There’s no such thing as free information
April 8, 2016 12:56 AM   Subscribe

Content providers are in a double bind: readers don’t want to pay to read, but they also resist and resent the use of advertising and tracking software to generate income. While the introduction of subscription-only models has had mixed success, the UK newspaper The Independent recently shut down its print run, while the Guardian is cutting 250 jobs. Who'll pay to publish if we won't pay to read?

We increasingly consume our news through third parties, like Google or Facebook, who offer problematic terms and conditions to content providers. And it’s not just the big players; when popular paleo blogger Brian Sweitek announced that his Laelaps paleontology blog had been cut by National Geographic, the reader response was ‘start a patreon’, but as blogger SciCurious points out, massive readerships and solid fan bases do not translate into a living wage; and the reaction to advertising, even when it’s framed as an april fool’s joke on a good natured lolimages blog, can be fast and furious. So despite the outcry against media outlets who offer writers ‘exposure’ and not money, it’s hard to see where the revenue to pay those writers will come from.

There is a case study model of the shift from reader to author pays, and that’s in academia (and related scientific research publication). Although this has probably broadened access to academic articles, it has not made them cheaper; and for most humanities, and much science research it’s a shift from the individualist consumer to a vaguely socialised system, since fees for articles may now be paid from a slice of tax revenue (although much of the work, writing, editing and reviewing, is provided for free to the publisher by academics).
Author/Publisher pays leaves publication in the hands of those with the money - collective or individual - to subsidise our reading. But in terms of diversity that may still be a better model than Blendle and other micropayment schemes, as studies suggest people only pay for articles they think they’ll agree with.
(previously, and previously)
posted by AFII (203 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
they also resist and resent the use of advertising and tracking software to generate income

Personally, I resist and resent being shown bullshit flashing ads or ads covering the entire page, ads masquerading as content, or ads for outright scams. Also having to unknowingly download more potentially malicious third party javascript crap than the actual content I'm reading.

If the ad industry could police itself to eradicate shady practices - since it's an arms race, this is not something one publisher can do on their own - they would have little to worry about.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [115 favorites]


I've been wondering how this will all work for quite some time. Everytime Buzzfeed or Cracked is the one with the heavy hitting expose, it makes me wonder about the future of written news.
posted by sio42 at 1:35 AM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Remember, the business model for newspapers has always been for things like the Sports Section and the Comics Page drawing in paying customers to support the 'serious journalism' (not to mention the Classified Ads which people payed to see while others paid to be seen... Craigslist blowed updisrupted that REAL good). So when "Buzzfeed or Cracked is the one with the heavy hitting expose", when they mix the Clickbait with the Real News, it's only consistent with a very very old way of doing business.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:47 AM on April 8, 2016 [83 favorites]


All ads are malware until proven otherwise, and should be treated as such.
posted by kafziel at 1:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [43 favorites]


Sitting here right now thinking about what I would pay for a month of internet reading. I consume content I discover through MetaFilter and a few other sites (including Google News) which lead me to a variety of sources that cover a wide gamut of possible sources, ranging from very amateur blogs to discussion boards to professional publications and a lot of inbetween.

I definitely take in a lot more as far as a variety of sources of content goes on the internet than I do via my DISH tv service. I think I really only routinely watch fewer than 10 of the zillion channels we have available, with occasional dips outside of that pool but not consistently nor predictably. $150/month for that.

So for reading on the internet... the amount of record keeping I would need to do to even begin to do calculations of this sort are beyond me, but if I had an online account that I dumped $150 into every month and then every single thing (x) I visited online that would be supported by advertising would NOT show me advertising but instead would, at the end of that month, take that $150 divided by that x and then gave all those sources the appropriate shares of my $EYEBALLMONEY...

To be honest I am not sure I would pay $150/mo for everything I read online. Is this because I devalue my internet consumption habits less than I do my tv watching? Not in the least. It just feels like an unreasonable amount to me on a gut level. $50? No problem. $75? Um... yeah, I'd do that. But for some reason, if you get up to $80, I start to feel uncomfortable with the cost. But I feel like the $150 we pay for DISH is also ridiculous, we just can't get Turner Classic Movies without purchasing at the top service level.

Alright, let's go with the $80 figure, so make it feel like it means something. So, every month $80 of mine is divided equally between every ad-supported website I visit, based on page impressions, and so maybe NYT gets a lot and NatGeo doesn't get as much and The New Yorker we subscribe to so I can log into that, and several blogs with AdSense support each get one slice of the pie for that month, and so on and so forth and everything in-between. Sites that don't serve ads don't get anything.

Anyway, there are a lot of other aspects to this that could be examined, but those are the early thoughts running through my brain about this right now.
posted by hippybear at 1:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


(In the interests of full disclosure I should probably say that sometimes I am paid a small amount of money - a share of ad revenue - to write for the Guardian. It rarely works out to minimum wage for the time I spend writing/editing/responding to angry commenters. I am also an academic, so using tax-payers' money, and students' fees, to maintain profit margins at academic publishers by writing, editing and reviewing articles without charging them for the work. So I am pretty invested in these questions, and also concerned that I may be part of the problem somehow)
posted by AFII at 2:06 AM on April 8, 2016 [27 favorites]


There are seven things advertisers can do to fix this, and you will be shocked to hear them!
posted by DreamerFi at 2:34 AM on April 8, 2016 [35 favorites]


So I'm a big proponent of ads, simply because I want the people who make content I like to be able to earn money from that content. I submitted a ticket to Youtube after it stopped showing me ads on my main account (on multiple computers and multiple browsers, so it wasn't an add-on situation) because I wanted to see the ads.

After the news that ransomware was being distributed by ads, I decided I had to stop for my own computer's security. (I'm still seriously considering browsing in a VM so that I can still have ads on while minimizing the risk.)

So I went on a Patreon- and donation-spree. But even that only covers a small fraction of my favourite creators and looking at the numbers a week or two on, they seem shamefully low. So now I have to figure out what I can spend.

I'm waiting for Google Contributor (not sure if that interacts well with uBlock, but we'll see) and Youtube Red to come into my country, but that only covers one ad network. I have no idea how to reconcile my want to pay everyone for their time, with the near-impossibility of doing so.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:26 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


We can solve this with a universal basic income.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:42 AM on April 8, 2016 [62 favorites]


Please feel free to freely read this comment for free.
posted by fairmettle at 3:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


I often lament the lack of a pay per view system for Internet articles, in exchange for ad free. The current models want you to pay an entire subscription in exchange for unlimited content to a particular publication. Instead, I'd prefer the equivalent of running a bar tab- pay a reasonable amount for what I've just consumed.
posted by Jeff Dewey at 3:48 AM on April 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


I would have less problem with online ads if:
1. they were not so often misogynist, body-shaming, triggering or otherwise just gross
2. they didn't interfere with my experience of the content. I.e. no popups that block my reading, no auto-play videos, and no bloated crap that loads in the background before the content that I am actually there for will show up.

There is little more annoying to me than having to sit through an ad that won't load properly and wait for it to buffer, before I can even see the content I wanted. Especially if the ad ends up taking like 30 seconds, only for me to glance at the content I came for and realise it's not relevant after all.

I like metafilter ads on the whole. I have no problem with them whatsoever.
posted by lollusc at 4:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [37 favorites]


Who'll pay to publish if we won't pay to read?

those who want to influence what the public thinks and "inform" them badly enough to take a loss on it

there will be information out there - if the good information is found unprofitable, the bad information will rush in to replace it

eventually the people who run things will realize this, if they don't already
posted by pyramid termite at 4:34 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Like many readers I have no objection to natively-hosted, static ads that are neither serving me malware or dancing all over the screen like it's 1999 and I gotta click the monkey. (I have seen ads whose incessant motion literally triggered my "car sickness" and I threw up. Hey, guess what site I'm never coming back to because you broke your own fucking page!)

I happily whitelist sites with safe advertising that's not page-breaking or content-blocking. I even notice the ads more than I do in print media. But I'm not going to allow your malware ads that eat my bandwidth because they're ten times the size of your content which render your page unreadable, sorry. Maybe you're not making money because people can't read your fucking page and so stop visiting it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:36 AM on April 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


I pay $20 a month for a digital subscription to my local paper because I believe in local journalism and I have some friends who work there but they make it so hard for me to love them. Currently UBlock says that it's blocking 22 separate elements on their page but if I whitelist them, I get a totally unreadable mess of flash auto-playing garbage often even with auto-playing audio. I just tested loading the page without blocking and the biggest ad on the page was announcing a porn star's appearance at a local strip club but they have the never to get pissy that block ads.

Also, for being the "liberal" paper in town, their editorial page has been terrible in the last few years endorsing Republican candidates and fighting against a worker's sick leave bill in the city. They also allow the most horrible racist, sexist, homophobic crap in their comments to articles without any moderation.

It's frustrating.
posted by octothorpe at 4:46 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I happily whitelist sites with safe advertising that's not page-breaking or content-blocking. I even notice the ads more than I do in print media. But I'm not going to allow your malware ads that eat my bandwidth because they're ten times the size of your content which render your page unreadable, sorry. Maybe you're not making money because people can't read your fucking page and so stop visiting it.

Yep. I have no issue with sites having ads. I get why they're needed. It's the current state of the delivery of those ads that has me 'noping' with my adblocker. On sites that I find I go to a lot I will turn it off and check. If it's reasonable then they get whitelisted if not the adblocker gets turned back on or I just stop visiting.
posted by Jalliah at 4:46 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing about ad-blockers...

if you use them, we can't serve you up malware.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:47 AM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Advertisement has been historically the only income for traditional newspapers.

The only two solutions that are circulating are ads or subscriptions, but they are not a sustainable way to fund a stable activity. Case in point, enabling adblockers (or not paying a subscription) deprive revenue from websites (and their writers).

The thing is that news reporting is _so_ important that it should not be tied to advertisers or goodwilled people who will make some donations. My opinion is that newsreporting should be treated as a necessity as it is healthcare and should be publicly founded (as it is healthcare in europe where I write from).

Or, as Faint of Butt said, basic income could also solve this issue, and many others.

This way newspapers and journalists could be really indipendent and do their jobs without being strongly tied to advertisers or donations.

(My personal opinion about ads, Is that they are utterly evil and should not exist anymore in any form, and that's the reason I block them, protection from tracking and malware are a nice plusses, but not the main reason for me.)
posted by yann at 4:51 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


I pay a fair amount for content every month but only two sites I use (MeFi, ArsTechnica) allow you to pay to not see ads. Even using Google Contributor at the highest level means that reading an NYT, WaPo, Guardian, New Yorker, etc. article will be interrupted by some sleazy ad hawking a dubious looking credit/insurance offer, implausible diet, etc. despite being a logged-in subscriber. That's bad for their image, and terrible for web performance and security.

I don't see much chance for anything to improve until content producers show basic respect for their readers’ experience. Policing the ad industry needs to happen but even more importantly there should be a way to opt-out by giving them recurring revenue. It'd be really interesting if that meant a federated network which worked across many sites, as if Google Contributor had a “Not even once” level.
posted by adamsc at 4:52 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Ad blocker popularity increases directly in proportion to the maliciousness of ads, with a cliff where people just default to blocking as a matter of course, and will never return even if you "fix" the ads. That's where we pretty much are now. Hand-wringing isn't going to be very useful, because returning to an entirely ad-supported model simply isn't going to happen.
posted by odinsdream at 4:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


enabling adblockers (or not paying a subscription) deprive revenue from websites (and their writers)

No.

Stop.

Don't.

This is "You're taking money from my grandkids" kind of talk.

If I hang out a shingle and you ignore it, you are not taking money out of my pocket.

Stop this. Stop it now.

Your business model is not my problem.

(general "your")
posted by sidereal at 4:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [75 favorites]


sidereal, I agree with you, whining about loss of this kind of income is not a good argument, nonetheless my statement is correct, as it is now, the only revenue model are ads or subscriptions, if you block ads or do not subscribe the website does not get revenue.

[edit: added comma for clarification]
posted by yann at 5:00 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't block ads on sites where the ads are unobtrusive and where I value the content. I don't mind paying either, however I won't pay the same price as for print when there is no cost pf physical production and distribution involved.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:04 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


the idea that you are morally obligated to not use adblockers is just so silly it could only have come out of the cargo cult startup culture: "yes, my job is to make "technology" that everyone, including myself, hates but somehow you all have to keep me in business because tomorrow depends on it."
posted by ennui.bz at 5:04 AM on April 8, 2016 [22 favorites]


Hey, that reminds me

COOOORTEX!

Yo!

I got like a dozen favorites, where's my money, bro?
posted by indubitable at 5:06 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


if you block ads or do not subscribe the website does not get revenue

How is that my problem?
posted by sidereal at 5:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I just ponied up $5/mo for the Grauniad. Despite its faults (mainly twitchy "am I liberal or am I left" indecision) it really is a real newspaper reporting on real news with real news-gathering.
posted by lalochezia at 5:09 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


How is that my problem?

If you care about news, and you want them to be as independent as possible, it is your concern how this people gets paid. Or do you expect that journalists work for free?
posted by yann at 5:11 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


Someone needs to just go ahead and make me a billionaire so I can start a non-profit news agency and fund it with the interest off my pile o' cash.

