It’s pretty common nowadays to hear people discussing (or, more often, lamenting) the ‘content deluge’ of today’s web. We have too many choices, too much content to consume and we’re feeling guilty about not keeping up. Content is coming at us from every angle and we’re drowning.
But are we? Really?
Let me posit an alternative mindset to that of “the end is nigh because we cannot stand up to this torrent of content, and who let anybody who wants to create stuff and publish it anyway?”:
Firstly, ‘content overwhelm’ is not that big an issue. It’s a symptom of the way the internet has opened up opportunities for creating and publishing content to pretty much anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad.
Secondly, if it is an issue, it belongs to readers—content consumers—not publishers. Those who create content for the web have enough to keep in mind when trying to produce great stuff that people want to read, without helping readers sort through it all as well.
It’s not that big a deal
Before the internet, we had bookshops and magazine stands and libraries and record stores (so I hear). We had multiple newspapers for a single city and stacks of academic journals for every industry. We had student newspapers and independent record labels and self-publishing for aspiring authors.
Content is not new.
Readers have always had the power to choose which books to read, which magazines to subscribe to, which newspapers to have delivered. Readers have always voted with their wallets (or their custom, which advertisers pay for, in the case of free content). That’s how publishing works.
The web has made it easier than ever to publish content. Upload a video to YouTube. Share a photo on Instagram. Post an article on your blog. It’s close to free to do this stuff, and it’s easy.
But just because more people can share their work with the world doesn’t mean that they have an immediate readership. Readers aren’t inundated with new blog posts just because they’re published. There are still hurdles to jump if you want people to consume your content.
Author Matt Haig put it well:
The gatekeepers still have the power, but there are a lot more gates than there used to be.
Remember when you wrote short stories in high school and only ten people read them, even though they all said your writing was really great? Your blog is like that. Unless someone chooses to read your work (or look at your photos, or watch your web series), they’re not being accosted by your contribution to this ‘content deluge’ that we’re all ostensibly struggling against.
Leave the reader to sort it out
Readers have access to better curation and reading tools than ever. No longer do we rely on magazine editors or TV station executives to select content for us. We choose who to follow on Twitter, who to friend on Facebook, who to circle on Google+. We decide who can send content to our inbox (which is also being overloaded).
With personalized news services like Prismatic, Zite and Flipboard, we have even more control. We can curate, save and share very selectively (or broadly, if we so choose). We can filter authors, curators, topics and certain blogs into or out of our content streams.
Make no mistake, readers are in control.
What this means for content creators
Spending your time worrying about how much content is ‘out there’ is not going to help you build up a solid readership. These things might, though:
High-quality content is a must. That’s a no-brainer. Consistency is also a must. Mix well and let sit… for a long time.
Strong relationships with your readers won’t happen immediately. Publishing high-quality content over and over and over will help you to build trust with readers as a go-to source for great content.
Become a destination
Have you ever noticed how many options there are in the magazine stand at your newsagency? Tons. Tons and tons of magazines on almost every topic you can think of. And lots of them overlap or just straight-up compete with each other.
Blogs are kind of like that.
Magazine readers are unlikely to choose all—or even several—magazines that cover the same topic. For web readers, they can curate sections of your site along with other blogs or newsletters they read using the tools I mentioned earlier. They don’t have to commit to just reading one or two sites.
But they could. And you could be the one they read.
Become a destination in your industry. Become an authority on your topic. Not by being ‘the best,’ but by offering readers enough variety that they don’t need to look elsewhere. Publish a variety of sub-topics to let your readers drill down further. Publish work from a variety of authors so your site offers different voices and viewpoints. Mix up the formats of content you publish.
Let the reader do their job. And stick to yours.
If your readers are struggling with content overload, that’s their problem. Offer solutions if you like, but don’t try to fix it—let them find out what works for their own reading style. Maybe Flipboard’s new magazine feature is what they’ve been looking for, or an alternative to Google Reader will help them get things under control.
Changing your strategy to compensate for what everyone else on the internet is up to won’t do you any favors.
Keep creating great content. Create even better content. Work your strategy to offer value to your readers.
And help them out by offering lots of ways to consume what you create: offer RSS, offer email subscriptions. Post your stuff to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Integrate with content services like Buffer, Pocket or Instapaper to make it easy for your readers to read your content however they like.