The Debate Over What Ails Digital Media
The world never need starve for media criticism. Whether it be a premature burial of existing publications or ways of thought, or the simple fix (e.g. if only media did this), there’s bound to be a couple of prognostications every day.
What ails media? If you ask Joshua Topolsky, founder of the Verge and late of Bloomberg, it is a race to either the next new thing or a race to the bottom of simple content. Audiences will flock to top-notch content (though Facebook may want to have a word with that assertion) and advertisers will follow, replete with high-margin, high- concept creative campaigns befitting the depth and quality of that content.
On the other hand, Michael Wolffe calls this a simplistic rendering of the forces at play. Digital media – certainly high concept digital media – is suffering because the advertising moving quickest to digital is direct response, and that’s a winning movement for Facebook and Google.
Leaving aside the possibility that niche media properties can go their own way through subscriptions and minimal advertising, how do publishers confront this worrisome climate?
Sure, the modern Internet media built up its operations through brand-building display, but that was as much a function of the environment as it was any purposeful strategy of the media companies.
What’s at play to make direct the preferred structure of Internet advertising? Well, tracking and targeting make it easier to push individual interactions and sales. The glut of page views and the knowledge that web visitors are incredibly (media) brand disloyal has made it a harder sell that you are buying a media brand’s audience. Now, advertisers are just buying the attention of whoever is on the site at the time of a campaign. Finally, that itinerancy of the Internet public and the devices that make Internet use a breeze means users are always multitasking and willing to change their focus from reading about the presidential campaign to buying that new mobile phone if you catch them at the right time.
The challenge, of course, is how media brands thrive against competition that can churn out thousands of pages (for, more or less, free) to their individual articles or videos or slide shows. If media brands focus all of the energies on creating better content, but not improving the efficiency of how their stewards can sell products to that audience, then the audience may come, but not at a cost that is tenable against the rise of social platforms.