A couple of weeks ago The Observer ran a column by Barbara Ellen. The content was facile and completely lacking in self-awareness or maturity but crucially the headline included the phrase:

“Men are Stupid”

It struck me that it comes to something when the supposed vanguard of the liberal free-thinking press prints that, but to understand it requires a recognition of the fact that these days a substantial amount of consumption of newspaper feed is done online where the content is available “free”. It’s not really free of course. It is paid for by the advertising that you get subjected to. And the revenue stream for them relies on people clicking. So, “Men are Stupid” is just click-bait and…


It has always been the case that catchy/provocative headlines have been used to sell newspapers, but I do wonder if the internet has made it worse. Bombarded with more free news than you can shake a stick at, the attempt to catch your eye seems to be going into overdrive, and once reasonable broadsheets seem to be going down the tabloid road ever further. It is also the case that advertising becomes the driver.

I once worked for WHSmith Travel, the company that runs their outlets in train stations, airports and motorway service stations. The financial reality for that business is that high rental costs meant that the profit from simply selling “stuff” was negligible. The bottom line was driven by advertising. Publishers will pay an extraordinary amount of money to have “Magazine of the Week” posters plastered in high profile locations across the country and an army of checkout staff asking every customer “Would you like a copy of X for a quid?”. In effect, those shops are naught but glorified advertising billboards.

I wonder about cereals. Do they pay Disney and their ilk for the right to include syndicated free gifts in the hope it will shift more boxes of food, or are Kellogg’s getting paid for the benefit of placing adverts on people’s breakfast tables? I don’t know the answer, but I strongly suspect it is the latter, the pre-eminence of the perceived value of advertising.

All this *might* be changing. The new adblocker inherent in Apple’s iOS9 is predicted to slash online advertising Revenue. It is estimated that Google’s revenue is already 10% lower as a result of people using independent adblocker software, but that Apple’s move is going to be catastrophic for them. It might seriously affect the availability of free news content on the internet. Time will tell.

Even here, I don’t pay to run this blog. I guess readers may see adverts, over which I have no control. Effectively it pays for me to be able to do this for free. Such arrangements may go – I may have to start paying to blog, rather than it being an optional thing to do if I want more whizzy features.

I have been linking my blog posts to Facebook. WordPress tells me how many times a given post is read as a result of a “click-thru” from FB, so I know what is popular and what is not, or at least amongst my FB contacts. By far the biggest responses have been to “Fuck It” (profanity) and “I Forgot to mention…” (the prospect of me nearly getting my face smacked). In contrast, “Kim Addonizio” caused barely a ripple. The content was the same sort of thing, comparable quality (even if I say so myself) but the headline was not a “hook”. It was dull. What’s a boy supposed to do?

I doubt this will be widely read. I should perhaps have called this post “The Secret Sex Life of Space Badgers”. If, as I predict, this does not get read much, that will be my title for tomorrow and it will simply refer people back to this post. Yes, you’re all guinea pigs, and I’m terrible.

Advertisers and online news providers defend themselves by saying they can’t help it if consumers are primarily interested only in the bizarre and lurid. That it’s all, ultimately, your fault.


2 thoughts on “Click-Bait

  1. I think you should have written the article ‘The Secret Sex Life of Space Badgers’. It would have been way more interesting than Barbara Ellen’s waffling 🙂 Sounds like a BBC documentary from the future 🙂


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