Never, ever define yourself as a “content creator”. Be an artist. Be a writer. Be a musician. Be whatever. Heck, be a bum if you have to be. But never under any circumstances devalue what you create as “content”. Here’s why.

Spartz calls himself an aggregator, but he is more like a day trader, investing in pieces of content that seem poised to go viral. He and his engineers have developed algorithms that scan the Internet for memes with momentum. The content team then acts as arbitrageurs, cosmetically altering the source material and reposting it under what they hope will be a catchier headline.


Spartz does not call what he makes journalism, even if he employs a few journalists, and he does not erect barriers between his product and his means of promoting it. Asked to name the most beautiful prose he had read, he said, “A beautiful book? I don’t even know what that means. Impactful, sure.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT BEAUTIFUL MEANS. With those words Emerson Spartz, a twenty-something web site creator who rules over a small kingdom of clickbait websites, tells you everything you need to know about the world of “content creation”. This feature in the New Yorker on The King Of Clickbait is a subtle but brutal deconstruction of Spartz, who I doubt will even notice his only ugly reflection in the mirror it holds up.

Spartz is a useful caricature for us as creators to examine. Because he is far from unique. This is the raw, unvarnished attitude of the entire media industry to “content”. Spartz is 27 and a dick. By no means a new combination of characteristics. Step in to any branch of the media, in to advertising, in to public relations, or any of the industries that make money from “content”, and you’ll find Spartz’s attitude replicated a thousand times over and then some.

“Art is that which science has not yet explained” Spartz argues during his interview. Which is a smart, if sadly incorrect, statement. Smart because it cuts to the heart of the reason why you, as a creator, as any kind of artist, must never ever fall in to the deep dark sewer that opens up beneath your feet when you define your creations as “content”, and your self as a “content creator”.

I’m not going to try and explain why to you. Either you know, or you don’t. Either you’ll learn, or you won’t. I’m not saying you need to eschew all sources of money for your creativity. I’ve written listicles for the best of them, and I likely will again. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a listicle made of gif images or a novel tugged out of your inner soul. YOU DO NOT CREATE CONTENT. YOU ARE NOT A CONTENT CREATOR.

If you absolutely need a reason, here’s one of many. Content, by definition, must be filling something. The thing Emerson Spatrz wants you to fill is a VOID. You’ll shovel content in to it for an eternity and never be done. And that’s no kind of life.

If you can’t find any way to define what you do as anything but content, then yes fuck it and quit. Your immortal soul will thank you later even if your bank balance won’t.


PS – buy my book