How Gawker Turned Into Groupon

This holiday, behold the rise of stealth e-commerce content-farming.

|
Dec 4 2015, 8:11pm

Holidays on the content farm usually means seasonal content primed for maximum shareability, tapping into the comfy universality of the holiday spirit. But content farms are at a point when they must question: how far can holiday pageviews get you? How far can engaging content get you? If you've done the work to build an 'authentic readership' within your niche of high-earning, high-spending Millennials, wouldn't you do something more to monetize them?

Don't tell them what to buy with ad zones--tell them what to buy with your editorial voice, and carefully embedded referral links that contribute money right into your content farm's piggybank.

As a devout content farm consumer, I haven't been able to avoid referral links across the web this year. They're even more inescapable with the start of the holiday shopping season. Daily Deal 'blog posts' are being seamlessly integrated into the content farm, serving as a weird space somewhere between an objective news story, a native advertisement by the in-house creative team, and a chill message from the most down to earth blogger right to the readers. You'll see this deal-driven post right next to today's trending news and last Monday's viral infographic. It strangely fits in with your webpage line of sight, much nicer than the traditional ad zones.

Interestingly enough, it has become a prominent part of Gawker's monetization strategy with one-third of its revenue coming from native and eCommerce. It seems like when content farms can't achieve the infinite scale, but they still have their niche carved with an editorial voice, all they can do is use the trust they've garnered to send us in the right direction, since we had to do some shopping anyways. With over $3 billion spent on Cyber Monday, content farms have to get in on the action as product referrers.

Leave no deal undiscovered, like you were writing an exposé on a trending celebrity at the highpoint of a web-manufactured backlash scandal.

I've bought a few things from Gawker referral links and now find myself poring over the recommended items every time I load Deadspin. It seems like the Gawker ecommerce team is pretty persistent about highly affordable portable chargers, quality surround sound sound bars, and kitchen gadgets that weren't overpriced. If I'm going to use my expendable income 'as a Millennial', I might as well use my income 'wisely' [via the pursuit of deals].

It's like I've been backed into becoming a Groupon power user, checking my inbox daily for deals that are great for me and the family. I can't complain about remarketing when I'm a willing participant in mediums of remarketing.

E-commerce is actually content aimed at real people, instead of just fodder for web browsing bots to inflate analytics. Real people want real deals. They must use their real money in order to purchase the deal. The content farm must be trustworthy, and it has a responsibility that might be even deeper than journalistic expectations. They can't violate the trust of their spending audience.

Perhaps eCommerce is the final frontier of content farms. Online media was an extremely roundabout way to get people to buy things. Now that the web is too fractured for one single website to influence, content farms are now in the business of pitching everything. They've become travelling salesmen, pitching their online audiences with today's 'hot product that will change their lives,' assuming that there is someone willing to conveniently deliver anything anywhere.

As we approach 2016, all that's certain is that online media will continue to change. Some publishers will 'strike gold' with their pivots/diversification strategies. Infinite scalability might not be enough any more if you want to attract significant investment or sustain yourself with real revenue. Adding revenue streams that prove you have 'real people' invested in your content stream seems important enough to 'compromise' any journalistic mission with links to 'kewl swag.'

In a way, the act of purchasing a product from a content farm referral link is also a philanthropic donation to the content farm itself. You are willingly helping it stay alive. You are helping it monetize. You are giving a content creator a way to make money to perpetuate their voice. You are allowing yourself to be the influencee, bowing to the influencer in their alpha-position in this online monetization scheme.

Gawker's eCommerce team has created the necessary brand that may actually break through the noise of the content farm minutiae. While my eyes glaze past many stories, I can't help but pay closer attention to their product referrals as the ultimate Amazon combers to justify my Amazon Prime 'membership.' They've backed me down, and my eyes no longer see it as sponsored/native content. It's all just the latest tool that media companies must deploy to 'stay relevant' with widely accepted monetization strategies.

Content farms have become a weird advertorial for the spirit of capitalism, encouraging me to take solace in the cheapness of raw goods and services. I choose to shop online to avoid Black Friday stampedes and the suburban angst of the big box electronics store employees. If I turn to the internet, I can get better deals with the markup on convenience drastically slashed. My favorite content farms are passing the savings on to me without even having to manufacture or establish a brick and mortar store. If played right, one major content farm might be the next great invisible big box retail store.

Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by the last relevant blogger.