A digital content bubble is bursting - and we helped inflate it

So it's happened. The digital content 'bubble' has burst. From layoffs at Buzzfeed, Vice and HuffPost to The Pool going into administration, it turns out, startlingly, that there likely isn't a sustainable business model for giving away news for free online.

Spare us the 'voodoo'; you're just helping to inflate the bubble, warns Stuart Lambert
Spare us the 'voodoo'; you're just helping to inflate the bubble, warns Stuart Lambert

Quite apart from the human tragedy of good journalists losing their jobs, I feel all this is also symptomatic of something deeper – a reckoning for our wider industry that is long overdue.

If a bubble is bursting it is because it was over-inflated, and culpability for that starts closer to home.

For much of the last 15 years, the marketing and PR world has gone along with the myth that ‘digital’ and ‘social’ were something they’re not: something that had radically altered people’s fundamental relationship with news, something deeply complex and complicated, which required, naturally, the smarts of our industry’s specialists to unpick on clients’ behalf.

This suited us, because it was a good earner.

Digital content and social agencies sprang up, just as digital news sites based on the currency of shares, rather than a cover price did.

But digital content and social media had only ever changed the dynamics, not the human fundamentals. News has always been social, since sensationalist news pamphlets began circulating Europe’s coffee shops in the 1600s.

And, crucially, young people have never really paid for it (or any content) – that behaviour is, with every generation, a natural corollary of adulthood.

Gleefully capitalising on new channels’ or technologies' inherent unfamiliarity, feeding the myth that they represent some more fundamental revolution than is true, so to create the conditions where we can charge money to help make sense or use of them, is not just bubble-inflating: it's unethical.

Stuart Lambert, a founding partner at Blurred 

With the marcomms industry veiling ‘digital’ in esotericism and elevating ‘millennial’ media behaviours to be-all-and-end-all status, is it any wonder that investors flocked to media based on a commercial model that was always, at best, suspect?

If it was short-term self-interest that led marketers to overcomplicate those things, then it’s in our long-term interest to simplify it now.

We need to look at ourselves and our own behaviour and principles.

Gleefully capitalising on new channels’ or technologies' inherent unfamiliarity, feeding the myth that they represent some more fundamental revolution than is true, so to create the conditions where we can charge money to help make sense or use of them, is not just bubble-inflating: it's unethical.

One look at the shady world of influencer marketing in the wake of Fyre-gate throws that uncomfortable truth into stark relief.

It’s important we acknowledge our capacity to affect industry dynamics – and our consequent responsibilities.

Becoming true business advisors begins with honesty.

Turning tactical channels, whether social media or influencer marketing, into voodoo is a great way to inflate a bubble: it comes, ultimately, at a human cost.

There will always be a reckoning. Today it's talented journalists; tomorrow it'll be talented marketers.

Stuart Lambert is a founding partner at Blurred

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in