I promise to keep my grubby little claws out of the editorial department.
posted by Mooski at 5:13 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I pay for subscriptions to the NY Times and a few magazines, and I also unashamed about using adblockers. I find the online ads really intrusive and unpleasant, unlike the ads in print publications that are visually balanced much better with the articles and other content. If online ads were like ads in a magazine in terms of size and visual presence (and at least slightly curated for content), I doubt I'd mind and I probably wouldn't be using an adblocker at all.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


pyramid termite: "Who'll pay to publish if we won't pay to read?

those who want to influence what the public thinks and "inform" them badly enough to take a loss on it

there will be information out there - if the good information is found unprofitable, the bad information will rush in to replace it

eventually the people who run things will realize this, if they don't already
"
This is what's happening at Wikipedia now. Paid shills are increasingly pushing out amateur contributors.
posted by brokkr at 5:19 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Correct me if I'm out of date in my understanding of how adblocking and the Internet works, but don't adblockers only block third-party ads? Like, if the Guardian slaps an image that is an advertisement right in the middle of the article, my adblocking software can't know it's an ad, right?

So the website code is literally "here's the article and its associated media, and also wouldn't you mind loading some ads from these sketchy third-party sites?" And we're just saying, "we'll not load those ads (or anything from those sketchy sites), thank you."

The solution seems simple: load ads with the content that are tailored for a general audience. Just like print media's had to do forever. Sorry you don't get to micro-manage who gets which ad, but at least it's guaranteed to be seen.
posted by explosion at 5:19 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


My hedge-fund-owned local newspaper—which I pay for an online subscription, because I'm a sucker—has literally hundreds of ad networks on every page, to the point where it routinely crashes my browser just trying to read an article, and somehow even with Ghostery enabled, just now an audio ad for a credit card started playing when I was midway through an article about anti-poverty funding. I didn't click anything; I didn't mouseover anything; but suddenly I have some stupid thing blaring through my speakers and waking up my girlfriend. Fuck that shit. If you run ads like that, you're an asshole, and if you take money from people who run ads like that, guess what? You're an asshole. No amount of handwringing about the state of journalism makes you any less of an asshole.
posted by enn at 5:19 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


How is that my problem?

Because the website, which presumably provides you with something you want - or you wouldn't be looking at it, may go broke and disappear.
posted by deadwax at 5:21 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


If all ads were like Metafilter ads, I'd be happy to click on them all day long.
posted by freakazoid at 5:27 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


There's always the BBC, you know.
posted by Segundus at 5:28 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Because the website, which presumably provides you with something you want - or you wouldn't be looking at it, may go broke and disappear.

Again, how is that my problem?
posted by sidereal at 5:28 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


those who want to influence what the public thinks and "inform" them badly enough to take a loss on it


Works for print too. I'd cite The Australian. Pay-walled on the net, so maybe they're trying, but AFAIK never actually been profitable in a financial sense. Still published by Murdoch to push his far-right agenda, so apparently profitable in some other sense.
posted by pompomtom at 5:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's always the BBC, you know.

And the ABC and SBS.
posted by pompomtom at 5:32 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


If a few small unobtrusive ads shoved to the side of the page were sufficiently remunerative to allow content providers to function, I assure you they'd be happy to use them.

Do we all want to spend the whole rest of the thread talking about how ads suck and we hates them? Because the post did acknowledge that, you know, right up at the top.

It's been 15 years or so of Internet, now. If "the amount thoughtful people would voluntarily pay out of their public-minded concern for quality writing" was > "the amount necessary to sustain the current number of credible news organisations" I think we'd have figured out the mechanism by now. We simply have to face the truth: it is not. People do not have to pay if they don't want to, and they don't want to.

The only interesting question left, to my mind, is what survives? News has always been subsidised by something. So I think we'll have the BBC and NPR for sure. I think we'll be able carry along a handful of the biggest names out of public-mindedness pool. The New York Times will probably survive. Business news gets paid for on corporate accounts, so your Bloomberg and your WSJ and maybe the Financial Times will pull through. There may be some more billionaires who are vain and deep pocketed enough to sustain some others, hopefully for longer than your man who tried his hand at The New Republic. And I think Buzzfeed will stick it out. Beyond that, dunno. I mean, if any news site looked like they had figured out how to attract eyeballs on line early enough to carve themselves a space it'd be The Guardian. And yet, 250 layoffs. The regional newspapers in the US probably have it worse. I'm glad the Globe got its Oscar. It'll make a fine headstone, in 10 years or so.
posted by Diablevert at 5:36 AM on April 8, 2016 [29 favorites]


Again, how is that my problem?

If you care so little about the content that if it were to disappear entirely it would not bother you at all, why visit it in the first place? The ads are obtrusive to you, you block them - save yourself the effort and just don't go to the site.
posted by zempf at 5:42 AM on April 8, 2016 [16 favorites]


The sad thing is, if we could find a way to pay a penny a page to a content provider they could probably afford to run ad free. A lot of places on the net aren't worth $10/mo or $5/mo or even $3/mo. These are effectively whales compared to the rate that they get from ad impressions.

Maybe it's time content networks banded together with Visa/Mastercard to provide a universal micropayment wallet.
posted by Talez at 5:42 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


I don't care about using ad blocking. As long as the ads don't totally crash my browser, fine, happy to "pay" that price. However, odds are pretty high I won't actually buy whatever product you are selling, so....that probably doesn't help either.

Thing is, I speed read. If I paid a penny for every website article I read, I'd probably spend my entire paycheck very quickly. Ain't no way I can afford to throw money at every website I read, period. And so far nobody's mentioned the joys of wanting to share an article they read that's paywalled so that most people won't be reading it, which makes the Internet less fun and makes me less interested in paying up. And frankly, it's probably easier for our brains psychologically to pay up for a book or magazine we're holding in our hands and knew had printing costs than pay to read something online you're probably not exactly saving forever.

Again, this reminds me that it is just not practical or feasible to get paid for creative work. Writing is very easily expendable. That's depressing, but also practical. As for Patreon, I don't think I'd ever be comfortable trusting my financial survival to the kindness of strangers. Especially when most people are just getting broker and broker these days and even if they want to Patreon up, may not be able to afford it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Talez: "Maybe it's time content networks banded together with Visa/Mastercard to provide a universal micropayment wallet."

An account where for a single click you can buy content across many sites up to a certain limit (that you set yourself). A discounting system, where for every X bits of content you buy you get Y free. A guarantee where out of every W bits you buy you can "unbuy"/get credit for Z because they were clickbait or just didn't live up to your expectations.

It really seems the answer is side-sourcing the payment scheme so it can be simple, flexible and not masthead-centric.

Of course, that too will change journalism.
posted by chavenet at 5:51 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


There's a general problem I have with advertising. Some advertiser once told me that, if he didn't shove his crap in my face (well, ok, he used different words) how would I ever know I needed his product? And he just could not get his head around that I might just not need his product. That same reality-warping idiocy is prevalent. Every time an advertiser uses "the first six months of your subscription 50% off!" and I tell him I read that as "after six months we will double the price" their brains just sort of lock up. Their shit doesn't smell, and nothing can convince them otherwise.

I suspect that if we DO start allowing self-hosted ads we will rapidly see another race to the bottom there. Probably because all the current networks will convert to some form of making their current crap all look self-hosted (oh fuck please don't give them ideas here)
posted by DreamerFi at 5:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm not an expert obviously, but it was my understanding that the unobtrusive ads everybody seems to be in favour of don't do much good to advertisers. You scroll past them without taking in much information (and obviously never click on them). The only way I can see that changing is if they've got so much data on you that they can advertise exactly what you want to buy at that exact moment, but seeing as I was getting loads of Ben Carson ads until recently as a very lefty Brit (and although living in America, not anywhere that was having a primary any time soon) I think that we're a long way off that point.

It's a conundrum and it's gotten to the point that I use the internet almost exclusively to waste time because I can't find things worth reading in all the click bait. So I waste time on the internet, read the Economist once a fortnight and then just read books, mostly used books. Obviously that's a sustainable model for me personally, but it doesn't help new creators very much, which is a necessary and desirable thing to do. I suppose what's unsustainable as well is relying on google to answer the specific questions I put to it.
posted by Cassettevetes at 5:56 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


If the ad industry could police itself to eradicate shady practices - since it's an arms race, this is not something one publisher can do on their own - they would have little to worry about.

Pretty much this. I'm fully aware of the bind websites are in in regards to income, but the ad business is fully and utterly out of control. If advertising could revert back to simple, unobtrusive jpegs, and kill-off the big animated ads, the pop-ups, the pop-unders, the "you can't do anything until you view this ad" crap, the tracking bullshit, etc. etc., I might have a change of heart.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's time content networks banded together with Visa/Mastercard to provide a universal micropayment wallet.

Yep, this basically. The problem I have with subscribing to a site like the Guardian (or the NYT, or the WSJ etc, and others further afield like the Hindustan Times or RT) is that even though I might hit them pretty regularly as a result of links posted on social media or forums or content aggregation sites like Reddit, it's not like I ever type the URL into my address bar and actually go there of my own volition. I don't live in the UK or any other territory with it's own local Guardian coverage, so it's pretty far down the list of sites I'm going to pony up money for.

So the problem is that I have about 20 or 30 sites that I hit semi-frequently, none of which rise to the level where I could actually justify a subscription. If these sites pooled together and made me pay $20 or so per month for an all-you-can-eat access to their content (with the payment divided proportionally between them based on how many links I view from each, with some oversight to make sure this wasn't gamed) then it would be a realistic proposition.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:01 AM on April 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


There's always the BBC, you know.

I don't see how a BBC would solve this particular problem, though it would make some people very happy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:04 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am not hampered by any knowledge of this, so i feel free to share my hypothesis that the current psychological model of advertising has been a rather large part of the increase in symptoms of depression. If people told me that they had a product or service that i might find useful, without telling that i'm a scum-sucking pus bucket if i don't avail myself of the opportunity, then i wouldn't mind seeing ads. In fact! I choose to find websites where peopke are selling stuff i'm interested in. Advertising in its current ubiquitous and inquitous form is evil. I would also (and have done, though my income is below average) paid for good information (i don't like this system however, because there are a lot of people who can't afford to pay). Keep your ads, but for goodness sake, please stop telling me I'm not good enough. That was my mother's job.
posted by b33j at 6:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


You know, there are websites where it is affordable and not dodgy for the Procter & Gamble's to advertise. They go after sites with high eyeball views and minimally questionable viewpoints that would cause them a boycott - or where we would hold them liable for a websites political social views and malware that site may serve us. So the people who can afford to safely serve us advertisements in traditional print form stick to a very narrow band of online publications. Instead, the internet, and apparently what websites are willing to support their publication with the equivalent advertising in High Times Magazine.

Realistically, people need to demand better advertising partners.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's pyramid termite's response that really bugs me; we have conversations forever about ads (yes, no one likes malware, no one likes flashing ads, etc), but the reality is that, so far, with a decade and a half of practice under our belt, subscription and micropayments are not sufficient, and they are definitely not sufficient for the indie providers, those not working for Huffpo or BuzzFeed but trying to maintain a presence in science blogging, or cartooning, or whatever. The alternative is private sponsorship. Those two together don't sound like a great outcome to me - what's free is shaped by wealthy private interests (even if that just means that bloggers or wiki editors tend to be westerners with jobs/trust funds); what's not free is, as the research suggests, a fairly low-bar echo chamber for most. I'd like to think up a way around that outcome, and one that doesn't rely on the wisdom and generosity of crowds through subs and micropayments which, again, don't seem to work (or, if they do, end up being part of a larger platform substructure - e.g. facebook instant or similar - which in turn impose their own constraints on content, political view, diversity, yadda). The idea here that if only we had better ads it would all be fine seem naive.
posted by AFII at 6:19 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I not only block ads, I resent the advertising industry in general. I think it's a waste of human talent and creativity to put so much effort into "creating needs" for more things, using methods that would (or at least, should) be frowned upon in polite circles, e.g., deceit and manipulation.

I'm sorry that I don't have a viable answer to the question of how to pay for content (although a universal basic income would be a start). I just can't see asking, for example, Mitt Romney's 47% of the population to fit another expense into their (our) already tight budgets, given that a few million people at the other end of the income distribution have more money than they can spend in a lifetime.

(Do I sound bitter? I prefer to think of myself as profoundly disappointed in what has become of us.)
posted by she's not there at 6:21 AM on April 8, 2016 [33 favorites]


If the ad industry could police itself to eradicate shady practices - since it's an arms race, this is not something one publisher can do on their own - they would have little to worry about.


This is pretty much completely untrue, from my experience in publishing. It's not exactly just an ad problem, it's a revenue problem.

Old model: Publishers invest money up front in gaining subscribers, who stay for averages counted in years. With the stability of that advertising base, they sell ads also on an annual plan basis, and offer a variety of news/sports/comics to everyone on their list. When something happens in the world like a plane crash, everyone gets 'their' newspaper and reads it on the front page.

New model: Everyone can get every news item from everywhere, and advertisers can adjust their advertising mix -- including the massive audiences delivered by Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. -- on a daily basis.

Not only that but readers can make up their own content mix. When there's a plane crash, often a few news outlets worldwide get the traffic for that story -- my favourite example is when there was a plane crash in the Hudson river; two large outlets broke the story. One news outlet's headline was "plane crashes into Hudson River!" and the other was "plane crashes outside of JFK!" or whichever airport it was, I don't remember...the first headline placed first on SEO and got all the traffic. So now all the outlets have to publish, but only a few people get the dollars for it -- who ever wins the internet race that hour.

