Edited except from Zach Talks: A Conversation with Seeking Alpha Founder & CEO David Jackson:
There’s a line in a recent post on your blog about engagement versus page view chasing. I can’t get it out of my head: “The problem is that high quality general news sites don’t have meaningfully higher engagement than sites which feature slide shows, link bait and viral content, because they don’t help users make decisions. They just have a higher quality audience.” I’ve watched TV shows & movies and read books and articles that are very entertaining — even if they didn’t necessarily help me make a decision. Why is it so important that content help users make decisions?
There’s nothing wrong with entertainment. The question is: If you’re a content provider, do you want to be in the entertainment business? The entertainment business is tough, because there’s tremendous growth in supply of video, photos, music, text and games for desktop and mobile users. It’s hard to charge for content when lots is freely available, and ads have low engagement when the user is there for entertainment.
There’s an alternative for content providers: to be in the business of helping people make decisions. For example, our goal at Seeking Alpha is to help you make better investment decisions. When you’re helping users to make important decisions, they’re more willing to pay. And if an advertiser can suggest a compelling solution for what the user is trying to do, that’s valuable.
Some people think they’re not in the entertainment business, but in fact they are. Newspapers and news websites often fall into this category. They’re largely event-driven, often focus on personal experiences, and slip into simplistic narratives and memes — because those things create an engaging and familiar story-line for readers. They’re in the “infotainment” business.
If they were in the “we help you to make decisions” business, they’d operate very differently. They’d be more focused on data, provide more context around events, spend less time on personal experiences and anecdotes, and increase their coverage of societal changes rather than events. And they’d be more willing to embrace complexity when simplistic narratives don’t fit all the facts.