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I’ve not posted for a while. I got a really nice tweet from @DavidRobertHogg this week saying he wanted to read more from me. (Thank you).

The reason (apart from being busy) is frankly I’m depressed about the way things are going online. It feels like I might rant about how 'real people matter' and 'quality content counts', but the macro data suggests that actually the billions of schmucks who use the net couldn’t give a toss. For them the price-quality ratio has become totally decoupled. They expect to get stuff for free or at nominal cost and don’t think for a moment about what that means about what they are getting. It’s depressing.

The most recent example is one I came across mourning the fact that my Seville guidebook will probably never be published in print again. (Thanks Google). I was looking at Amazon and came across a Kindle-only competitor. It costs £1.02 compared with my guidebook which costs £6.74. (Admittedly my guidebook isn’t available as a Kindle book so it’s not a completely fair comparison). Guide to Seville by EUprintpresspublishing is a piece of crap – probably copied and pasted from Wikipedia and I think put through a piece of translation software. A couple of sentences from the first paragraph:

“Seville (Seville Seville in English or in Spanish) is the artistic, cultural and financial capital of Andalusia and Seville province. It is situated in a plane passing through the Guadalquivir river – sailing from Seville to the site of injection in the bay of Cadiz in the Atlantic ocean.”

What a piece of unmitigated shite.

I tweeted about it and got some amused tweets of horror back from other travel writers like @Mike_Gerrard, @mary_novakovich and @itsjamesstewart as they looked at other examples from the series and came up with:

“house-boats in Amsterdam are 'complete homes with electricity, water, gas and sewage'”

“inside the Cuba guide it refers to that well-known cook 'Chef Guevara'

Should Amazon (and others who are tech companies but pretend they are publishers like Google and Apple) engage in at least some quality control and not let people publish crap like this?

Mike suggested that ‘people would decide if these books are any good’. The Seville guide does have two 1* reviews which are pretty explicit about how bad the guides are. Like this one:

“A few pages of badly translated, half baked information. I was shocked to find that such an item was available.”

But Mike also discovered that EVERY guide has a glowing 5-star review by someone called Deni who didn't buy the book.

This then is ‘content’ online these days. The idiots who use the internet are so dumb, they buy it. And the people who publish it engage in fraudulent activity to promote it.

Is there anything we can do? Will the market ensure crap like this sinks to the bottom of the pile or will we all drown in piles of it and find it increasingly hard to discover the good stuff?

 

45 thoughts on “Web Content 2.0 – aka a pile of cheap crap

  1. The reader in me thinks WTF that's disgraceful how dreadful, Amazon, you legal-tax dodging f*ckers what are you playing it...

    The businessman in me thinks...if you can't beat em join them.

    You sold your content to Frommers/Google. They now own it. Fair enough. They want your work for their jigsaw. C'est la guerre.

    However no reason why you can't just switch off twitter and batter out some new books with your notes. Get your mates to review it (honestly) - even if it's pure hackery with no maps, it's going to be better than that shite...

    Niche self publishing. NSP. Get on the choo choo.

    1. I already bought a bunch of 'seville guidebook' domains Stu. I agree with you. I think you need to cover all the bases to make it work financially tho (as Mike Gerard has explained in previous great guest posts). So it needs to be Kindle book, website, app, everything. It requires a lot of time investment and commitment to make it work.
      But that's just me and my choice about where my stuff gets published and where I focus my energies.
      It's more concerning that the next generation simply don't appreciate the time and effort it takes to create well considered content. My mate's 10-year-old thinks homework is just hitting Wikipedia and a few other places and copying and pasting chuncks of text onto a page. He doesn't know how to rewrite, analyse and synthesise it. Content is just this 'thing' you pour into a hole, stick on a page. (Hang on a minute, maybe my mate's 10 year old is the publiser of those guidebooks?!)

      1. Ha:)

        Well if it cheers you up I pay for Nat Geo Traveller and Wanderlust. Like em. Also a longterm subscriber to Private Eye. And in last 6 months the Economist. God it's good.

        Also enjoyed this VICE Hislop interview on good writing and our generation valuing it...

        http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/what-an-omnishambles-v10n12-1

        The other good bit of news is that student of yours nicking everything off wikipedia. There's software now to catch them! http://turnitin.com/ Gotta love technology :)

        Also really have to design an app? Experiment with a few wee kindle books? Work out a work to expected return?