I'm familiar with magazine so here's the scoop.

Let's say you're a food company and you want to advertise your baked goods friendly products over Christmas Baking Season. Obviously you're going to look for a legit company with good traffic in the demographic you want to reach. But thanks to the Internet you now have a ton of choice -- you can target Canadians on Epicurious or NYT food! (American budgets are bigger, but they are still suffering.)

You can buy native advertising on 215 blogs with writers who have never heard of professional ad/edit guidelines! Sometimes you can even send bloggers free chocolate and get that advertising for swag!

Or you can just buy Google ads and display those to everyone who types "sugar cookie" into a search engine and bypass the sugar cookie recipe producers entirely.

As a result, in order to get the amount of money that the ads next to the sugar cookies in the Christmas Baking Issue used to make in print, the brand how has to get 5 million -- not even joking -- visits to 3 sugar cookie recipes to make up for the 3 pages that used to support publishing those recipes. Because internet ads are super cheap, and because they are based on single pieces of content.

But of course there's Every Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever out there.

This used to pay for the longform health piece.

So, it's not sustainable. I personally was laid off and I'm out.

I am touched by the naivete in this thread. Sugar cookie advertisers, by the way, also figured out they can just put up their own sugar cookie website and buy Facebook ads for it. Which is probably okay when it comes to sugar cookies. Do we care? Nah.

But the longform health article? Soon to be found on the P&G site...

This is, I imagine, how it goes for news too.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:25 AM on April 8, 2016 [24 favorites]


Story time:

This all reminds me that there was a time in America before newspapers were supported by printed ads. In the late 19th century, in what is now known as the golden age of newspapers, broadsheets were remarkably thin because they contained only news. The way you would get a newspaper is, you went down to your local news stand, paid the clerk a penny, and he would shout something like, "Bingham's Nerve Tonic!" and wind up and give you a swift kick in the balls1. After you stopped groaning, unclenched from the fetal position and picked yourself up off the sidewalk, you got your copy of the New York Press-Democrat and were free to be on your way.

The whole system worked on the theory that if you were gonna get kicked in the nuts, you'd damn sure remember why, so they could use that moment to hawk products from advertisers. And for a while, anyway, it worked. News stands became infamous for blocking up the sidewalks with people getting assaulted to pick up their daily broadsheet, and the most successful papers built their offices set back from the sidewalk to allow more space for the crumpled forms of their eager readership to recover.

Unfortunately for the newspapers, this age coincided with another crucial invention: the athletic protector. Not soon after this device escaped the corporate labs of General Tabulating Machines, men would show up to a news stand, take their kick with a smile, and walk away unscathed. This caused a lot of consternation in the news industry (how would people remember their advertisers if they couldn't associate them with painful trauma?) and newspapers began to fold left and right. Oh, sure, there were the purists, the guys who saw their newspapers disappearing and would proudly boast to their friends that last week, they ruptured a testicle just to read about Chester A. Arthur's campaign appearance down at the wharf. It did little good, though, and they were unable to hold back the tide of newsroom closures.

One day, some genius somewhere figured out that people would pay to put their advertisements in print right next to the news stories that everyone was clamoring to read. This caused a revolution in the news industry, and soon everyone agreed that seeing advertisements mixed in with the news was much better than a kick in the balls2. Eventually, with the new business model ascendant, the last of the balls-kicking outlets went out of business.

Now, I don't claim to know what the future will hold for the online journalism industry, but maybe looking back in history could be instructive.

--
1. This was a pretty unenlightened era and men just assumed that women couldn't read.

2. This was before autoplay pop-under ransomware videos were a thing.
posted by indubitable at 6:25 AM on April 8, 2016 [64 favorites]


All of the print magazines I subscribe to used to include access to their web content with the print subscription. Then somebody noticed that their freeloading print subscribers were getting the online stuff for free. So they all went to a three tier system where you pay for print, print+web, or just web. But I'm happy to just read the print version and never look at their web sites at all, if that was the result they wanted.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:27 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


If I could work my will, every fool who goes about with "But micropayments!" on his lips would be buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

So to make this work, you want some central entity to track each and every one of the websites you visit? Whom do you trust to do that?

You want to be charged for each website you visit? All the sites? Even the crap ones that don't work or aren't useful? How do you know whether a site contains the information you want without visiting? How much more difficult would that make googling, well, anything? Do you want to click on a pop up every single time you leave a page that says "useful: y/n?"

Well, you're only really wanting to pay for news, right? Maybe a bit of entertainment, some literature once in a while? So you'd sign up for the service that tracks you all the time, but only be charged when you go to certain sites. Certai sites which would be listed in 6pt font on a page somewhere, so you'd never be quite clear which ones counted. Fortunately, shady website people would never embed links to those sites all over the web to try and trick you into clicking on them. Oh, wait, we've solved this with the "useful: y/n" pop-up. Now, was that Buzzfeed article on the Kardashians useful? I mean, you read it, sure, but was it really worth a nickle? Let's see, I visited was 10 sites today? 20? How much money have I spent today? I wanted to read some election coverage later, better click n.

Or maybe it doesn't matter. It all comes out to between $75 and $100 a month and that's an amount you're perfectly comfortable spending on content. Not everybody is, of course, but they don't have to sign up for the tracker. So they don't get to read quality news, and have to stick to free, corporate-sponsored news? Or do not enough people voluntarily sign up for the tracker to sustain the sites, so they still need to have semi-permeable paywalls and ads? In which case we're back to square one?
posted by Diablevert at 6:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


As a graphic designer who's worked for a newspaper for the past 15 years or so, here's a few thoughts:

Advertising has always been a bit of hidden game. People would pay a lot of money to advertise their products where they knew a lot of eyeballs would be, aka a newspaper. There was no guarantee that they'd see a huge increase in revenue, but it was certainly possible to see some.

With the ability to track actual clicks and hits, the "secret" has been revealed that there's often not a lot hits for advertising, at least in the sense of one to one, which I suspect advertisers have long imagined how it is (or should be) even if they rationally know it's not true.

So it's become a steadily devolving trend of advertisers wanting the most hits for their ads, which results in a lot of obnoxious stuff being produced, which turns off people, which results in higher levels of obnoxiousness to attract attention and it goes lower and lower.

I don't have any solutions to this other than advertisers committing to the long term to grow and nurse their brand, so people know it when they see and/or heart and view it as a welcome sign, not another annoyance. But that's hard to convince advertisers of when its their limited money and they're thinking (hoping) short term.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ads are fine. Ads that track me across the Web, play video/sound automatically, or otherwise hijack my browser are not. It's not that hard, guys.

maybe looking back in history could be instructive.

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think it's pretty high-and-mighty for metafilter members to claim that they want content creators to get paid for their writing, when metafilter itself does not pay its content creators. I spend probably 10 minutes reading the FPP links for every hour I spend reading the comments, and I respect and trust the metafilter commentor community more than I do the FPP links.

And that's what this system is - it's a like cable news channel where they play a 1 minute video clip and then have experts and person-on-the-street dialogue with each other for the entertainment and education of the viewing public.

It seems to me like there is an arbitrary line drawn between "Publish content to a web site and therefore should be paid" and "Write comments and therefore.... no payment!" What makes a byline so much more worth paying for than a posted-by line?

So I'll start agreeing that content creators should get paid as soon as you extend that to ALL content creators.
posted by rebent at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


What makes a byline so much more worth paying for than a posted-by line?


Research. Fact checking. Boots on the ground. Access to things you and I don't have. Good writing. Bona fides. Reputation.

Some comments have some of these. Ideal news sources have all of them and can be held to that standard.
posted by lalochezia at 6:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


Plus, one of the major factors of cost in terms of producing a print product is ever the escalating cost of paper and the infrastructure to print it (the press, binding, delivering etc). I *think* hemp paper would cut down on the paper cost significantly, but that's just one factor and it ain't happening any time soon in America.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:42 AM on April 8, 2016


There's also the question of the price of living, at least in western countries. Not many of us (the general us, not just MeFi members) are willing to live very cheaply. Hell, not many of us are able to live very cheaply if we want access to half decent resources (arts, sports, police force, sanitation etc).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:47 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know if my memory is playing me false, but the way I remember it is that the Internet was once a place that had nothing whatever to do with big corporate 'content providers', but was a happy space full of harmless bloggers, academics, meme pools and co-operative enterprises people kept going because they liked them.

Then the mainstream media started to muscle in and turn the whole thing commercial; acting as if they owned the place and as if only naked capitalist enterprise could have given us this wonderful thing (rather than the mix of government funding and tiny individual efforts that actually produced it). The small people were going to be swept aside because in this man's world bub, if you don't turn a profit you don't survive: you amateurs better get used to it.

Now capitalism decrees that they die and they're all "boo-hoo, what about us, what about your duty to pay for this wonderful shit-pool we built in your back garden? Where's our money?"

Maybe when these dinosaurs are dead us tiny hamsters can dance free again
posted by Segundus at 6:49 AM on April 8, 2016 [64 favorites]


Research. Fact checking. Boots on the ground. Access to things you and I don't have. Good writing. Bona fides. Reputation.

Some comments have some of these. Ideal news sources have all of them and can be held to that standard.


Are you suggesting that paying Foxnews.com more money would make their writing more truthful?
posted by rebent at 6:52 AM on April 8, 2016


Sitting here right now thinking about what I would pay for a month of internet reading...there should be a way to opt-out by giving them recurring revenue....made me pay $20 or so per month

Diablevert, AFII, and warriorqueen have it: the idea of micropayments and aggregated subscription is just a non-starter, because it's not enough money. Whatever solution eventually emerges, it will not be this one. To charge a sufficient cost would simply outstrip the value estimation most users would give it. And as inequality worsens and jobs continue to disappear, that's not going to work for anyone.

I don't see how a BBC would solve this particular problem

I think the point was that the BBC is publicly funded through a license agreement, and works at arm's length from the government.

broadsheets were remarkably thin because they contained only news

Could you provide a citation? I spend a lot of time with 2nd-half-of-the-18th-century newspapers, and they are loaded down with ads. If it's true that broadsheets earlier were ad-free, that doesn't give them a very long run, as they came about after 1712. it sort of supports the argument that ads were the best way to fund news for many centuries, since that model didn't last long.

The interesting thing about advertising is that there's a fair amount of evidence that most of it doesn't work. There are things it can do, and scales at which it can work, and enhanced targeting, but it's still a bit of a muddy art, not a science. It was simply the best idea anyone had. Its era is definitely winding down.

I am starting to see this issue (which I care a lot about) as a general symptom of the broad economic collapse we are witnessing as the collective gains of capitalism pile up and get sequestered into the hands of a few people. Automation is growing. Material wealth is greater than ever before. We don't need as much stuff. Manufacturing will shrink. There are not going to be as many jobs in our future. Jobs and incomes that let us make payments and subscriptions are not going to be the way we fund good things. I agree with the idea that this is connected to a serious conversation we will soon need to be having about universal basic income, because the whole employment model (which is what funding journalism is really about) is not going to be working in the future. Ads and journalism and media are probably just the canary in the coal mine.
posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


Do we all want to spend the whole rest of the thread talking about how ads suck and we hates them? Because the post did acknowledge that, you know, right up at the top.

It's been 15 years or so of Internet, now. If "the amount thoughtful people would voluntarily pay out of their public-minded concern for quality writing" was > "the amount necessary to sustain the current number of credible news organisations" I think we'd have figured out the mechanism by now. We simply have to face the truth: it is not. People do not have to pay if they don't want to, and they don't want to.
This is a common claim but it's never been fully tested. None of the major sites have offered a system where the deal is better than “Pay more but still see tons of invasive ads”. The only exception which comes to mind is the way Salon used to offer an ad-free experience to premium users but their content and management quality was variable enough that I don't think anyone could reasonably extrapolate from that to what e.g. the NYT would see from the same experiment. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if a major player ran a well-implemented (e.g. 1-click with Amazon/Stripe payments, etc.) experiment for a few months where each page had a simple “$5 to support our work and not see ads for a month” button and it's far more money than advertisers have paid for years.

The main problem with this approach is that a simple pay-for-content model only works on the largest sites where the traffic gives them sufficient economy of scale. The more interesting question would be whether you could either get a patronage network going or something like what Brave is trying where your browser integrates a micropayment system. That doesn't need to be the “Big Brother tracks everything you do” straw-man, either – a simple “Click here to buy-out these ads using [SERVICE]” link would work just as well.
posted by adamsc at 6:54 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Are you suggesting that paying Foxnews.com more money would make their writing more truthful?

No. Simply that soon Fox News will be all that's left.
posted by Diablevert at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, the veteran Californian “happy mutant”/cyberculture/cool-weirdness zine-turned-blog Boing Boing has morphed into the Sharper Image catalogue. Every fifth post is a hype-laden, content-free pitch for some previously unknown brand of phone battery/VPN service/HTML tutorial.
posted by acb at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


Miko, you might want to read the rest of the comment about broadsheets and early advertising; it's satire.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:56 AM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]



I think the point was that the BBC is publicly funded through a license agreement, and works at arm's length from the government.


