Content is Everything: Revenue for African websites

I am seriously the Mister Grumpypants after last weekend. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy BarCamp Abidjan–I did. It’s not because I didn’t meet interesting people–I did such as with the good chunk of Google Africa who were there among others. It’s not because the internet connection for the event was down most of the time–that happens and I’ve since caught up. And of course it’s not from being in Abidjan for the weekend as that’s always a very good time.
No, what partially put me in a bad mood was “content” as in “local African content” as in, there is extremely little of it. But this is something that can always grow, so in and of itself, this is not what’s bothering me. What my big problem is that the #1 complaint amongst all the Ivorian attendees at the BarCamp was how to monetize their websites, since it seems that they can’t, due to the majority of advertising/monetizing systems being closed off to them as they are in Sub-Saharan Africa. I would agree with this in part, but the fact that no one makes the direct correlation between local content and ad revenue was the very fiery lightbulb that went off over the weekend and I’ve been annoyed by it ever since.
As Google Africa people were at the event, they got drilled on why people couldn’t get AdSense payments in Côte d’Ivoire. I think that Tidjane handled the explanations quite well on this and you could get the sense he’s used to dealing with that question quite often. But, no matter what Theophile says in regards to his Ivoire Blog setup, there is simply not enough content to drive ads in Africa currently.
If this doesn’t make sense, look at the fact that it just so happened the rise of Google AdWords (started taking off in 2002) came at the same time as the rise of blogging (started taking off in 1999). Note that the start of blogging and thus the rise of freeform online content happened three years prior to widespread AdWords deployments. People were creating content before there was any option to monetize it.
All of this is not a coincidence because if I write about a restaurant on a local San Francisco blog I maintain, then there is a good chance that that restaurant would want to buy ad space on the blog article for themselves. This works. Google has made money from it. The restaurant makes money from the advertisement. I make money from posting the ads on articles I enjoy writing. That’s three mighty happy entities.
But when it comes to Africa, this ecosystem doesn’t exist as two of these three components are missing and it won’t exist until there is more first and foremost, local content. This means more bloggers writing about more topics. If the content is there, then the readers will follow. Once those follow, then so will the advertising. The advertising will not come first. There needs to be a corpus of content; a body of text to base the advertising on. There are no protests to march in or online petitions to sign that can change this fact. But this is changing as the AdSense running on the top level of this site is switching from voluntourism to being more product-based.
I’m really upset with myself because I was happily joining in on the pitchfork shaking at Google. I stand by the fact that some of the things they have done weren’t probably done as well as they should, but they are indeed learning as they go. It’s a new market for this type of thing and while they’ve had billions of dollars of success doing it elsewhere, that doesn’t directly translate to Africa where you have countries like Congo with less than 1% of their population online. So in this sense, I do have to defend Google and not just because I enjoyed talking to the gang over the weekend, but because their tack on this is perfectly plausible and realistic. What isn’t realistic are the people who think that tossing AdSense on a blog will make them rich and so why can’t they have it now. I think I make about $500 a year on my account which has ads displaying on six or seven separate sites. I won’t get rich from this, but it drives the internet’s economic engine and pays my hosting costs.
It just needs to be remembered that when it comes to this type of economy in Africa, there is one fuel: content, oodles and flowing oodles of local content written by Africans in Africa.

One Reply to “Content is Everything: Revenue for African websites”

  1. Great content, and great amounts of content come from those who feel an insatiable need to create it. Payment? That’s nice, but no amount of Adword or Adsense revenue can motivate like personal passion. It has to be an interal drive, beyond money.

    Question is: how to find those with the need to create and direct it online (because I don’t believe it can be forced from the outside)?

    One way is pure numbers – it almost any community, on or offline, 5-10% create all the content. More people in the community means more in the 10% who create.

    The other is to bring 10% people from other disciplines to this one – artists, print writers, etc.

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