Friday, February 03, 2012

Quality as an online filter

Quality of content, says Jay Lauf, is the “third filter” for online content, after search and word of mouth.

Lauf has the credentials to make such a statement – he’s publisher of The Atlantic, the American magazine that specializes in long form, thought-provoking features, and architect of that title's online resurgence. Quoted in Ian Burrell’s piece for the Independent, Lauf says, “There are too many choices and quality outlets are becoming a filter.”

I would like to think he’s right and that this process is a “natural” factor in consumer choice as expressed in a capitalist economic system, though it would take a deal more research to stand up my half baked hunch (pace Stephen Johnson). Take the automobile industry as an example. In the very early days both demand and supply were limited – cars were massively expensive and few people were making them (parallel: not everyone had internet access and few publishers were online).

Then came an initial boom with a lot more manufacturers, reduced prices and a bigger market in which the sheer novelty of owning a car was more important than the quality of the car (parallel: a large number of consumers got internet access, publishers fell over themselves to capture eyeballs … and consumers also became producers thanks to Blogger, etc)

The global car industry has now had a massive shakedown and, for example, mass produced British cars have been relegated to the history books as consumers look for quality, reliability and value for money (parallel: online consumers have so much choice that it is impossible to check out everything, leading to social recommendation and the re-imposition of brands that guarantee quality).

As I said, it’s half-baked, it’s incomplete and it’s wildly oversimplified but it makes sense. And an important thing about quality, something that manufacturers from Rolls Royce to Rolex to Krug have known forever, is that people will pay for it.

Sounds like the start of a business model.
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Maybe.But it might have just as much to do with the platform as it does the quality. Publishers have set an expectation that tablet content will be paid for. And consumers seem to be willing to pay to get their content on specific platforms.

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