Arm's length doesn't seem to be enough. The BBC seems to be sufficiently intimidated by the prospect of the next blow from the government being unbearably severe to pull its punches. It still doesn't stop the Murdoch press/Daily Mail from denouncing them as commie-traitor-scum and calling for them to be privatised and/or sold for scrap, obviously, but we get the worst of both worlds.
posted by acb at 6:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


broadsheets were remarkably thin because they contained only news
Could you provide a citation? I spend a lot of time with 2nd-half-of-the-18th-century newspapers, and they are loaded down with ads.

i 100% represent as true that balls-kicking newspapers were a major part of american history
posted by indubitable at 6:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [29 favorites]


Miko, you might want to read the rest of the comment about broadsheets and early advertising; it's satire.

It was hard for me to tell whether the whole thing was satire, or just the athletic supporter bit. Sometimes satire can be difficult to parse in generally-serious threads where every other comment is in earnest. Anyway, it's useful just to clarify that the ad-supported model is basically as old as news.
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on April 8, 2016


now, if you were paying me like a Serious Journalist, I might let you see my citations.
posted by indubitable at 7:04 AM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


balls-kicking newspapers were a major part of american history

I can back this up; I have heard the exact same stories from my 5th grade teacher who was using it as an example of the intrinsic superiority of early Canadian newspapers (who never did engage in balls-kicking in a major way, but went straight from beaver pelts to ads shortly after the RIel Rebellion).
posted by aramaic at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Honestly, if we had a basic universal income and healthcare, I could afford to make killer, link filled and researched Mefi posts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:09 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


The trouble with paying for ad-free content is that, in my small community newspaper world at least, ad revenue is still about 55% of our total income, so to remove ads from someone's subscription, I'd have to charge them double what they're already paying, and I don't think anyone is willing to do that. I think we already charge more than a lot of readers can afford or at least want to spend.

I've been in this business for 15 years, working in print circulation, and every single one of those years we've had fewer subscribers than the previous year. I keep thinking one of these years we'll bottom out, but we haven't yet. And we're in the lucky position of providing local news that no one else does. We literally have no competition for the kind of local news coverage we provide, and people still want that news--they go on our website in huge numbers--but fewer and fewer are willing to pay for it.

It's unsettling to say the least.
posted by dellsolace at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I do think it's possible to make a living doing hyper local news for small shops, say a city or town paper, but the giant news corporations covering national or world news will continue to struggle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 AM on April 8, 2016


Ezra Pound who spent some of his most productive time locked up in a mental hospital made the observation that no market will support decent art and decent writing. If we want them somebody will have to sponsor it. Fifteenth century Florence people were not any more greater geniuses than anybody anywhere anytime. What they had was wealthy patrons who wanted the good stuff and they supported it.

We could be just like fifteenth century Florence if we wanted to.
posted by bukvich at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


The answer is simple, just make your money on touring, shows, and merch.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


There are seven things advertisers can do to fix this, and you will be shocked to hear them!
And they don't want you to know ...
posted by milnews.ca at 7:19 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


This one weird trick advertisers hate!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the ad industry could police itself to eradicate shady practices - since it's an arms race, this is not something one publisher can do on their own - they would have little to worry about.

There's been a pretty big push to do this, actually. Most notably there's AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), a new open website format standard championed by Google designed to load very quickly and seamlessly on mobile devices by keeping page sizes tiny. The AMP standard and library allows for ads in AMP-compatible pages, but they can only use a pre-defined subset of JavaScript that renders a lot of the worst practices technically impossible, and ads aren't loaded at all if they impact the performance of the page. AMP is a standard, which means it's optional, but Google has been providing prime placement in search results for AMP pages, which will hopefully drag publishers along (and a whole bunch have already signed on).
posted by Itaxpica at 7:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is advertising spending actually, for real, decreasing? Could advertising companies be using the existence of adblockers and hiding behind the "per click / per impression" numbers to squeeze the content providers? Or are there a ton of content providers out there that are taking smaller bites of the large-as-ever pie?
posted by ODiV at 7:33 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Regarding micropayments and adblockers: Google Contributor is a service that lets you pay $x to kick money directly to sites you visit instead of seeing ads. Obviously it only works if the site uses Google's ad service, and you have to be willing to trust Google with a lot of information, but it's a real thing that exists right now.
posted by jedicus at 7:35 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I not only block ads, I resent the advertising industry in general. I think it's a waste of human talent and creativity to put so much effort into "creating needs" for more things, using methods that would (or at least, should) be frowned upon in polite circles, e.g., deceit and manipulation.

Very much this. Part 2 of my issue is that I already pay a fairly steep monthly price for Internet access (Canada), and why should I pay more for subscriptions or to download ads? This is the ISP's business model: they've become monopolistic gatekeepers who think they're entitled to their revenue stream because they're providing a service people now depend on. I mean, I pay for my Harper's subscription and a couple of magazines for my kids, and together those annual fees amount to less than one month's Internet service.

This is similar to Netflix' geolocation/VPN problem, where entrepreneurs are charging a monthly fee to provide access to blocked content. They're sucking the revenue out of the system without adding any value beyond the connection.
posted by sneebler at 7:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I guess I'm just having trouble with the chain of [Ad purchaser] $-> [Ad provider] $-> [Ad displayer]. So right now the prevalence of ad blocking is causing fewer views/impressions or whatever, which justifies a smaller payment from [Ad provider] to [Ad displayer]. Is there anything causing a restriction on the amount of money [Ad purchaser] is spending? Are they looking at the numbers they get back and saying "Fuck this, we're out" or looking at the prevalence of ad blocking and deciding it's not worth it?
posted by ODiV at 7:42 AM on April 8, 2016


experiment for a few months where each page had a simple “$5 to support our work and not see ads for a month” button and it's far more money than advertisers have paid for years.

Milwaukee has a population of about 600K. A digital subscription to the Journal-sentinel costs $4.29 a month. (Print is about $15.) Using del solace's helpful rule of thumb, that suggests your button would need to be at at least $9, probably more, simply to replace ad revenue.

Your button is also voluntary. The people who click on it would be people who hate ads enough and/or love the site enough to volutarilty give them money. This is just, rough, back of the envelope stuff, but using the fundraising figures from this report and the audience figures NPR gives here, about 10% of the people who listen to NPR give to NPR.

I don't think those numbers are perfect indicators of what would happen with your button experiment. But I don't think they're multiple orders of magnitude off, either. So no, I don't think there's a snowball's chance that sticking a $5 "turn ads off for a month" button on their sites would bring in more money for publishers than ads generate.
posted by Diablevert at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


OK so I just subscribed to the Guardian and my local NPR affiliate that produces it's own regional news show, but... I am still stumped?

I can think of a half dozen publications I'd like to support: LA Review of Books, The Awl, The New Inquiry, the East Bay Express, plus really cool smaller projects that come and go (is THE STATE gone?), but I don't know how to do that. I mean, I literally don't know how I would support the Awl for example, (do you guys have a "subscription" option?), but also with all these pubs I really have trouble reading a full "issue" and justifying a subscription as I would have a paper magazine. With something like TNI, I kind of wish there was a print subscription option because I would get it. They at least used to do PDFs (do they still?) but really, do I want a huge pile of PDFs of back issues I've printed out at home? I don't know, it just seems unrealistic.

This concept of micro payments actually sounds great to me. If my reader (feedly) had an option of tracking and making micropayments for particular "subscriptions", I would sign up for sure. I would love to just set a cap of "I'll pay up to x a month" for page views of the following publications, for sure. Are there any other ideas for a sustainable business model?
posted by latkes at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lots of smart comments in this thread, I just want to ring the same alarm that I always do: Journalism as we know it is not a foregone conclusion. There will always be people around to point cameras at things, but that is not the only kind of journalism.

It's time to start preparing to have no professional journalism and to ask the question: how can we, as citizens, help to forge the tools that will allow amateurs to question power and find the truth to help protect us all from corporations and corrupt government?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:49 AM on April 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


intrinsic superiority of early Canadian newspapers (who never did engage in balls-kicking in a major way

There had been some "bollocks-kicking" in Upper Canada, but political concessions to French Catholic sensibilities made the practice technically illegal by the time of Confederation.
posted by Kabanos at 7:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


1. The world overproduces information. This was less of a problem when the local news outlets were the conduit of information. It was still less of a problem when the international news outlets controlled the spigots. Now, with the WWW, my attention and loyalties are divided among dozens of news sources.
2. Being informed is vital to democracy's survival. Without checks, corruption runs rampant and is a thousand times more expensive than:
3. Taxing the internet and dividing the pool of funds.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Strictly speaking, people do pay to read things online. They're just giving all that money to their ISP. In Canada a few years back, there was a proposal to add a levy to ISPs, and use that to subsidize Canadian content on the web. It didn't go through. (Especially not under a Harper government.) But I can see the logic of it.
posted by RobotHero at 7:59 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


The simple truth is that most people do not assign value to words online.

I always feel a bit guilty whenever that topic comes up anywhere, because I was very much one of the young turk techies in the publishing industry that was screaming "Let's not gate our content! Ad impressions will pay for it! The internet wants to be freeeeeeeeeeee!!!" back in the early days, and thus helped breed that lack of value into our culture.

We were utterly, totally wrong for a variety of reasons - many of them already mentioned here. Oh well. Hindsight is always 20/20.

What's weird though is that these days I'm completely on the other side of the publishing fence, thanks to the fact that I run / own London Reconnections. We started that eight years ago as a simple blog, building on an excellent previous blog from a fellow Mefite. Now we're a major news/analysis site in both the London and transport spheres with six-figure individual monthly reader figures and a multi-terrabyte data bill to pay each month.

How that's relevant here is that the above, obviously, was something that was never going to be sustainable in the longterm without some kind of financial model...

..so we went into print.

This was my / our thinking:

1) We didn't want to plaster adverts all over the website. For all the reasons laid out above the ROI just isn't there anymore. It's a dead model if it ever really worked at all.

2) We didn't want to rely on donations. I've tried that before on various things - Patreon, micropayments, lots of different models and tech. For whatever reason it just doesn't have an impact without an awful lot of friendly nagging at the moment. And the people I do know who've managed to make that work spend almost as much time fundraising as they do the thing they're trying to raise money for.

3) We didn't want to gate any articles under a "premium" flag and end up with a very obvious two-tier site experience.

I've suspected for some time though that while news is a lost cause, long-reads aren't. And ultimately that's what LR is - a place for long-reads. Hell, generally speaking we have a new piece up once a week at most.

So what we decided to do was a modification of the Hacker Monthly model. In our case, we'd publish a high-quality magazine six times a year, which would contain:

1) The best of the web
2) Two or more non-time-sensitive features yet to run online, but which would go up, post-issue-release for free.
3) Print adverts (if we got the interest) from people we were happy to have in.

Basically my thinking was that we had a solid enough audience, and our subject matter was sufficiently appealing outside of our core audience if we presented it the right way, that we'd get enough subscribers and sales to support magazine and site.

And so far, I have to say, it's worked.

Now that's not to say it was easy. The elevator pitch on LR Magazine was (and is) effectively "a transport magazine you won't be ashamed to be caught reading on the Tube." And we had to achieve that or there was no point doing this. We needed a print product in the mold of Blizzard or Kill Screen that people would assign value to beyond simply being a cheap magazine they pick up in the newsagents.

Because it's been clear to me, in this industry, for some time now that people just don't assign value to words anymore. You have to offer something that's clearly a prestige product, that they're happy - and a bit proud - to have on their desk or coffee table. And if they're spending money on it they want to feel like you're putting the effort in, that it's not just something full of press-releases padding out good articles, all run through a set of InDesign templates by a designer who'd much rather be doing something more creative.

It took me six months to find a designer who got what we were trying to do, and it took us another six months, on and off, to find the right feel for what we were after. That involved lots of article mockups, lots of unofficial focus-grouping with site users who we swore to secrecy and then, when I thought we had something that had the right balance, we did what I considered the litmus test:

We found a small local printer who'd run us up a limited run of 100 copies, which I paid for out of my own pocket, and then we started anonymously leaving copies on the magazine / leaflet table in the Rose and Crown Pub in Walthamstow, London. We picked it not just because it's my local, but also because it's got a good balance of hipster types and more traditional pub goer types.

I can genuinely say that watching and waiting for people to interact with them was the most fascinating and terrifying experience of my life. Pretty soon, however, it became clear that when people saw them (they shared the same cover and some content with the first issue we then officially put out) they weren't just skipping past them. Almost everyone was picking them up, scanning them, looking pleasantly surprised. reading them and taking them away. Often I'd then see them showing it to their mates who'd go over and pick up a copy too.

That, plus feedback from people within the transport industry (who it soon became clear were desperate for something that wasn't just a mega-publishing-corp phoning it on a trade mag) convinced us to take the plunge.

Jump forward another three months, and more battles and bargaining over print runs, costs, online shops and price points and we finally launched - and the level of subs we pulled in astounded us. We basically hit our annual target (which we'd thought was a bit ambitious really) in three days.

Cue more pain and suffering as we frantically had to get another print run done, had to get PayPal to unlock our account (because we'd triggered their automatic money-laundering warning flag due to the speed of sales) but it was - and remains - a very happy, if tiring experience.

Now that model is emphatically not going to work for everyone. Paying ourselves, rather than just the technical and physical running costs, for example is still a long way off for LR. I was also lucky enough to be financially self-supporting enough to both fund things whilst we took our time to get stuff right and to have the space on my credit card to cover the up-front costs of our first small print runs. Money I'd never have got back if this hadn't worked.

Hell, it might not even work for us forever, but it shows that there are models that work, there's just no one-size-fits-all easy model anymore and you have to think creatively about your audience, what you do and what they'll pay for.

Indeed what's been amusing over the last few months is that I've been asked by a bunch of different people to do some kind of "how to make money with your website" type thing - either in print or as a talk in return for cash. In each case I've said that our model can basically be described as:

1) Spend eight years writing quality journalism, for free.
2) Gamble massively on launching a print magazine.
3) Break even.

And then ask them if they're really sure they want me and not someone else. In each case they've always decided that maybe they'll get someone else to do it.

Whilst I say our model isn't necessarily transferable though, I do think that there are some broad principles that much of the industry could do with learning or remembering.

1) People simply will not pay you to do something they can get for free. If you are not adding value for them beyond what they can get off social media or a billion bloggers covering the same topic then you're just noise, not content.

2) As a result of the above, you will live, and die, by the quality of your content and reputation. This is why we don't post often, because the moment we start focusing on being first rather than being accurate and complete is the point where we start becoming noise.

3) Building a reputation has to come first, monetisation second. And building that rep takes time and no small amount of luck (in terms of being spotted and read).

And finally, most importantly:

4) Your readers are real people and you need to treat them as such and engage with them. That doesn't mean you should always do what they want (I'd say we only write the articles people ask us to write about 30% of the time) but you have to build up a level of trust so that they're prepared to go along with you when you don't. And you also need to show them that you're grateful for their support. Hell, I wrote hand-written thank you cards to every single person who subscribed in those first three days. That in itself took nearly three days and I could barely move my fingers for a week afterwards. But we were genuinely grateful for their support and - cynically speaking - the reaction we got to that on Twitter and elsewhere kicked in another wave of subscriptions and built further goodwill.

So that last one, to me, is the most important and is ultimately the culmination of the first three. Because if your audience doesn't see you as something worth reading or supporting. If they don't trust you and feel part of what your paper, magazine or site is. Then they're just not going to put their hands in their pockets.

Because - going back right back to what I said at the beginning - people do not assign value to simple words on a screen, or even in a cheap magazine, anymore. I genuinely think that boat has sailed and isn't coming back.

So you have to persuade them that they should spend their money on you instead.
posted by garius at 8:01 AM on April 8, 2016 [158 favorites]


This is just, rough, back of the envelope stuff, but using the fundraising figures from this report and the audience figures NPR gives here, about 10% of the people who listen to NPR give to NPR.

I don't think those numbers are perfect indicators of what would happen with your button experiment. But I don't think they're multiple orders of magnitude off, either.


I work for a site that gets 8-figure pageviews monthly and offers an ad-free subscription model for $20 and let me say that based on our numbers you are vastly overestimating the number of people who will actually pay for stuff like that.
posted by zempf at 8:11 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, noone has built an ad blocker for podcasts -- and there does not seem much demand for it. (Well, there was that one podcast with super-annoying interstitial ads. I stopped listening to it.)

Hippybear's idea is basically Flattr. Although the average flattr user only split maybe $5/month amoung flattred sites. Flattr does not seem to be doing very well these days, but the idea still seems to have some potential.
posted by joeyh at 8:12 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


So you have to persuade them that they should spend their money on you instead.

Which is a problem. Because when people spend money on a person, they spend it on the whole person, their habits, everything they say, the fact that they are having a baby, everything. Which reminds me of this piece:

In general, people seem more likely to pay for content when it’s “voiced”. In the era of YouTube stars, we expect to see faces. We want eye contact. Supermodels are born on Instagram, their reach and brand equity driven by passionate followers who “like” everything Cara Delevigne posts that she is doing. Examples of intimacy’s high valuation are everywhere, from Taylor Swift’s constant passel of best-best friends to Kim Kardashian pretending her daughter North “accidentally” posted a bikini selfie of Mom. She’s just like us! Anyone you admire starts to feel available to you via social media, and the more they cultivate that impression of a relationship, the better you, as a consumer, will perform.

Importantly, though, it’s not just celebrities who participate in the intimacy valuation market. My colleagues in the video games biz have developed their own subscription channels and platforms where they now make more money per video appealing directly to their fans than they would working for a traditional platform. Traditional channels cannot afford them. I’ve self-published books and stories directly to my readership that earned definitively more money than they would have through any traditional channel (assuming traditional channels would have even wanted them). We are all well aware that people are spending money because they like us, or some idea of us; they are spending in part because of the idea that they are engaged in a parasocial relationship with us.

....

Every content creator is now a community manager.

You live in a network of friends, likes, favorites, hearts and stars. The future is not a prison of robot overlords, but a Lucky Charms hell world stuffed with ‘plushies’ you backed on Kickstarter. Tell Your Story, Medium begs me in the field where I post this article. Please like and share this article. Please Tweet at me to tell me I kick ass.

posted by zabuni at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wonder if newspapers in Harry Potter's world of magic have the same problems with advertising.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:24 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just recently subscribed to the NYT, because I wanted to support American journalism -- and the NYT had had some features that I liked. I'm broke; I can barely afford just the unlimited digital access, and may need to cancel in the near future.

One thing about the pay-to-read model is that it means people like me will have restricted access to information. I can't even access PBS, as reception is too poor in my area, and online PBS content is often behind paywalls. NPR is my only source of quality, publicly-funded news.

So practically what this means is that the pay-to-read model will lock people with limited funds into one or two content providers--not a good way to get different views--unless there is some kind of easy microtransaction process.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I don't see how a BBC would solve this particular problem

I think the point was that the BBC is publicly funded through a license agreement, and works at arm's length from the government.


Somebody didn't get the joke. The key word in the comment is "a", not "the".
posted by briank at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2016


however I won't pay the same price as for print when there is no cost pf physical production and distribution involved.

There is this assumption that everything "digital" is cheaper to produce than anything "print", because there aren't these physical thing to produce, warehouse, and distribute. If you're just thinking about a simple piece of news, or an opinion piece, or even a novel, that may be the case. But consider any digital content that offers more than just straight-up static text. For example, the NYT offers a lot of additional information, analysis, and richness with their multimedia and interactive offerings, but these have a far higher cost to create than simple graphs or infographics for print. Apart from extra time for creation and editing, you require the varied skills of a greater number of people.

I do a lot of work in the higher education textbook industry, and the publishers have faced a steep learning curve adjusting to the fact that the digital version of a "book" can often be more expensive to produce than a print one. Static figures are cheap; interactive and animated figures are certainly not, nor are interactive quiz modules, customizable text, and all the bells and whistles of learning management systems, etc. Digital educational materials also have the additional requirement of being accessible to the disabled, which also takes a lot of under-the-hood work for even superficially "simple" content. Future changes to the ADA act will likely put similar requirements on all major web content producers. Printing was ink on paper; only so much you can do with that. With digital content the sky's the limit, and the creation costs can easily soar that high as well.

This isn't meant to automatically justify tons ads, or high subscription prices, or whatever. The news and content creators still have to find a balance between appropriate costs and what all of us are willing to pay (and how). It's just a reminder that quality digital content creation is not magically cheap.
posted by Kabanos at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


The sad thing is, if we could find a way to pay a penny a page to a content provider they could probably afford to run ad free.

Google Contributor does the micropayment thing that's been thrown around in this thread, albeit on a much more limited scale.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2016


I don't mind ads in podcasts -- and I've noticed a lot of my ads are more Canada-relevant recently, I wonder if there's ad localisation happening -- because they don't ruin my podcast experience. I take a minute or two to listen to an ad for Audible/Squarespace/stamps.com and it doesn't say blast high pitched sound or make my speakers explode or give my phone a virus. I don't know the best way to get this same kind of experience on websites, but I don't inherently object to ads, as sometimes they offer something I want. Right now, though, they're offering something I want covering a bomb.
posted by jeather at 8:34 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wow, could not get through most of this but I think there's a single conclusion: no on, no think tanks, not professors, not google gurus, not hackers, not smart people on MiFi have any idea whatsoever what will happen to the content industry Journalism.

Tl;Dr: no one knows.

--
posted by sammyo at 8:42 AM on April 8, 2016


garius, thank you for sharing all that. Fantastic comment.

(I'm not sure if it was a unconscious move to avoid self-linking, but I think you missed an "s" in your link to London Reconnections. )
posted by Kabanos at 8:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you should read the whole thing, or at least garius' comment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Back when this "web" thing was added over top of the perfectly lovely Usenet-newsreader-with-killfile, a company called Google promised that they would provide a search engine that would be of great utility.

They didn't mention that search would find ME for ADVERTISERS.
HUH??
I was, naively, thinking search would help ME find what I search for.

Did Google just plug their tool in backwards?
And find out it pumped money out anyhow, so left it running that way?

I thought, natively, that they'd accumulate information about the world, and search that for me to help me find -- to the finest grain necessary -- something starting with my first attempt to describe the result I'm looking for.

So they'd get their micropayments from every supplier and get detailed accurate updated information about what every source has to offer -- and make their database from that.

Then people (meat people, that is) come along and Google uses Search to help us:

"I need this result and I think the tool and information I need are like this ...."


Feedback, clarify, refine, narrow down ---> find the best answer.

Then I can go out to the hardware store or library or wherever, or else get it online.

No.

Back to Usenet and "nn" and killfiles. It's noisy, but it's not trying to stuff crap at me so much.
posted by hank at 8:52 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I take a minute or two to listen to an ad for Audible/Squarespace/stamps.com and it doesn't say blast high pitched sound or make my speakers explode or give my phone a virus. I don't know the best way to get this same kind of experience on websites, but I don't inherently object to ads, as sometimes they offer something I want.

There aren't many podcasts that last for any length of time that don't have to resort to pledge drives/Kickstarter campaigns/challenge coins/etc. to also raise money. See also the "live podcast" sessions that are emerging and the fact many of the prominent folks (Tim Ferriss, Marc Maron, Bill Burr, etc.) have other careers that pay them.

It's unobtrusive, but I don't get the sense the two ads at the top provide enough money to actually pay everyone to do the work at an hourly wage that makes sense without a whole whack of other income streams in the mix.
posted by scrittore at 8:54 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


intimacy valuation market

Life is hell.
posted by Beholder at 8:56 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I just can't get past the fact that pretty much every ad hoster will openly say "we know you don't like it when we shit in your hat ads", and then proceed to do the thing people don't like anyway. EVERYTHING after that is bullshit rationalization.

What's truly amazing is they think "that's a nice hat user experience you got there, it would be a shame if anyone were to take a big shit in it knowingly introduce a lot of annoying elements into it" is an ethical and workable solution.

They know you don't like it, and they'll let up if you pay the vig. How can you build anything meaningful on a foundation like that?

The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!
posted by sidereal at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Which is a problem. Because when people spend money on a person, they spend it on the whole person, their habits, everything they say, the fact that they are having a baby, everything. Which reminds me of this piece:

From my/our experience I'd say that the "you" in "making them spend it on you" doesn't have to be an individual.

People don't read LR because it's me (garius / John Bull). They read it because we're LR. Yes, that carries with it a face-to-face element but if you go through our Twitter mentions or positive comments and reactions elsewhere, no one ever says "Hey, garius, can you write about taxis again?" They ask "Hey, LR can you write about taxis again?"

So it is possible to build a sort of gestalt entity, and you don't have to lose your individuality to to do it - our real regulars (who tend to become the commentors) could very easily tell myself and the other writers apart even if we didn't have bylines. Because we tend to have different beats, broadly speaking, and styles.

But we always, deliberately refer to ourselves within articles in the first person plural, and "LR Towers" is used a lot as a phrase ("The betting here at LR Towers is on..." etc.). We thus have a general, site voice but we're not completely bound to it.

As a result, it's LR they're buying, not me, nor Pedantic or Mike or the other individual authors specifically, even if the hardcore will happily admit that they prefer reading some of us, as authors, to others.
posted by garius at 9:06 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


According to the Blendle experiment, there are enough people who happily pay for analysis, but not news regurgitated from PR people that they can hear mocked by comedians, twitter, etc. And we can confirm this from say the Economists' success.

In fact, Blendle itself is a surveillance nightmare because they learn all your reading habits. We're hoping that could be addressed that with Taler though.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:06 AM on April 8, 2016


To me, a clear case of the message (and thus the delivery platform) being the medium. We had no trouble paying for newspapers. The webzez ruined us.
posted by infini at 9:06 AM on April 8, 2016


There is clearly a split here between those who work inside 'content creating' sources and those who don't. The pleas to 'partner with better advertisers' or 'refuse the crappy ads that light up' assumes that there is actual competition for advertising space; the folding newspapers and the struggling websites know that it's not that easy to say no. There isn't a queue of people with tasteful, safe, non-intrusive ads queuing up for a barely noticeable spot in the sidebar.
And, unlike print, ads are often third party software, as are all the micropayment systems, as are many of the new readers - and those, especially if they are hosted by players who already skew the system (google and facebook cited in the links in the OP), have their own problematics.

