Does quantity trump quality in digital media?

When BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen, in a recent interview with Digiday, said people are more interested in entertainment than news, she was half right.

It may be more accurate to assert that people want their news couched in entertainment.

Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” is still true after more than 50 years. Form and content are inextricably associated in the consumer’s mind with the means of delivery and the message perceived as a single entity.

For example, Tasty – BuzzFeed’s channel for food lovers – which according to Ms. Nguyen has a global reach of 360 million people a month, provides further evidence that we prefer entertainment over news.

With quick and easy recipes in video format and distilled articles in the form of listicles on offbeat subjects, such as the oldest restaurants in the world, Tasty serves up tidbits of useful information and entertaining everyday minutiae.

The site strives to offer consistent quality and quantity, but of course, the term “quantity” should mean “variety,” not “repetition.”

And then there’s The New Yorker’s promo – “read something that means something” – an approach that favours depth over breadth. It advocates engagement over entertainment, focus rather than spectacle.

(That said, “meaning,” like beauty, is subjective and in the eye of the beholder.)

So, what’s more important in content development: quality or quantity?

For media, it’s always a judgment call that involves a myriad of factors, such as the nature of the message, the demographic being addressed and the life span of the campaign.

No matter what the industry – media, auto, retail – compromising on quality is not recommended if you’re in it for the long haul with a goal to establish a solid reputation.

To attract a large digital audience and keep it interested in your platform, is it realistic to assume that more content means more clicks and, hence, greater potential revenue?

The question is: Are you peddling trinkets or brokering in gems?

If you’re trading in novelties, then heavy traffic with the digital equivalent of a street vendor may be the way to go.

And if you’re dealing with quality products that rely on an established reputation and trust, then a digital environment where customers linger and return is more effective.

In fact, according to a recent Forbes Media survey of 2,259 participants, the more time readers spend on sponsor content, the more favourable they are to the brand.

The argument can be made that quantity does not necessarily equate with poor quality. However, quality here is not just the abstract, social, intellectual or esthetic value of the content, it is quality that must be assessed in terms of achieving its goal.

In this context it can be seen as content that is more precisely honed to reach its target as opposed to cutting a wide swath and hoping for the best.

Relatively-speaking, it is still early days for digital media. When the proverbial dust settles, it may yet prove short-sighted to assume that because media has changed, readers’ priorities have also changed irreparably.

As with all radical social changes, there often follows an incremental correction toward long-established norms.


Elizabeth Holland is a Senior Editor at the Globe Edge Content Studio