Paul Carr’s latest column on TechCrunch looks at an interesting problem that arises from the ad-and-search-based nature of many Internet blogs and publications. The problem is that sites that make their content freely available to all have incentive to slant their editorial coverage toward topics that draw the most search engine hits—which invariably leads to catering to the lowest possible common denominator.

For free, ad-supported content, pageviews are king – and pageviews are what slideshows and celebrity fluff and SEO generate. Those horseshit pageviews are then magically transformed into money which is used to hire more staffers to produce more horseshit in order to generate more pageviews. And so the world wide web keeps turning.

This actually disincentivizes “quality” journalism online, because if these sites dropped their SEO-bait puff pieces, the add-viewing traffic those pieces bring to their sites would disappear and revenues would fall. So in order to stay afloat, free on-line news sources have to provide lowest-common web readers their bread and circuses.

Carr talks about the paid news sources he reads that bring him the sort of intellectual content he’s looking for—the New Yorker, the London Times, the Economist. And though the word “paywall” never appears in the article, this does make a pretty good argument for charging for content just to get away from the SEO game.


  1. Great article — thanks for bringing it to my attention. It goes a long way to explaining why there’s so much crap online.

    Another point — all that vapid celebrity tripe attracts the kind of consumer that is most susceptible to advertising and buying crap they don’t need to try to emulate the celebrities they deify.

  2. I am sorry to say, but I find this a lot of utterly elitist claptrap 🙂

    Page views are driven by readers. Readers visit the sites to read the articles. Readers visit again and again if they find articles on subjects and in a style that they like. If they find articles on topics and written in a style that they do not like, they do not return.
    The corollary is that these sites are producing what people want to read. Criticising what is ‘popular’, insulting people for liking what they like and being condescending about ‘quality’ journalism is elitism at it’s stuffiest and worst.

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