        Maybe EUpresspublishing (with some good writing) is a model after all...

        Hmmmm

          1. Depends who is paying! I'm not disagreeing though. I really 'ought' to give it a proper go.

  2. It is a particularly shocking example and I suspect there are plenty more out there if we took the time to look for them. Amazon apply no quality control so it's up to the buyer to choose what they want - just the way it is. A quick look at this nonsense should be enough, but as with every other product there are people who will always buy on price and accept this type of dross.

    I do believe there are enough folks prepared to pay for decent content - perhaps more crap offerings such as this will help create that differentiation in the long run. Hang in there, keep using your expertise to produce decent material that offers value at a price that works for you and the reader. This shite isn't competition; it's more of a ridiculous distraction.

    Meanwhile, another belter from the same series of masterpieces: "A typical example of good business planning is Easy jet. According to its description that is an airline company. It is located in a British airline headquartered in Hangar 89 at London Lupton Airport, Lupton, and Bedfordshire, England. It services are the cheap flights."

  3. Very good points brought up here. Worst of the worst is to see such content rank highly either in search or in review/ratings due to less than moral duping. That said such things have been going on in print publishing for years. Person writes book, publisher buys stock directly from retailers to boost rankings, throws in some reviews, pays for some press interviews and all of a sudden you go from zero to hero in a week.

    Not sure about the answer. Luck + taking control of your own content seems to the only way. Or else just fight like with like.

    1. @dave

      just on the ranking issue, where content appears in SEO is arguably less important than it was just 2 years ago.

      Check the Google real estate on P1 SERPS.

      1. Hi Kevin
        I don't understand what you mean here? I'd have thought where content appears in SEO is more important now that so much page one real estate is taken up by other stuff?
        J

          1. I see. Agree it's increasingly hard - but I think people are still doing SEO big time. What other channels could you divert to and get the same guaranteed bang for your buck?

    2. Hi Dave
      Thanks for commenting!
      Even in your 'olden days' example above though the publisher might seek to try and boost the popularity of one of its titles but it wouldn't dream of publishing something this crap in the first place.
      That's the scary thing. Someone somewhere had so little respect for people's intelligence that they published this shit in the first place. It's frankly amazing.
      J

    1. Ha! You might not agree with the views of the Mail, but at least they can spell!
      (Oddly some of the nicest people I've dealt with as a freelance travel writer work at the Mail)

      1. But they're not very good at research as they seem to regularly misinterpret various commissioned reports.

        At least the mistakes in the guides made me laugh whereas the ones in the Daily Mail really, really don't.

        Shite comes in all shapes and guises - even when spelt correctly.

        I totally agree with Christine. Kindle has opened up a new market of guidebook readers. The ones who will pay £1 for a guide are probably not the same people who'd research and buy a 'decent' guidebook.

        Discerning customers will still be discerning customers.

        I guess even nice folk occasionally have to prostitute themselves to put bread on the table :)

  4. Why all the fuss about such crap guides? Those who buy them would not buy your own well researched guide in the first place so you are not losing out. This said, I do understand your irritation, but mediocrity and inaccuracy are twin ingredients in the media. And for photographers, this means rubbish images available at a price no professional could consider. This is the two-tier society of today: those who seek quality and will pay for it and the rest...

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Christine.
      Take your point and agree.
      But you got me thinking too. Photography is an interesting comparison point. Do you get situations where your lovely professional shots are offered for sale by the same agency/website alongside stuff that's totally awful taken by an amateur with a mobile phone?
      It actually says a lot about the publisher (in this instance Amazon) and that's the real issue here for me. Is it OK to have a 'publisher' with the brand-reach and commercial presence that Amazon does being that disinterested in the stuff it is selling? Just because there's no pressure on shelf space they just sell it. It would never happen this way in the physical world.
      Amazon are treating authors and readers with comnplete disinterest - almost contempt. It's the same with Trip Advisor - happily accepting duff reviews from people who've never been to a place and saying 'it's not our problem'. These massively profitable businesses should start to take quality more seriously in my opinion.
      J

  5. I go through these cyclical funks in which I'm super depressed about the state of travel and the web. I know why this happens -- I get inundated in noise rather than signal. My Twitter feed gets choked with hashtagged sponsored stuff about how #thisplaceisawesome and I get promoted junk clogging my Facebook page and and and. Noise. All noise. The noise gets to me, and I get depressed because, GAWD, I LOVE ME SOME WEB 2.0! (Or maybe we're 3.0 already, whatever that means.)

