Ad-supported web affects content creation incentives

For years I’ve been interested in the way that the financial model for information content affects the incentives to create, the quality and the diversity of the content.

The basic point is simple: if readers are paying for content (buying a book, subscribing to a service), then presumably the creators are trying to create content valuable to the readers. In the other leading model, advertisers pay for content: then presumably creators are trying to create content that attracts the attention of readers, but isn’t necessarily of high value to them.
Does this explain the quality difference between typical broadcast TV shows and the subscriber content like “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under”?
I, together with a couple of students, gathered a lot of facts and notes on this topic several years back, but I haven’t written much on it. (The idea shows up in passing in a couple of my scholarly articles.)
The Wall Street Journal published a nice column illustrating just this point for current web site content creation.

“If there is a topic in the news, people will be searching on it. If you can get those searchers to land on a seemingly authoritative page you’ve set up, you can make money from their arrival. Via ads, for instance. Then, to get your site ranked high in search engines, it’s best to have ‘original content’ about whatever the subject of your site happens to be. The content needs to include all the keywords that people might search for. But it can’t be just an outright copy of what’s on some other site; you get penalized for that by search engines.”

The WSJ author contracted as a freelance writer to create content for a site, and found that the assignment was primarily to cut-and-paste content from elsewhere with enough changes to fool the search engines.
I think there are some important ICD opportunities here for people thinking about creating content portals and other information services.
(Thanks to Rick Wash for pointing me to this column.)


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