Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Internet's Valley of Death: Expectation

We all say that the Internet is full of poor journalism, bad (or none!) copy editing and churnalism at every turn. Yet few of us as consumers are willing to change that. In fact, we indulge it.

Yet when there's a terribly short or sensational or just plain wrong news article or blog post or the like, we wrinkle our nose. Some of us even leave nasty comments about the lack of quality of the work.

And yet this product -- this website, this blog -- was free to consume. Sure, it has ads, but it's pretty clear that a bunch of MPUs aren't going to pay the full-time salaries of all the writers, editors, product managers and developers to meet this expectation of quality. And too often, it results in a hostile user experience to maximize the profits, which irritated readers are all too willing to point out.

I hear you, reader. But it's akin to seeking Hermes levels of customer service in a Wal-Mart. Good luck, honey. You get what you pay for.

There is a tremendous disconnect in consumers between what they get and what they pay for. The dots don't connect. It's not their fault; this is what I'd call a B2B problem that ought not involve the C -- something a business needs to figure out for itself, and not blame the customer for acting naturally.

Still, the rift exists. We consume a bunch of low-quality news, and we dislike or hate it. But we keep doing it. And we don't visit the websites of those who practice high-quality news -- even if a paywall hasn't been implemented. Publishers with print editions use them as an anchor; their high-dollar advertisements and lead sales drum up enough revenue to shore up the online edition's inadequacies, even if the latter is in the black. The margins on the former are high enough to guarantee more than the minimum amount of quality for the latter.

But if you're only an online publisher, and your products are all free (albeit ad-supported, and any other business model you've rigged), well, good luck. You can't afford high quality content because your users aren't paying enough.

This isn't the consumer's problem; as with any product, companies must meet their customers halfway. But I'm not sure I have an answer.

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