    When this happens, I just add a bunch of filters to my feeds, unfollow a lot of individuals that tell me they're important (or who are being highlighted in spite of their crap work) I just (excuse me) shut that shit down.

    There's always going to be a staggering amount of garbage out there. When my focus becomes too preoccupied by the garbage than by the good, I know it's time for some medieval pruning tactics. It's doesn't make the garbage go away, but it makes it go away from MY channels, and that helps.

    I think this post could have been summed up with one of my favorite phrases: Get. Off. My. Lawn.

    1. Hi Pam
      Funnily enough a job for my weekend is to set up a new RSS feed thing (now that Google has pulled Reader). I want to re-discover RSS - I think it could be the future for avoiding spam
      Thanks for your comment!
      J

  6. Hey Jeremy, great rant!

    Ratings systems can be gamed to a degree, however I do think that they will work over the longer haul. Amazon will get smarter in discovering the fakes, just like Google is. The system is still not perfect, but I have no doubt it will continue to improve.

    Those putting out quality content, with a substantial platform and social media network to back it up will win out over time. It's inevitable.

    However, I don't have a lot of faith in humanity. :-) It seems there will always be a vast majority that gets sucked into every marketing gimmick and sales tactic. I hate playing by those rules, but there may be no other choice.

  7. Thankfully, there IS still a market for good quality; I think the market has just expanded to include the aforementioned sh*te! It's the difference between people who shop at Poundland and those shop at M&S. There are just MORE who shop at Poundland, etc.

    The internet has accelerated this process, though, as we increasingly see people who demand (often rudely) info for free just because they've bought your book. The sense of entitlement (and lack of courtesy) just screams at us from our Inbox every day, and is a genuine concern because you're damned if you do respond and damned if you don't. But that's a whole 'nother argument!

    I would imagine Volvo car designers are equally distraught every time someone buys a Ford.

    1. Hi Simon
      I think it's worse than the examples you quote above.
      It's like Tesco happily selling horsemeat that someone has called beefburgers alongside their real beefburgers for a fraction of the price. Oh, hang on, wait a minute...
      J

    2. ooops, that motoring analogy is worse than most of the examples from the kindle travel guides. the Ford Fiesta and Mondeo are widely acknowledged to be among the best cars in their class, something Volvo would love to be able to boast... despite their lofty price tags (and lofty advertising/marketing budget)

  8. Over the last few months I've virtually withdrawn from putting anything on my website, and using twitter or facebook, although I hardly ever touched the latter anyway. The main reason is that I was becoming sad at the amount of total and utter shit that was being sent out on twitter by brain-dead nobodies every thirty seconds, the mileage of dross I came across purporting to be 'jernalism' and 'travel righting' (terms I genuinely found), and the sludge of highly positioned ineptitude that is everywhere and on the increase. I sectioned my print guide book about the Valencian region (still selling, thankfully) into a series of ebook excursions and sell them on Amazon, mainly via my website and a friendly local magazine. I have resigned myself to a future life of penury instead of writing the shit that passes as jernalism these days.

    1. Sad indeed. :-( Has dividing the guide up like that produced more sales/better income? That's a nice idea.
      And... have you managed to include maps in them? For me this remains the complicated bit I don't know enough about.

  9. You ask what can be done about it. One thing would be for everyone who sees these guides for what they are to go on Amazon and give them a scathing 1-star review.

    By the way, I am subscribed to this topic with my correct email address but I don't get an email when a new comment is posted.

    1. I've been thinking about doing that. Also might tweet Amazonuk and ask them what they do about fraudulent reviews copying the page of his reviews...
      Assume if I do others might RT for me!?

      (sorry - the subscribe comments plug in seems to be bust at the moment - any ideas anyone? I tried reinstalling...)

  10. Update - I've reported Deni the person who has given virtually every guide in the series a 5 star review to Amazon for fraudulent reviewing. I've also put a comment under his/her review of the Seville guide saying this.
    And I've started a discussion on amazon about the Seville guide asking if people think Amazon should allow junk lik this to be sold on their website.
    Will keep people posted on the results!
    J

  11. First question: why isn't your guide available as a Kindle book?

    Yes, published material includes vast mountainous piles of dogshit. Don't read it. Don't buy it. Believe me, they won't care. It probably costs them a tenner to produce each guide so they only have to sell 11 to be ahead.

