Stuff Nation Sucks But Will Slow Fairfax Death Spiral

Stuff Nation sucks because it is simply depressing content to consume. The submissions to the assignments posted by Stuff Nation editors are a fascinating insight into how the median voter thinks. The comments are even worse. But I think that Stuff Nation will eventually make Fairfax a fortune, relative to the decline of the dinosaur print industry.

One of the differences between Stuff Nation and the blogosphere is that bloggers seem to post more interactive content. We link to data, journal articles, opinion pieces and even source material like interviews if we’re that advanced in our blogging. But we are content production and content consumption outliers – political nerds, news nerds, sports nerds, finance nerds. We are not the target market for advertisers paying the bills of sites like Stuff.

Fairfax have been very clever in getting social media accounts linked to Stuff Nation accounts. Why? Because every time someone gets a submission received, they’ll boost their traffic slightly. It is easier to get thousands of people sending an extra couple of dozen pageviews – we have to remember that not everyone consumes content at the level or frequency of the blogosphere bubble.

There is evidence that when people read a newspaper, they tend to look for something that confirms what they already believe. What executives at Fairfax probably realised is that even though their journalists and columnists were producing content that many people liked, they had nowhere near the level of engagement that 17 Hottest Puppy Outfits would get on BuzzFeed.

Giving ordinary Kiwis a platform to share their opinion is like a self-reinforcing traffic machine. There is also a higher likelihood that the whole process can be manipulated by trolls or astroturfing operations. Considering how lobbyists can get hundreds or thousands of select committee submissions that use the same phrases, it’s possible to get thousands of submissions to things like Stuff Nation past the editors who are unlikely to be paid enough to care.

Stuff Nation and the Stuff website itself are stuck in “post and forget” mode. Other news organisations like Reuters, Quartz and even USA Today have made the move towards “flow” content where there are constant updates throughout the day for different content streams.

Because Fairfax needs to make money from online advertising somehow, anything that increases the amount of content they produce is a good thing. Stuff Nation is a cheap way of getting enormous amounts of additional content available at almost $0 save the additional server and data expenses. It is easily to hide an advertorial when there are 100 posts a day as opposed to 10.

I am sure that Fairfax will eventually ditch the old school Stuff website and integrate everything with Stuff Nation. Sprinkled amongst the assignments and the editorial content from a very small number of Fairfax journalists will be “sponsored assignments”.

Because most people have adblock installed and the constant increase in banner ad supply driving prices down to really cheap levels per CPM, sponsored content – like advertorials – is the only way for them to monetise that content.

How does this fit in with trends in journalism? Well, algorithms can produce stories indistinguishable from what an entry level journalist would produce with the same inputs. There is no need to pay someone $30,000 a year when an upfront investment in IT enables you to get rid of most of your newsroom.

If you are a content producer – journalist, reporter, columnist, editor, whatever – being inside the matrix is likely to be a net negative for your lifetime earnings. Having your own domain name and your own self-publishing projects is likely to be more profitable than locking up all of your content with Fairfax or APN or whoever you want to work for.

Stuff Nation sucks, but it is sadly the way of the future. The economics of online advertising dictate pandering to the lowest common denominator if you are targeting the mass market. The low entry costs for competitors mean that there is no guarantee that Stuff will be one of the top news websites in 2 years time let alone 10 years time.

Fortunately, the economics of the internet permit the long tail – the niche content producers – to earn a decent living. The value of journalism has been determined for 99% of the world’s journalists – it’s worthless unless you are the winner in the market like the NBR, Financial Times, Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal.