Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Content Economy

One indicator of progress in an economy is the change from a dependence on industry to a dependence on service. Service economies put a value on work rather than a value on a product. That work, however, is often packaged and sold just like a hard good. Paying for a landscaping job, for example, is essentially like paying for a computer: it’s sold as a package, you either pay installments or all up front, and the costs to the supplier are essentially invisible to the consumer. Of course, other services are bought in different ways (legal services, for example).

As Western society has developed its service economy, it has customized it as well. As during the transition from agriculture to industry, the easiest tasks undertaken by agriculturalists were done by machines, now the easiest services are either taken over by machines (self-check islands at the store) or outsourced (overseas call centers). It appears that the service economy is evolving. A new subsector is emerging, one that many observers are calling the Content Economy.

As the internet has grown, it’s taken a chunk out of television ratings. It’s pretty easy to see that there are just some of us that prefer an interactive medium and all that comes with it. And it’s pretty easy to see, whether you believe television is being supplanted or merely supplemented with internet browsing items, that the hits just keep coming. And behind every hit is a pair of eyes.

Eyes mean ads. Interesting content means hits. Hits mean money. This is essentially the rule. There are plenty of people that would prefer that this weren’t the case—producing interesting content is hard. With a completely open content market, and a pretty low barrier to entry, the content that wins the hits is generally legitimately superior.

Professional smart-guy Frank Schirrmacher referred to people who consume and relay content as “informavores”. This tremendous interview on the consumption and dissemination of information identifies the mechanism of the advertising of content. Other commentary has called this “viral” media, or “memes”. All in all, the content in the market seems to act as a lifeform.

Like any market, things are not as simple as they appear. Not all content markets itself, and the barriers to true entry into the big leagues of the content market are larger than they seem. Posting content does not guarantee views, even if that content is interesting. Search engine optimization and other forms of content marketing and engineering change how content is viewed, and how content is formed.

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