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There’s No Money in Internet Culture: Why You Shouldn’t Try To Make Money off Memes

no money in internet culture

You don’t have to go very far online to find marketing discussions surrounding user generated content campaigns. What these refer to are brands encouraging users to create memes and content featuring their brand to share on social network sites. Despite having written about the topic in the past (for pay, so I will not be linking here), I don’t inherently think that encouraging people online to do anything for your brand is really a good idea. Like the political culture wars that define it, internet culture is not the place to look to kickstart your brand online. In fact, as prominent online culture peddlers will tell you, there’s no money in internet culture.

Countless articles online will tell you that businesses like Soundcloud, Tumblr, and even Reddit have failed because they haven’t monetized properly. But maybe that’s inherent to the business. Maybe there’s no money in internet culture in the first place. Unlike marketing a blog, there’s really no well to draw from. Just look at Vine. Twitter bought it and thought they could monetize it. And then quickly realized they couldn’t. This isn’t because Vine lacked an audience. It’s because they lacked an audience willing to pay. And you can’t host that much video if no one is willing to pay for it.

In contrast, a blog is a personal following on a platform you own. When someone creates a blog, or even a branded publication, they own the content on it. They can monetize it how they see fit. This is very different from internet culture, no matter the platform. Take the example of Ben Schulz, the player behind Leeroy Jenkins. He created an everlasting icon for Blizzard that goes well beyond the confines of World of Warcraft. And though he attempted to monetize the character, he was not able to profit from the internet culture that he created.

This is why creating internet culture is a raw deal for the creator. Without an actual product that people are willing to pay for, it’s difficult to find much money from something people can get for free elsewhere. Reddit may get billions of page views a month, but even with hiring a former Google advertising executive, they haven’t been able to make money off them.

People may consider authenticity important from brands they buy from. But generating user-generated content can’t itself be the business model. This is why Facebook encourages you to share personal updates as much as possible. They’re aware there’s no money in internet culture, but they want to use your status updates to sell your ‘likes’ and interests to advertisers to customize your ad experience. They’re even trying to get publishers in on it by charging readers to view their content. 

I personally think that is a mistake. Even legacy publishing brands are susceptible to the effects of user-generated content. Because someone somewhere can always make a blog to post the news. Now that we have options, we don’t care about where we get our news. As much as legacy publications are well-known, they aren’t necessarily trusted.  People in my age group are especially are willing to use alternative news sources.

All these new news sources represent is a shift toward blog content. And that’s not say the site owners can’t make a killing off repackaging the news. They can. But  Internet culture at large has a long way to go before it becomes profitable. Perhaps it will never get there. But expecting to make money off content that others generate will never make money. Just ask CondeNast, owner of Reddit and itself owned by Advanced Publications.

You can’t make money off the backs of other people’s creations, no matter how derivative. A platform or aggregator is never going to work that way, unless its an eCommerce store. But where the money is at for the modern content creator is creative entrepreneurship, which of course goes beyond making memes. It all comes down to owning your ideas, and if you don’t, then you’ll never be able to capitalize on them.

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