Are You Guilty of “Content Pollution?”

February 1st, 2005 by Bob Bly

Am I wrong, or has technology ? specifically, the Internet, desktop pubishing, and printing on demand ? reduced two of my favorite things in the world, books and writing, to mere commodities?

When I started out as a writer at Westinghouse in the late 1970s, managers who wanted to demean the craft of writing called it ?word-smithing.?

But I think that the true demise of the craft was signaled when people began referring to writing as ?content? ? which, like pork or butter, sounds like something that should be sold by the pound.

Certainly, with 150,000 books published every year, we?re suffering from a new kind of pollution ? ?content pollution.? There?s simply too much to read, and not enough time to read it.

I worry that, every time I write in my blog, or write an article or a book, I am contributing to this content pollution.

After all, aren?t there already a million others already writing on the same topics and saying the same things? And isn?t that true for virtually every author ? and every topic ? on the planet?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2005 at 1:31 pm and is filed under Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

538 responses about “Are You Guilty of “Content Pollution?””

  1. Justin Hitt said:

    Yes, others are writing similar materials, even whole books on the exact topics presented on this and other blogs. I haven’t read all your books, so it’s even possible you’re echoing those same materials here.

    But deep down inside everyone there is the desire to get that one little bit of new information, even if we have to wade through what we already know to find it.

    Smart marketers will utilize these facts to capture the attention (and curiosity) of prospective buyers — and even smarter writers will become information collectors and organizers for an even busier end-users.

    Even with “pork and butter” there are different grades — while the volume of this content increases, very few contribute lasting quality materials. I guess that could be said of books too.

    There are obscure titles of literature written years-gone-by forgotten for good reason like much of what’s on-line. My hope is that you’ll continue to produce books, tapes, and other materials, and that my comments have added value to this discussion.


    Justin Hitt
    Strategic Relations Consultant
    Turning Relationships Into Profits

  2. John said:

    I think that since the pulps we’ve seen this coming – the technology of paper production and now electronic distribution has made writing more commonplace and probably banal.
    Oh well.
    Not many people like reading Proust anyway.

  3. Shannon Stoltz said:

    I’m surprised – especially since many of your own books contain similar content slanted to meet the needs/interests of different audiences. Just because many people may be saying the same content does not mean that every reader picks up on the message. For example, how many freelance copywriting books are out there? I’ve read many of them. But each writer includes their own perspective, their own stories. The basics may be the same but learning different perspectives, different stories, drives the point home – builds validation and credibility. It also allows readers who may not connect with one writer gain the message from another. As a teacher of writers, I’d also expect you’ve value the ability for more people interested in learning to write well to gain that insight easier and more quickly. Where else can we learn from masters who are willing to share so easily?
    Respectfully – Shannon

  4. avi said:

    First, as long as there is market of content as commodity, I don’t mind writing some more.
    Second, writing books is kind of branding yourself out, which means you are doing the right thing.

  5. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    There’s a wonderful scene in Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway Musical “Sunday in the Park with George”. The second act features a middle-aged artist who is despressed about the glut of impressionist paintings on the market. He’s thinking of calling it quits. Speaking to the ghost of the girlfriend of 18th century painter Seurat, he laments, “It’s all been said before.” She replies, “But not by you, George.”

    I have no idea how this story fits. But it came to mind while I was reading the posts.

  6. Mark Nenadic\\\' said:

    The average 17th century gentleman was exposed to less information in his WHOLE LIFE than I am in 24 hours! Jesus no wonder im tired 🙁


  7. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Hmmmm, your even THINKING the same things as others. I just had this conversation with my copywriter: he hated me using the word ‘content’ – alas – to his dismay I continued since it is a good descriptor for all stuff (artwork included) that fills pages (paper and electronic).

    Keep writing – I’ll read it if you make the same topic more interesting or easier to find than anyone else.

  8. Susan Getgood said:

    For me the concept “wordsmithing” has always implied writing as a craft, which I sort of like. As to the term “content,” I agree that it is sort of weak, and doesn’t have the richness that more descriptive terms do — essay, photograph, movie, short story, Website, advertisement, etc. etc. But now that all of this STUFF is available through one medium, the Internet, we do need a term that encompasses it all. Because it has to include so much, it is a generic, wishy washy kind of word. Such is life.
    My opinion. Let’s just focus on making the content rich, exciting, uplifting, funny, sad, clever, effective etc etc. That way we will avoid content pollution. If you are writing or producing “content” of some kind, and just one other person enjoys it, loves to read it (even if it *is* your mother) and you are having fun doing it, that is all that matters.

  9. Jim Logan said:

    Great post! Very thought provoking.

    Great writing can never be a commodity. I believe the more accessible writing and publish becomes, the more great writing stands tall. There are few great writers and it becomes more evident as more of us join in…

    It’s interesting, a topic can be written about by numerous authors yet each one is capable of bring something new to the topic. If the topic is relevant, there is always room for new and different interpretation.

    I’ve never thought of the word “content” as being negative. I’ve always thought it was most descriptive. Your post made me think…I do not consider myself a writer. As a writer, I might think it otherwise.

  10. Kevin Stirtz said:

    Nice post Bob. And, you’re partly right. Too much of what we get blasted with every day is commoditized, lifeless content. But, like a seeing a rainbow after a storm, we are occasionally blessed with insight and wisdom from someone who has gone beyond providing content and instead has shared their souls with us.

  11. Paul Woodhouse said:

    I was under the impression copywriters had sucked the life out of meaningful writing years ago.

  12. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    I wouldn’t worry about it. King Solomon (one very wise fellow) wrote (Ecclesiastes 1:9): “What was, will be and what has happened, will happen and there is nothing new under the sun.”

    Milton Berle–a lesser wise man, though still pretty smart–said “There’s no such thing as old jokes…. Just old audiences!”

    By the way, I kind of like the term Wordsmith. My problem is with writers who don’t pay attention to their craft.

    Keep it up!

  13. Rick Bruner said:

    I knew I could count on you to bark about one of your favorite peeves recently. I saw this article in Wired and thought of you.

  14. Dawney said:

    People word the same thoughts quite differently. Since we all learn differently and all enjoy different types of writing styles, there NEEDS to be a variety in how material is expressed. One writer may not reach a particular reader.

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