What I'm taking from this is that those of us who want or need to be paid to write, aren't doing a great job of articulating how bad, how deep and how serious, this problem is, and how difficult it is to solve.
posted by AFII at 9:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think we are largely not looking at the actual shift here - which is not "man, people got used to free shit and now they don't want to pay." It's actually an enormous literacy bump. And when those happen, a lot of people's business models just don't make sense anymore.

Do you know there used to be people in various towns who would get paid to read and write letters for other people? If you wanted to write a letter to your sister somewhere else, you might go to someone else to have the letter written for you, and she would go somewhere else to have it read to her. This was a moderately profitable business - until literacy exploded and most people could read and write their own letters and those people had to find new work.

Likewise, information used to be so much more scarce, and people were consuming it far less. People existed, many people, who had read less than five books in their life, and who did not subscribe to daily newspapers. People who did not largely write letters - who could read when they had to, but were not in the daily habit of reading.

Then the internet came, and it became easy to both find and produce really tempting, interesting content. Not just "news sources". Think stuff like Livejournal and Myspace. People wrote more words than ever before. People journaled that had never journaled before. And the nature of writing things down is to express your opinions about them. There is no shortage of opinion pieces on the internet to read and no shortage of people writing them. And because nearly everyone is online now, there is no shortage of diverse, educated people who are writing these opinion pieces - some of them far more educated than a generalist newspaper reporter or editor could be.

No wonder people don't want to pay a specialist for it - because they have realized, with all of this reading, that the "specialists" are actually not that special after all. Citizen journalists scoop big reporters all the time. I have a few friends who run a free blog, in their off time, for fun, which exposes fraudulent veterans running for political office. Nearly every time I see something published in "serious news sources" about a guy who inflated or lied about his veteran credentials, my friends have either broken the story first, or are quoted in the story. Why would I want to pay a paper to pay a staffer to do that research, starting from scratch, when I could just read my friends at the source?
posted by corb at 9:10 AM on April 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


To flesh out my offhanded quip above, there are parallels to draw here between free availability of content or journalism and free availability of music. Some of the big labels are still alive and kicking extracting rents from artists in exchange of licensing to tv shows and ad campaigns. Most music producers are forced to rely on gigs/merch/fans who are willing to purchase rather than simply stream. For myself, most of the musicians I appreciate are small artists, and so I kick in for album downloads, rather than using rent-seekers like Spotify or whatever.

Journalism has a more central role in our democracy, and should be supported. Perhaps a Bandcamp-like model for actual journalism would help. There's a lot of growing pains to get there, though.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:18 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]



What I'm taking from this is that those of us who want or need to be paid to write, aren't doing a great job of articulating


It's not a matter of articulation. Readers don't want to pay, and they don't have to. Better articulation might induce more pity, among the susceptible. Pity won't make 'em pay. And there are few who are susceptible. Read the thead. Even here on the Blue what you mostly get is contempt.

Just because the problem makes you sad doesn't mean a solution exists. Sometimes the bad thing just happens, because that's the way power works and interests converge. There will be fewer paid journalists in the future.
posted by Diablevert at 9:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


My story is similar to the one garius shared above. I loathe advertising, I consider it to be a gross misallocation of energy and attention. I have been blocking ads online since the days when this was only doable via custom hosts files.

So when I launched my own website in 2005, I could not in good conscience monetize it using ads. Instead, I laid out a plan to make the project eventually profitable. We would invest the one resource we had in excess--time--and use it to cultivate a catalog of evergreen content and a loyal audience. Later, we would leverage our content and reputation to land book deals, offer related physical products (posters, etc), trade e-books for donations, sell occasional reprint rights, etc. It took longer than anticipated, and there were some long moments of dark doubt, but now, a decade later, our hosting bills are paid month to month, I can afford to pay writers reasonable compensation, and it's a very fulfilling side project. I doubt it'll ever be my full-time job, but the future is full of surprises.

I get a dozen emails daily from people wishing to buy ad space on the site, and that's just what Gmail fails to flag as spam. I've had serious offers from wealthier organizations who wish to buy the site, but I know they'll just slap ads on it. That thought is too depressing, even when the offers are quite lucrative.

I programmed my own donation system for my site, and I keep thinking about moving it to a stand-alone site where people can support projects they love. It would be a cousin to Flattr and Patreon, but with some alternate features that I personally prefer. Maybe I need to give that higher priority in light of this ongoing advertising debate. It's just tricky to squeeze anything else into an already distended schedule.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 9:25 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


Alls I know is that I wish more advertising was like that of TapeOp magazine, to which I subscribe, dead-tree style. It's the only publication outside of academic journals that I have not only read the ads, but followed up on the ads, and indeed enjoyed and looked forward to the ads. This makes me think that a website should be more discriminating about what kinds of ads are shown, and that would help (alot) with whatever problem I have with ads.
posted by eclectist at 9:29 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'll note though - I would be in favor of some sort of micropayment ability - not "charge every time you visit a page", not tracking, but a little "do you want to pay a penny/nickel? click y/n" when viewing pages. But - here's the kicker - it definitely wouldn't replace the money people are currently getting for ads. I don't pretend that it would. It would no doubt allow these sites to be providing more of a supplemental wage than a sole wage.

Patreon is really great, but honestly, the way it works is not particularly kind to people trying to be Serious Journalists. It works best for people producing art, who are able to provide some sort of personalized gratitude service to people who donate, so that the people can nobly feel like Patrons Of The Arts. But without the personalized gratitude service, you're either contributing what you think it's actually worth to you in that moment, or charity - and neither will get you far.
posted by corb at 9:32 AM on April 8, 2016


Public radio is funded primarily by listeners, not as a subscription to gain access but as a service to the community so that everyone has access. Secondarily there are "corporate sponsors" (limited, minimally intrusive advertising, curated by the content creators), and finally some government subsidy. On the whole this model seems to work pretty well and supports the creation of high-quality journalism and entertainment. I really hope this is a model that could work and be adopted more broadly for web content. So far Wikimedia seems to be surviving on a similar model, though not without its challenges. As it is now, large swaths of the web are largely unusable without some form of adblocker, for technical or psychological reasons.
posted by biogeo at 9:34 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


The rise of ad blockers was always inevitable, because users have fundamental control over their machines, and so was an available response when advertisers inevitably used their control over publishers to push their advertising as far as they could take it. Just look at television, where commercials came to dominate progressively more and more of each programming block. Those kinds of control always, always ended up being abused eventually, and the response to abuse, if possible, is drastic measures.

After a while of watching this play out, one almost starts to feel like Hari Seldon, although honestly there's several ways it could go from here:
  • The Google answer: one canny advertiser may do what Google did early in their history, loudly announce "we're going to choose not to be evil," then offer a high-quality service to drive out competitors while voluntarily restricting themselves to non-obtrusive ads. The success of this would depend heavily on how loud their announcement is and how believed they are. It worked for Google because the competition in search engines at that time well and truly sucked (they offered invisible paid placement, for heaven's sake), and because they had such a high-quality service. I honestly don't know if that would work for advertising (Google's tried it themselves, and while popular haven't set the world afire). Anyway, once the competitors are gone, it's up to the actual moral backbone of the company how quickly they go back to the bad old ways; in the long run, they're pretty much bound to.
  • It's possible that advertisers will escalate the arms race, and obfuscate their code and/or ad placement to try to foil ad blockers. The horrifying thing about that is it'll play into the hands of malware distributors seeking to use ad services to deliver their payloads, and only increase the essentialness of ad blockers in the eyes of users.
  • I rather liked AdBlock Plus's solution, which was to allow a limited amount of unobtrusive advertising, until it was revealed that inclusion on that list was basically a shakedown scheme. I use Ghostery and UBlock these days, but I do try to consciously disable them on sites I like. (I wish one could disable just the adblocking aspects and keep the tracker blocking, but the two features are probably intrinsically linked.)
posted by JHarris at 9:37 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Public radio is funded primarily by listeners, not as a subscription to gain access but as a service to the community so that everyone has access. Secondarily there are "corporate sponsors" (limited, minimally intrusive advertising, curated by the content creators), and finally some government subsidy. On the whole this model seems to work pretty well and supports the creation of high-quality journalism and entertainment.

Republicans: THIS IS WHY IT MUST BE KILLED.
posted by JHarris at 9:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


What they had was wealthy patrons who wanted the good stuff and they supported it.

We could be just like fifteenth century Florence if we wanted to.


Creating hagiographies of the families of our rich patrons/inserting them into scenes with famous Greek gods or Bible figures/frantically kissing ass to keep their patronage?

I mean, the geniuses of the Renaissance were good at squeezing genuine art into all these activities, but left to their own devices, I think it's safe to say we wouldn't have quite so many Crucifixion scenes and depictions of scenes from the Illiad. Art might have moved on to, say, more varied topics, abstraction and other innovations much sooner if it weren't constrained by the need to be advertising for the wealthy and powerful who made it possible.
posted by emjaybee at 9:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Part 2 of my issue is that I already pay a fairly steep monthly price for Internet access (Canada), and why should I pay more for subscriptions or to download ads?

For the same reason that driving on a toll road to get to a restaurant doesn't entitle you to eat for free. The content producers have no control over what you're paying for internet access nor do they receive any of it. They still need to pay their bills to create the content you want.
posted by Candleman at 9:45 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


If a few small unobtrusive ads shoved to the side of the page were sufficiently remunerative to allow content providers to function, I assure you they'd be happy to use them.

[monocle pops out amidst shock]
posted by clockzero at 9:50 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


And regarding the "things were better before perpetual September" comments that show up in these threads, I'll remind people that the early internet was extremely classist and racially and gender unbalanced. I miss aspects of the good old days too, but I also remember it was a transfer of public wealth to create a nice thing for mostly white middle to upper class males in developed countries, and while the modern internet is a nice playground for us in the first world, it is doing some literally life saving work in developing nations that would never have happened without things like online ads.
posted by Candleman at 9:51 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


I subscribe to a daily dead-tree newspaper (Ottawa Citizen), and will miss it if it goes away even if it has turned into even more of an unrepentant right-wing mouthpiece as of late. Not that there is any choice if I want a paper in Ottawa. They are doing terribly, with Postmedia losing $225 million in the last quarter, which they blame on loss of automotive advertising.

I also subscribe to the Fortean Times, and I always read all the ads because they are fascinating and crazy.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Somebody didn't get the joke.

Oh ha! Somebody left their sense of humor at home today!

The really funny part is that I'm actually trying to talk about the topic.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


"The Google answer: one canny advertiser may do what Google did early in their history, loudly announce "we're going to choose not to be evil," then offer a high-quality service to drive out competitors while voluntarily restricting themselves to non-obtrusive ads. The success of this would depend heavily on how loud their announcement is and how believed they are."

I thought Groupon missed an opportunity there. I have several friends who make okay money off local or regional Illinois blogs -- some make hosting money, some make hobby money, a few make full-time wages money, and one makes a pretty robust six figures. What they all have in common is going out and beating the streets for local advertising, placing a month-long ad for a local Italian restaurant for, oh, maybe 50% of what the local pennysaver might charge. They're static, manually-placed images, basically the same as a newspaper display ad. The thing that's hard about this is building the relationships with local businesses and advertisers to convince them to spend money.

I really think there's room -- and I have an acquaintance who's trying to leverage her blog advertising experience into a sort of local ad network of this type -- for a company that's willing to basically be a "local ad department" and build all those relationships with local companies, and on the other hand will provide very broad numbers (and maybe demographic) for local online outlets, and can match advertisers with local press that way. (Ideally in a very low-tech, static-placement way, at least to start, which is relatively low-cost and doesn't require a lot of technical knowhow or back-end fucking around. Just placing images.) I thought Groupon, with its extensive relationship-building with local businesses and its referral links through blogs, could really have pivoted into that sort of local advertising network work without too much trouble. But I guess Groupon was too busy racing to the bottom to have any interest in a more slow-and-steady network-building like that.

And I think a lot of small local businesses aren't all that interested in dynamic ad placement anyway. Like, the local seasonal ice cream place just wants to run an ad the first two weeks of May when they open for the summer that primarily targets customers within a 50-mile radius. They don't really have the know-how or the interest in the dynamic targeting that fancier online ad agencies provide. A simple time-limited display ad in a local publication is what they want, and there's not really a great way to provide that for online consumption right now.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:01 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Humans are clearly incapable of valuing (in an economic sense) what they can't hold in their hands. This applies to pretty much everything online.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2016


Art might have moved on to, say, more varied topics, abstraction and other innovations much sooner

...OK, so, I'm certainly not going to make the argument that the need to please a particular audience has no constraining effect on artists, but...are you genuinely of the opinion that the Italian Renaissance was not innovative?

(Also, c'mon, "screw those guys, they were so busy painting scenes from the culture's sacred and revered texts that they didn't get to abstraction, don't they know painting is at its heart a race to release first?")
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


What you describe, Eyebrows, is pretty close to the model Patch tried to use.
posted by Miko at 10:18 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just as television dealt with people skipping commercials, mostly by sticking products into the shows directly, journalism sites will probably end up doing even more paid stories/reviews/endorsements and mentioning products directly in the articles. Buzzfeed and Cracked seem to operate on this model with lots of fluff supporting some really deep and meaningful journalism.

I don't think that product placement alone has solved televisions supposed "money woes", but the secondary markets of netflix, hulu and amazon seemed to. At least, I haven't heard this same complaint about tv's lack of profitability since about a year after the writer's strike.
posted by soelo at 10:18 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


So the problem is that I have about 20 or 30 sites that I hit semi-frequently, none of which rise to the level where I could actually justify a subscription.