    Good Luck to em!

    But the last thing I'd want is the key holders (Amazon,Apple) getting into the serious nitty gritty of QC. I'd rather have the crap to wade through.

    Fraudulent behavior in order to promote a publication. The horror!

    Is there anything we can do?

    Yes! Publish useful stuff.

    Frommers has died, do use your content & knowledge to build a site on Seville (or wherever).

    Just do it.

    1. Answer - Because Frommer's were a legacy publisher and couldn't get their heads around e-publishing. They spent a lot of money and time trying to develop stuff in house - then realised they couldn't, then partnered with someone and made a hash of the deal... and that was that. Then Google came along...
      But therein lies the opportunity.
      Thanks for your encouragment... seems to be a common thread here!
      J

  12. Some comments:
    When i first went to the azores there was only one guide book available. it was £14 and small. i had to buy it but found too late it was a clumsily translated version of something by an amateur German rambler about the best footpaths. Now I can go online and find loads of good info for free.
    There has always been (a) plenty of crap (b) people dressing it up nicely to sell it (c) fake reviews (d) thick buyers swayed by price.

    BUT: the public's perceived value of nice writing for non-fiction has declined dramatically in the last decade. The tastes of a few writers like us doesn't matter. We like nice writing and get uppity about fakes stuff. So what? It just looks like self-interested whinges.

    1. You gotta ask yourself why the public doesn't value well written non-fiction too though. Are we all becoming more stupid? (I think so.)
      PS: Whinging is fun. I love it

  13. Hi Jeremy,
    Good rant.

    All is not lost. There are growing signs of a future shift in web content from quantity to quality and relevance. Perhaps that's overoptimistic. A better description might be that the segment demanding quality is present and growing. Here are a few early examples from other verticals:

    - Quora vs. Yahoo Q&A
    - Vimeo vs. YouTube (acutaly YouTube is also getting more quality content)
    - 500px vs. Flickr

    And the most interesting example comes from @Ev Williams (founder of Twitter) whose latest venture Medium is pushing hard at quality over quantity.

    Don't give up hope.
    Charlie

  14. Hi Jeremy,

    Firstly, commiserations for your print Seville guide. I spent a few months in the city last year and paid for your Seville Explorer app (very useful). You didn't mention that here though. In your experience is that another channel for self publishers to make their investment in time, research & quality economically viable?

    Secondly, your closing para: "Is there anything we can do? Will the market ensure crap like this sinks to the bottom of the pile or will we all drown in piles of it and find it increasingly hard to discover the good stuff?" is almost exactly the mission and vision behind our OutBounding.org project which I mentioned to you a few weeks back.

    I know you were sceptical then but that is *exactly* what we're trying to do: create a tool that addresses the signal-noise problem and promotes the good stuff out there, and therefore the business models that fund the good stuff in the first place.

    http://outbounding.org/about/whos-the-best-judge-of-quality-anyway-algorithms-vs-people/

    Cheers, Matt

  15. As a PS to what I said about readers deciding - someone bought this company's guide to Toulouse on Amazon.com and gave it a scathing 1-star review. A fortnight later they reviewed our own Kindle guide to Toulouse and gave it a complimentary 4-star review. Hooray!

  16. As it turns out, I actually used that crappy Seville ebook and it irritated me as well. Why did I buy such a thing? First, I wanted to see what you get for €0.99 as ebooks are the bandwagon I've been urged to jump on. I was staying in the south of Spain for a few months and thought I'd make a quick trip up to Seville for an overnight. Your book wasn't on sale, Jeremy, but to be honest for a one-night stop I probably wouldn't have paid much more than €5 anyway. What annoyed me about the ebook was that it was all slightly repurposed from Wikipedia and Wikitravel. I wondered if the people providing free content for those wikis knew that someone else was making money from it. It was somewhat useful for historical background but that's about it. My experience trying to replace a guidebook with digital content in Seville formed the basis for this article I just published: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanne-oliver/travel-guidebooks_b_2962452.html. I could have gone on for another thousand words about it!

  17. I think you are right about the whole thing. Now that anyone can write anything and sell them. Thanks to these search engines and book sellers real content is being buried.

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      Jeremy

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