Content Marketing StrategyRyan's Rants

5 Reasons Why ‘Content Shock’ is Unbelievably Stupid

By January 17, 2014 5 Comments

Mark Shaefer’s ‘Content Shock’ post is huge at the moment. It’s also the stupidest article I’ve ever read.

If you aren’t familiar with Mark’s post, you can read it here . It contains Schaefer’s prophetic belief that the end is nigh for content marketing, and a rapturous event, known only as ‘Content Shock’, will tear through the industry and render all of our efforts obsolete. I’ve managed to gleam 4 key points from Shaefer’s rhetoric:

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1. There’s a finite limit to how much content we can consume.

2. The creation of content is increasing exponentially, and we’re about to reach saturation point.

3. When this happens, businesses will be forced to pay consumers to read their content.

4. This ‘content shock’ will affect industries differently, at different times, but we’re still basically screwed.

5. Content marketing is dying, and we should all run for our fallout bunkers before the worst hits. Or better yet, we should subscribe to Mark Shaefer’s blog to learn how to deal with it. [/box]

Sounds bad right? But before you start throwing clothes into a holdall and kissing your loved ones goodbye, read on a little bit. I’m about to destroy Content Shock.


Why Content Shock is Stupid, Reason #1

There’s No Proof of Content Shock

content shock mark schaefer sherlock

Sherlock does not approve.

When I started reading ‘Content Shock’, I thought to myself, ”Wow, that’s quite a claim from Schaefer! I can’t wait to see the statistics he’s collected to back this up!’. I kept reading, watching the insanity of Mark’s claims grow, and by the time I reached the end of the article, I had discovered exactly zero statistics to back it up. Not one. There’s a vague mention of content doubling every few years, but not a single bit of tangible, statistical proof.

‘But wait!’ you cry, ‘What about all the Economic reasoning in there? That stuff sounds convincing, all that complicated supply and demand stuff he talks about with such authority!’

Well, dear reader, I’m about to share a dark and personal secret with you – I wasn’t always a content marketer. I was, at one time, an Economics graduate.


Why Content Shock is Stupid, Reason #2

The Economics Makes No Sense

The theory of ‘Content Shock’ is apparently based on ‘simple economic terms’. In fact, Schaefer tried to root his entire argument in the economics of ‘supply and demand’, drawing upon apparently common economic knowledge to validate his belief.

Thankfully, I know a bit about economics – I’m no expert, but I clawed my way through 3 years of it at university – and there is no economics here. Instead, there’s just an elaborate bluff, in an attempt to give his nonsense claims some credibility. The good news is that for me to disprove Mark’s ridiculous claims, I don’t need to delve into anything more than Economics 101, so you’ll be able to follow along no-problem – as the graph below suggests:

Content Shock Economic Theory Graph

Mark Shaefer’s Insane Claim:

Mark says that the ‘price’ of content is zero, because businesses give it away, and readers pay nothing for it. In reality though, content does have a ‘price’, because it costs both parties indirectly. Businesses pay to produce content, and readers pay through the sales and revenue they contribute to the publishing business. We judge it’s value as a function of its impact on revenue, and the cost of producing it.

If we ever reached a point of theoretical content saturation, content’s impact upon our business would decline – we’d see less engagement, fewer leads and reduced sales. The return on investment would decrease, and we’d reduce the amount of content we were creating, in favor of more cost-effective mediums. Eventually, this would reduce the industry-wide supply to an equilibrium point of content supply equating to content demand.

Mark warns of the supply of content ‘exploding’, despite a static demand for it. This would not happen. Without demand for a product, there are no incentives for supply to increase. As we’ve just seen, an increase in supply without a proportionate increase in demand will only reduce the ROI of content, and thus encourage a reduction in supply.


Why Content Shock is Stupid, Reason #3

Content =/= Apples

content shock is stupid apples

Admittedly, content doesn’t taste as nice

Mark’s analysis was doomed from the outset – because we can’t apply the broad-brush strokes of basic economic theory to content in the first place. ‘Content’ isn’t a single, homogeneous product, and it can’t be ‘bought’ in the simplistic terms that he talks about. There are a million different niches that content can exist in, and thousands of formats. We don’t have ‘exponential growth’ of content because the definition of content is always changing, in the same way that our consumption of content changes.

‘The entry barriers become impossibly high’

The barriers to entry Mark talks about are also much less important than his article suggests. It’s true that as content marketing becomes more competitive, bigger businesses will have more resources than smaller businesses, and will be able to perform more market research, creating more effective content as a result. However, because taste, consumption and even content itself are such fluid concepts, smaller businesses with less embedded cost structures are more readily able to innovate than their large counterparts. They can experiment and create new types of effective content, without any barriers to entry.


Why Content Shock is Stupid, Reason #4

It’s Entirely Anecdotal

Once we strip out the erroneous economic theory and overlook the absence of tangible proof, we find nothing but personal anecdotes. All good writing is, to some extent, storytelling – but Content Shock takes this idea too far. About half of the post is made up of anecdotes about dial-up internet and Chipotle. As much as I enjoy hearing stories about ‘getting a photograph right through the telephone line’, when I clicked-through to Mark’s article, I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of the emergent phenomenon of ‘Content Shock’ – and it simply never delivers. Instead, we find non-existent science, combined with weak storytelling.


Why Content Shock is Stupid, Reason #5

Content Shock is an example of excellent Content Marketing

We’ve established that Mark Schaefer’s ‘Content Shock’ post is incredibly stupid, and absolutely nothing to be worried about. In fact, once you remove the obvious mistakes, exaggerations and meaningless anecdotes, it largely boils down to the phrase:

‘Content marketing is going to get a bit harder’.

I agree. I think any rational content marketer would agree as well. However, it doesn’t mean that content will stop being effective. In fact, Content Shock is the perfect example of how powerful content still is. Mark Schaefer has created a moronic, worthless and entirely sensationalist article, and taken the content marketing world by storm. Thoughts and critiques are everywhere (many much less scathing than mine, although undeservedly so), and I’m sure Schaefer’s website has seen an insane spike in traffic.

Mark has appealed to one of the basic elements underpinning efficient content: we love controversy. He’s succeeded beautifully in creating a case study in the power of content marketing – by writing an article claiming that content marketing is dead. Whilst I agree with exactly 0% of the points raised in Content Shock, I have to hand it to Mark – for someone preparing for the end days of content marketing, he sure knows to use it.

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What are your thoughts on Content Shock? Is content marketing fit and healthy, or will we be looking for new jobs later this year? Let us know in the comments below!

If you’re looking for more expert opinions on the state of content marketing, check out these response to Schaefer’s post:

The True Value of Content Marketing: No Shock here by Derek Philips

Content Marketing Minds: Is the Problem Content Shock or Content Schlock? by Barry Feldman

The Big Flaw with “Content Shock” and the Way We See Content Marketing by Marcus Sheridan

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Author Ryan

I help SaaS companies grow with content marketing. I also drink Scotch. Sometimes together. CMO & co-founder, Cobloom.

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