This is why I'm still for micropayments - I haaaaate subscriptions - but it seems like I'm the only one.
posted by atoxyl at 10:20 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Somebody may have already said this but - the thing is there's a lot of interesting stuff to read online, and even a decent amount of "quality journalism." It's spread out between many sources, but aggregators like, you know, right here pull it into one high-quality feed. The sources may all actually be dying but until a critical number of them do the overall situation is going to seem just fine. Which goes back to why I don't think subscribing to certain sites works except for the likes of the NYT and specialist publications. It's going to have to be either a package subscription or a micropayment cartel sort of thing (because I think that model only works if you have very low friction and consistent pricing).
posted by atoxyl at 10:28 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


What you describe, Eyebrows, is pretty close to the model Patch tried to use.

Which is why there isn't much interest. The business model is more suited to a lifestyle business, not a web startup. And the phrase "lifestyle startup" is almost a pejorative among silicon valley types.
posted by zabuni at 10:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Your business model is not my problem.

(general "your")


way back when, when everybody was having it out about Napster and its ilk, I had one of those epiphanies that make a man famous (at least, that's how it felt at the time -- be careful with your epiphanies). It went something like:

"This is it. This is what a sea change feels like. The locus of power has shifted, the gates and fences seem to have disappeared altogether. Technology has forced a new world on us but it's come so fast, we're stunned, we can't really see it for what it is. What it is, is we are now the ones in control. We being music lovers-appreciators-fans-whatver. After many decades of corrupt music labels, ugly radio stations, annoying retailers, smug artists imposing their will on us -- we're suddenly the ones in position to make the calls. But most of us don't get it yet. And even if we do, we don't get that with this new found power comes big responsibility. And I would argue that our responsibility here is to figure out a new way to remunerate those artists etc whom we love for the stuff they make, not because it's NICE, but so that they can keep on making it, not worry about their children starving etc. We need a whole new paradigm. I don't know what it is, but I know it must come from us -- we appreciators, lovers, fans of superlative noise -- and seriously, how brilliant is that! So let's stop the fuck trying to reconstruct humpty dumpty and get serious about imagining and constructing a whole new and magnitudes better egg." (or words to that effect)

That was well over a decade ago. And no I'm not now in despair. Just one more person on board what amounts to be a very big ship which is endeavoring to change direction in very tricky waters, what with the edge of the world so very close, and constant storms. And no, I'm not just a passenger on this ship (even if that's how things were when I started on this voyage), now I'm very much a crew member, and for that matter, one of its financiers. And the name of this ship. The DON'T PANIC. Because we all need to be reminded. Constantly.
posted by philip-random at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


The simple truth is that most people do not assign value to words online.

[snipped 1000 words]

Not as much value as writers do, at least.

flattr is an interesting model that doesn't seem to have gained a lot of traction. Probably because the ease/trust of moving money online is itself problematic.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2016


save yourself the effort and just don't go to the site

I frequently don't have a choice, thanks to the weight that advertising brings to websites. My iPad 1.0, an astonishingly powerful piece of technology, simply cannot load mainstream news websites any more. Safari Mobile crashes to desktop every single time now on sites like LA Times, ABC, CBS, Forbes, USA Today...it's a long list. This is even after a complete wipe and reinstall and update of the OS, with no other apps added.

I get what I can from RSS feeds and sigh wistfully, looking at all of the links it's useless to tap, all due to the mental models we're addressing here.
posted by sidereal at 11:05 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


sidereal, FWIW the first gen actually manages mefi better than the third gen running iOS 9. Not sure why.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:10 AM on April 8, 2016


Humans are clearly incapable of valuing (in an economic sense) what they can't hold in their hands. This applies to pretty much everything online.plus philip-random's comment.

We are willing to pay for you. Look at metafilter itself as an example of insert cliches but apt community outpouring of donations and subscriptions when a hint of troubles came to light...

There's some of us on mlkshk willing to pay up just so we can hang out with each other

this is where your titanic is shifting towards, philip-random, I can't see where its at yet but this is the distant seagull, perhaps...
posted by infini at 11:12 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


infini: The problem is that MetaFilter and mlkshk are both content aggregators? So if the places that supply the quality content that is being shared dry up, what is left for those aggregators to serve up?
posted by hippybear at 11:16 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


The thing that's hard about this is building the relationships with local businesses and advertisers to convince them to spend money.

THIS is what I've noticed tends to work a lot for the small newspaper I work for. Local businesses know us, know the sales people and believe in or like them that they'll run ads with us. People will come by and say they saw their in our paper and that's pretty much a success, and they'll keep running ads. Pinpointing exact moments and returns reveals that advertising, in most cases, can not be pinpointed 1 to 1 in terms of an ad and a customer spending money at a business. It's dark art of social interactions.

Hell, Metafilter is able to pay a few people a living wage based on the years of the service/knowing the mods and believing in the site and its moderation techniques. But Matt spent like six years at the very beginning working another job before being able to quit that and work full-time on Mefi.

Small businesses can work in the new world, it's the large ones that have to pull a lot crap to keep the lights on, let alone paying people.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:20 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


pretty close to the model Patch tried to use.

Hey hey hey! Something I'm qualified to talk about!

The local-first model that they (we) used at Patch worked really well in some areas and poorly in other areas. To be honest, the centralization involved in being run by AOL is what ultimately doomed that model more than anything else. Plus at the time nobody thought the writers would be willing to do the work of salespeople so we split up the duties and hired an enormous, costly, team of outside sales people and didn't develop any interesting products to sell besides {puke} display ads. Now, as local papers fold more and more and national papers cover less and less local news, individual site founders (like this guy in Montana) are bootstrapping themselves back into the space, selling just a few relevant local advertisers on their adspace and finding other ways to cover shit that Nextdoor and Facebook will never be able to replicate. What we need is like a Wikimedia for local news that can be copied or franchised for free but still be entirely local and unique to the needs of that community.

Local journalism is still, in my opinion, the most important and most endangered kind--even if Patch was doomed I still believe it did a lot of good in a lot of small towns.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:28 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I can't block ads in my print magazines.Nor on TV. Nor on home delivered newspaper. Nor on radio. I can, though, on net material so I do. If I could on other media I would too. Prediction: increasingly sites not you use ad blocker and they ask you to white list them. When this does not happen often enough on many sites, they will paywall their material.
posted by Postroad at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is a textbook example of a collective action problem, right?

It's in our collective interest for the Guardian (say) to exist. But if I pay for a subscription to the Guardian, the benefit is spread out over the entire audience of Guardian readers, while I individually bear the entire cost of the subscription.

What happens, of course, is that almost everyone will free-ride. And then in the end there's nothing to free-ride on.

Hobbes observes that in the state of nature, life is poor as well as nasty, brutish, and short. Joseph Heath explains:
Given a choice between growing your own vegetables and stealing someone else's, it is much easier to steal someone else's. As a result, unless there are rules to prevent stealing, no one will plant any vegetables. Thus the problem with the state of nature is not that there will be a lot of stealing. In fact, there will be no stealing, because there will be nothing to steal. People won't bother to grow anything, because they have no guarantee that they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The natural condition of humanity is one of extreme economic inefficiency. People will refuse to apply themselves for fear of being suckered.
(Don't get sidetracked by the word "stealing", you could substitute "taking" instead. Heath's point is that introducing private property rights increases efficiency, completely separate from any moral connotations.)

So what are some possible business models?
Subscription, using a metered paywall: the New York Times. (In our household, we have subscriptions to the following: Globe and Mail, New York Review of Books, Economist, Atlantic Monthly, the War Nerd, MetaFilter, Internet Archive. Plus Netflix and Britannica.)

Tax-funded support: the BBC in the UK, the CBC in Canada, etc.

A rich patron: Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, or the Unification Church and the Washington Times.
posted by russilwvong at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


The local-first model that they (we) used at Patch worked really well in some areas and poorly in other areas.

Are you able to elaborate?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:44 AM on April 8, 2016


It's in our collective interest for the Guardian (say) to exist. But if I pay for a subscription to the Guardian, the benefit is spread out over the entire audience of Guardian readers, while I individually bear the entire cost of the subscription.

What happens, of course, is that almost everyone will free-ride. And then in the end there's nothing to free-ride on.


This is a problem with all sorts of online content! Netflix, HBO GO, you name it. Tons of free riders leeching off others. I'm not sure what the answer is. The obvious route is to crack down hard on account-sharers and such but then people start freaking out like you just drowned a bag of kittens.

But I do know just saying "lol ads are malware lol" does nothing to address the problem. We have to come up with a realistic way of compensating content providers and creators which fairly shares the burden of paying for that content.
posted by Justinian at 12:13 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker, noted. Despite MetaFilter's unique approach to semantic markup, I've never had a single problem rendering it on anything or with anything, including Lynx. Heck, it probably even works over gopher!
posted by sidereal at 12:15 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The obvious route is to crack down hard on account-sharers and such--

Whoa, I didn't even realize that was possible! Can't Netflix tell when multiple households are using the same account?

For individual authors, micropayments actually seem like a reasonable solution. I'm paying $10/month to the War Nerd through Patreon (after reading Escape from East Timor); I bought Ryan Avent's The Gated City (on soaring real estate prices as a housing shortage) as a Kindle Single for $2. But I don't see how micropayments would sustain a sizable enterprise like the Guardian.
posted by russilwvong at 12:41 PM on April 8, 2016


What we need is like a Wikimedia for local news that can be copied or franchised for free

...er, for a price that meets the cost of production, maybe? Programming and sysadminning aren't free either.
posted by clew at 12:42 PM on April 8, 2016


Every time there's a discussion about what people do or do not pay for things online, we do a lot of talking about how people just won't pay for things, but do try to remember that the actual situation on the ground is not won't so much as can't. Income inequality is at legendary levels, everything is getting more expensive, and almost nobody is making more money than they used to. Simple survival is something that's straining the budgets of more and more people, and that means that "important" things like journalism are struggling to compete not with people's laziness and selfishness and greed but rather capital-I Important things like eating food and living indoors. (Note that when I say "important" I don't mean to suggest that journalism isn't important in a social sense because it is definitely vital to a functioning open society, but rather to draw a comparison against actual survival-level needs.)

Newspapers would be struggling even if the internet had never shown up, because who on Earth can still afford a newspaper subscription? The number is getting smaller and smaller. If you want people to pay you for your thing, you have to first make sure that that's even in the realm of possibility for them. I want to pay for more stuff! I want to support more artists and journalists! But like somebody said upthread, if I paid even a penny for every thing I read online, I wouldn't be able to afford to eat. Is the solution really that I (and all non-wealthy people) should be less informed and less cultured? That doesn't seem right to me. The information and the journalism and the art simply has to be available with no bar to entry, because the people at the bottom of society need it too (in some cases, far more than the people at the top do). Every one of these conversations needs to start from that truth and build from there.

What's the solution? I have no idea. Universal guaranteed income definitely seems like a step in the right direction, but it has its problems as well. But whatever decision we come to, "you're poor so you don't get to know things, too bad so sad" cannot be a part of it.
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:48 PM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


IAmUnaware: this is the attraction of the tax-funded model (like the BBC), it treats news as a public good available to everyone regardless of income. The downside is the potential for state interference.
posted by russilwvong at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


What we need is like a Wikimedia for local news that can be copied or franchised for free
Yeah, I really wish people would stop thinking of getting something for nothing. Doing that instantly devalues someone else's time and effort. SHIT COSTS MONEY TO MAKE.

Newspapers would be struggling even if the internet had never shown up, because who on Earth can still afford a newspaper subscription?

Newspapers didn't make money with subscriptions. They did it by selling advertising, particularly classifieds. That paid for A LOT. Craigslist has dragged that particularly lovely goose out into the middle of the street and run over repeatedly. That's put pressure points on everything else, as two newspaper towns were mostly killed off except for very large markets and people have a lot more options for entertainment and information (The Vince Neil and Nic Cage fight is all over my Facebook feed at the moment, now tell me you're not gonna go peek at that, while ignoring the Panama Papers leak (or worse, it derails this thread)).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post

*forehead smack*

THAT'S why WaPo has gone clickbait. Jesus, I'm an idiot. I totally forgot about that.

First I thought it was my imagination, like when AB InBev bought up every beer I liked and turned it into swill, I thought I had a brain tumor that made everything taste bad.

Then I became suspicious so I thought to do some armchair sleuthing/investigation, to see if 9 months ago WaPo booted a few 30 year veteran editors and hired some really powerful pinkhair from Boing Boing to drive clickthroughs. But no, this explains the "You won't believe what happens" and "Nonintuitive claim: here's why" and "Alarming video that was banned" and "n ways that thing is improbably other thing" clickbait cards that are now cluttering up the front page.

DURR. Occam's Razor meets Sturgeon's Law. I should know better.
posted by sidereal at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


All those who are saying that micropayments will never be a viable replacement for advertisements because users will not be willing to pay so much for content are vastly overestimating how much add impressions are currently valued. I paid $4 last month to google contributor to replace 1200 advertisements*, which just as a guess seemed to be about 80% of all the ads I could have seen. We aren't talking $150 / month here, but maybe $30, tops, to replace every single ad.

