493038487 158b08a24f 199x300 Audiences arent stupid. Qualitys not deadThere’s been a lot of doom-laden talk today about ‘The Death of Hand-crafted Content‘.

If you believe Michael Arrington, quality online writing and video is being pushed out by ‘Content Farms’ that publish endless articles and clips about whatever is trending highly on search engines. For background on content farms, see this Wired article.

It’s a ‘race to the bottom’, apparently. Soon we’ll all be reading “cheap, crappy content” written by “a bunch of people who couldn’t keep their old media jobs and don’t have the stomach to go out on their own”. The worry is that with all this content flooding our search engine results, internet users won’t bother to seek out anything better than third-rate rubbish. This, in turn will lead to the closure of many ‘high-quality’ outlets.

While it’s true that the reduction in cost of content creation in recent years has led to a flood of poor quality content, I take the optimistic view. One factor that Arrington ignores is the audience.

Audiences aren’t stupid. They know quality when they see it. A guide to knitting written by someone who picked up the commission on a ‘Mechanical Turk’ first-come first-served system is always going to pale in comparison to an authoritative guide written by a kitting expert. If the first guide a reader finds is of too poor a quality to satisfy their needs they’ll seek out the better one.

Cream always rises to the top and ‘quality’ content will find its target audience thanks to a combination of search engines, content aggregators and sharing services like Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, Digg and Stumbleupon.

Even if you think I’m full of nothing but blind optimism here, there’s an uncomfortable truth that ‘quality’ content producers need to bear in mind too. Sometimes content farms with their hyper-targeted approach provide exactly what an audience needs. Even if it’s cheap and rushed, an article telling you “How to make a breakfast nook out of a church pew” (for example) answers a specific question – one that people most quality outlets wouldn’t bother to answer in isolation.

Sometimes it’s the ‘low-quality’ content that fulfills an audience’s need. In that case, is it really low quality?

[Image credit: Zappowbang]