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Tech Talk

5 steps to become a web billionaire

9/2/2015

To the uninspired and greed-fueled, the modern web must be secretly infuriating. Parroting a phrase I heard time and time again in the photography showcase at the Iowa State Fair, the Internet inspires a lot of “I could do that.” From food blogs to silly YouTube video producers, it seems thousands of talentless hacks are raking in cash with little to no effort. The worst offender? Buzzfeed. Making matters worse, the new media giant was recently valued at a cool $1.5 billion.

I don’t believe any of what you just read. Creating audience-garnering content on the web is not easy. It takes constant brainstorming, blitzkrieg creativity, excellent imagery and writing, and a unique voice. Anyone can run over to WordPress and start a blog, but making a living off it takes dedication and serious work. Second, if you find yourself scoffing at a $1.5 billion Buzzfeed, you don’t understand the world of today’s web.

Web journalism has as much in common with traditional journalism as radio has with TV. Online readers are getting much of the same information as print and TV news audiences, but the delivery is wildly different. While known for its comedic videos and pop culture quizzes, Buzzfeed has mastered a popular online content delivery method known as the “listicle.” Listicles rank information and order it in a manner that keeps the audience reading and clicking on a website.

Listicles are everywhere. The Internet is littered with web videos and quizzes, all equally as disposable as the next, but listicles are magnets for attention. Whereas traditional news reports generally give you the immediate take home in the first paragraph, sites like Buzzfeed understand that organizing information into sequenced tidbits force readers to consume every bit. If you are interested in a TV show, film, news story or even finding local restaurants, ranking them and partitioning them with a list that helps readers understand all the information.tech

Buzzfeed has ridden the wave of ranked content curation for years, and it has paid off in millions of dollars. With hundreds of millions of millennial eyeballs visiting Buzzfeed’s site every month, traditional media outlets have taken notice and decided to hitch their wagon. NBCUniversal made a huge splash last month by investing $250 million into the Buzzfeed machine. Beyond Buzzfeed, NBCU also invested in Vox Media, an upstart online news and entertainment outlet that caters content to younger reads. These moves solidify a long-held belief that traditional media is not attracting the audience it has been accustomed to blindly receiving for decades.

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Never mind ratings and click numbers, the valuations are all the evidence you need. Buzzfeed’s $1.5 billion valuation is higher than the Washington Post and the Tribune Company (L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and many more) combined. Not only that, but Buzzfeed’s traffic and revenue numbers continue to climb. In 2014, the company made $100 million in revenue. An amount that might seem paltry to most media conglomerates, but considering the largest of websites — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. — haven taken close to a decade to build a revenue-generating business, Buzzfeed’s early returns speak well to a bright future.

If you’ve read this far and are wondering when the five steps will begin, I’m sorry, but you’ve been duped. There’s no denying this ploy works. We’ve all succumbed to the clickbait sidebar articles such as “Top Ten Movie Mistakes You Won’t Believe!” More often than not, these lists are less than satisfactory, but at least now you know why they are everywhere. Buzzfeed, Gawker, Cracked and dozens of other websites are listing their way to millions. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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