomings of the present.

One area of focus is a healthier publishing ecosystem in which original work is rewarded. The way it stands now, the way to get ahead in digital publishing is to engage in all manner of shenanigans, from aggressive aggregation to awful clickbait tweets to the ubiquitious slideshows. Publishers like Pitchfork give hope that there is a way out of this morass.

And we try to live this. Our commitment is to produce quality, original content. (Even list posts with gifs can be quality and original.) This is hard. The mandate to all our writers is don’t produce something that we’ve read somewhere else. We do not rewrite other people’s stories or aggregate them. The theory is this might be good for pageviews, but it’s not good for building a lasting brand — and it’s not great for self-respect.

Earlier today I published a piece on Reddit’s advertising deck. Reddit sales exec Mike Cole, who I once played bocce with, emailed me the deck. Rather than put the pitch deck onto our site with watermarks or some such nonsense, I embedded the Slideshare of it that he uploaded subsequently. This is easier for readers.

At that point, the aggregation economy kicked in. I’ve written in the past about my problems with Business Insider. As I’ve said, I admire its success and pluck. I do not admire its aggressive aggregation. Business Insider did a garden variety rewrite, which I found odd because CEO Henry Blodget made a big show of how the site would never mention Digiday again. (His inference is Digiday would suffer; this was a risk I was willing to take.) The results were predictable. The deck became a Business Insider slideshow — what else? — and Business Insider pocketed 58,000 pageviews while sending 79 visits to our site. Jim Edwards, the piece’s author, credits me at the end for “noticing” the deck on Slideshare. That’s not true — Cole emailed me the deck — but he’d have to do reporting to know.

Some will say this is just a small site bitching about a big site. Maybe. I believe there’s a larger issue here. The online publishing game is all about volume right now. It’s not about quality and originality. When volume is your organizing principle, you take shortcuts. Ripping off others’ work is simply the norm now. It is absolutely effective, and it is absolutely depressing.

Image via Shutterstock

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