* Including 24 cents to Metafilter (I read it logged out on my phone), which is one of my top visited sites
posted by Pyry at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


From 2008: How debt did in America’s newspapers

tl;dr, Newspapers were burdened by the debt that was incurred to buy them right before the economy tanked.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


we do a lot of talking about how people just won't pay for things, but do try to remember that the actual situation on the ground is not won't so much as can't.

this a million times over. One of the most ponderous and annoying implications of the "old ways were better" position is how it so blindly accepts a previous norm wherein poor people were denied vast avenues of culture to which they now have access. You could say it all started with samplers. Suddenly, some guys from the wrong side of uptown had beats as big as Led Zeppelin. This was not a bad thing.
posted by philip-random at 1:14 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


>> Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post

> *forehead smack*


Thanks for saving me some time. I had just been wondering if I was getting the Wa. Post and the Wa. Times confused, because more and more of the WaPo stories I've been getting linked to seemed to be biased shit-stirring click-bait. I was going to re-read some Watergate history just to see how I'd gotten confused and now it's all clear for me too.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Heath's point is that introducing private property rights increases efficiency, completely separate from any moral connotations.

An unfair conclusion from that line of reasoning, at least: the issue is not whether private property rights exist but whether certain and enforceable property rights do. In other words, there are choices in between anarchy and unfettered capitalism. (E.g., in this case, the BBC.)
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


"By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kick yourself in the crotch. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I'm doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kick yourself in the crotch, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers."
- Bill Hicks (mostly)

That media paradigm is taking a long time to fall over, innit? Ads. Prop-a-gandaaaaa.
The Consuminatoooorrr.

Sprechen die clickbait? Celui-ci truc bizarre? Boy they ain't goin' quiet, nosiree. Like "Holy crap I gotta go get a real job! Maybe I could be a travel writer" amirite? "Squeeze it all up in the content! More cloud! It - put it up on the clouds! Nooooooo! Peeeple neeeeeed uuuuussss!!!"

Hoo doggies! Still though. This too shall pass, they say.
posted by petebest at 1:27 PM on April 8, 2016


Are you able to elaborate?

Only in vague terms. :)

The idea behind Patch was to capture some of the $1b local ad spending that was going to dying newspapers and expensive TV stations. So a local site covering local news targeting local businesses looking to connect with local people. In some places, notably in the Northeast US, but also other spots around the country that are very community-focused, people embraced the local editors as members of the community and businesses bought ads based more on branding than on ROI--sure, nobody is clicking on your ad for the Pizza Place on the article about the fight over the windmill farm, but it does feel like great branding to be in front of all those extremely targeted eyeballs, like having your name on the back of the little league team jersey.

However, display ads for these folks were extraordinarily expensive to serve and administer at scale. And no better, more effective, or cheaper ad products were never created. Plus in some areas the model that was created in a very programmatic way didn't work-- in Northern CA for instance there isn't the same "one town one community" culture, PLUS businesses are so spread out that there weren't enough local businesses per sq mile to support an entire site dedicated to a single town rather than, say, a small group of towns or a county. It was a pattern in search of data, not vice versa.

The company still exists but eschews local ad dollars and local news for click bait and viral stories. In its place, there are, here and there, tiny 1-2 employee bespoke sites covering local news popping up but with exactly the coverage and design suited to that community, converting advertisers one walk-in at a time from print ads. But like I said, what I think the industry needs is an open source non-profit software that allows them to provide value to local businesses--and NOT just through display ads for goodness sakes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:29 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


vastly overestimating how much add impressions are currently valued

That's why, for outlets with both print and online presence, the print media is subsidizing the online media. IT is much, much more expensive to place ads in the New York Times or Washington Post or Vanity Fair than on their online sites, or any online sites. The value of print ads remains high. That's why it's going to become a bigger problem when the print collapse goes further.
posted by Miko at 1:38 PM on April 8, 2016


The value of print ads remains high

Primarily because nobody can tell you for sure how few people actually see or care about a print ad. ;)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:43 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


But they can tell you with great exactitude the education, professional status,property valuation, and income levels of the people it's in front of.
posted by Miko at 1:46 PM on April 8, 2016


If not for print ads, we would have little record of what the past generations of decades of actual stuff that people had in their lives was actually like. Vintage Sears catalogs are a line into the past. As are 100 year old NYTs stored in library vaults. Or every issue of Popular Science being online.

I mean, the relationship our culture has with advertising is complicated.

But the point of this FPP isn't about advertising being bad. It's about trying to fund the things people find valuable that has historically been funded by advertising in an age where advertising dollars aren't able to provide the same funding as previously.
posted by hippybear at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


The paradigm has gotten on the mars' shuttle.

In the previous century, I was responsible for HP advertising for a country and the back cover of the biggest IT magazine was easily 5 to 10 times the cost of any other page inside, and booked for annual contracts - first for the monthly, and later, the publisher decided why not twice a month, we can pull in more ad money. The inside front cover and the inside back cover are the next in rank, again significantly more expensive than anything inside. That magazine (who was my former client when I worked for their ad agency) made *so* much money its not funny. Print isn't as dead yet in the developing world the way its been dying in the OECD world. Primarily due to affordability and ubiquity of the internet naturally. Plus, now, its all mobile first and mobile only. The audience in India or Kenya or Nigeria for HP has leapfrogged desktop browsing straight to smartphones and apps. Yet interestingly, the two subcontinents are evolving entirely different marcom models. Social media and its influencers are far more important in sub Sahara than in India - brands work with guys whose tweets are valued starting around $25 each and going upwards from there. It plays into the word of mouth/trusted referral IRL behaviour. India though still has a huge huge chunk in traditional advertising afaik.

And for the old first world brands, their audience has changed and become more global - something that's not really of interest to their advertisers. We all read everything - NYT, BBC (though the Beeb has advertising on the International website), and the Economist manages to chug along somehow. The FT has a paywall after X free articles - this seems as though the "luxury" segment in MSM has still managed to claw out some ostensibly working models. Its the next rung, starting with the Guardian (too global for its local advertisors?), the Independent and what not that are feeling the pain. Monopoly papers like Singapore's Straits Times have bundled their online with their offline subscriptions - the app, the site, the paper, the tab et al are all paid for. The Indian papers, and the many African ones I see all seem to be freely available for the most part, relying on their substantial print audience to keep the sites going.

So, which segments of news media are the ones who are hurting the most? And why? That is, what are the forces acting on these - a shift in media consumption habits is what I heard from a friend who has a job in the digital section of Helsinki's main paper. Smaller chunks on smartphones rather than long reads in the paper. Digital devices, social media --> the irony of us being the product for a Google (major killer of the old print ad model, along with FB, really these two are the ones) or a social network site is that its the exact reverse of the print media model of them being the product pushed at us. What is interesting is that Google contributor has never crossed my radar - is it only for the first world, which is considered rich enough to pay for it, though print is dying in the developed rather than developing world?

There is no such thing as free information but it depends on what you're selling. The locus of information sourcing and distribution has changed, and that's now your network, and the network is the product, not the content.

So unless the Grauniads have managed to collate a community that is willing to keep them alive, this underlying shift in what is the product, or rather who, means that this pain isn't going to dissapear. As someone said above, the micropayments they make or their subscription, is subsidizing all the other eyeballs ... which is different from paying to reach the eyeballs. The eyeballs aren't pwned by print or news media anymore. The eyeballs like to hang out with each other and chat.

I'm rambling now.

not in advertising any more, and haven't been since 1998.
posted by infini at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]




...OK, so, I'm certainly not going to make the argument that the need to please a particular audience has no constraining effect on artists, but...are you genuinely of the opinion that the Italian Renaissance was not innovative?

Nope, not my argument. My argument was that when rich dudes fund your art, you end up painting/sculpting/writing poems about a lot of rich dudes/things rich dudes want art about. That is the most limiting thing about a patronage system. Even when you are a genius artist in 15th-century Italy and your painting is a masterpiece.

I do not feel that this is a controversial position to take, nor even a criticism of Renaissance artists. Artists make the best of whatever situation they find themselves in. Doesn't mean we couldn't want more hospitable situations for them and the rest of us, that don't involve bowing and scraping and deciding on projects based on what appeals to rich dudes.

In conclusion, the old models don't work, maybe none of the pure capitalist models can work anymore, and wouldn't it be nice to have a GBI so struggling artists could eat while they try new stuff? Or report stories? Or invent things? I'm thinking yes it would. We might have to get there to preserve any of those things, but I don't know if we can.
posted by emjaybee at 3:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Zappa:No. I actually like Wagner. I think Wagner was interesting. It's too long, but it's interesting. I have very few Wagner albums, but the things that I've heard, if you look at the time at which it was written, and what he's doing with the material, it's challenging.

That's the thing that depresses me about most of the music of that period. It's just not challenging, because it was written to spec. There was a king or a duke or a church or somebody who said, "Hey. You need to write something. We have a festival coming up, and it must be something I will like." So everything was written to suit the taste buds of some joker with a towel on his head.

posted by petebest at 4:16 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If not for print ads, we would have little record of what the past generations of decades of actual stuff that people had in their lives was actually like. Vintage Sears catalogs are a line into the past. As are 100 year old NYTs stored in library vaults. Or every issue of Popular Science being online.

In the late 90s we all punched monkeys for prizes. There you go, historians. Thank me later.
posted by Talez at 4:16 PM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well, by definition...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If not for print ads, we would have little record of what the past generations of decades of actual stuff that people had in their lives was actually like. Vintage Sears catalogs are a line into the past. As are 100 year old NYTs stored in library vaults. Or every issue of Popular Science being online.
A good point, hippybear - and one that, despite spending a fair amount of my spare time digging around Trove & other archive sites searching for & transcribing (mostly) ads as an adjunct to my collecting hobbies, and despairing in general at the ephemeral or plastic nature of most Internet content, I hadn't really considered.

But I'm also one of those who consider advertising to be little more than a malignancy that exists only by co-opting and abusing the very social and behavioural factors that make us human - the desire to communicate, to improve ourselves, to make things better for us, to have just a bit more, and maybe to just be a little better than others in some way. And so I try very hard to remove as much advertising from my life by using adblockers, ad-skipping, and whatever means possible.

In conclusion, Pinback is a man of contrasts…
posted by Pinback at 5:57 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I guess I am in an unusual situation. Somehow during my K-12 education I managed to pick up an education about advertising that talked about its influence and its tricks and all the stuff that one might need to arm oneself against it. I don't know where I learned this stuff, or whether any of my peers in the same educational system came away with any of this, but except for their perhaps their subliminal effect, I sort of have a zen "observe it and discard it" mental thing that goes on with about 75% of advertising.

And then I saw Century Of The Self, which jolted and squicked me to such a low chakra level that I suddenly started not ignoring all advertising around me, but decoding it in new ways that made me despair for the culture at large, and hoping others were not blind to what I was seeing.

That stuff I saw in COTS is exactly what you describe about co-opting (New Yorker styled coöpting) the human factors. And then of course you add on the work of Charlie Brooker and others, and you start to peel back the onion...

But my idea is knowledge is weaponry and armor, and it appears to me that it is mostly those who are least aware of the ocean of advertising in which they swim who are most susceptible to its influences.

Perhaps we need to have Advertising Literacy be a part of K-4 curriculum.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


A bit off-topic, but,

Mooski: I promise to keep my grubby little claws out of the editorial department.

How do you even do that, though? I mean, if the paper you own starts turning into a flaming dumpster, can you tell them to do better? Is firing the editor and getting a new one meddling with the editorial department (actual or by implied threat of doing it again)? Do you have to stay embarrassed by the shitpile with your hands in your pockets? Is your only choice to sell the whole thing and start over, hoping you get luckier next time?

I like the idea of not messing with editorial, but I can't see how it works in practice. If I own a thing, I probably have some kind of vision for what it IS that I want to own, and it's my money after all.
posted by ctmf at 7:02 PM on April 8, 2016


Somehow during my K-12 education I managed to pick up an education about advertising that talked about its influence and its tricks and all the stuff that one might need to arm oneself against it.

I did too. One of my middle school special elective classes was "Critical TV Viewing." My dad laughed at me for taking it, but I learned all sorts of social and psychological theories of persuasion, propaganda techniques, how to analyze for implicit messages, and critical thinking strategies I still use. I wish every kid had been able to take it.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


"It's time to start preparing to have no professional journalism and to ask the question: how can we, as citizens, help to forge the tools that will allow amateurs to question power and find the truth to help protect us all from corporations and corrupt government?"

The Newsflesh books actually cover how that goes pretty well (plus zombie apocalypse).
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:16 PM on April 8, 2016


I found How debt did in America's newspapers extremely illuminating.

The debt was dumb. Without the debt, the problem would remain the same. If your debt load requires sharply increasing revenues to service, and in the absence of that debt you could have gotten by for a long time with flat or slightly decreasing revenue that's one kind of problem. When your revenue simply falls straight off a fucking cliff that's another kind of problem. This chart is the whole story. Even if Sam Zell et al had kept their grubby hands to themselves, newspapers would still be in deep, deep trouble.
posted by Diablevert at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


russilvwong: This is a textbook example of a collective action problem, right?

It's in our collective interest for the Guardian (say) to exist. But if I pay for a subscription to the Guardian, the benefit is spread out over the entire audience of Guardian readers, while I individually bear the entire cost of the subscription.

What happens, of course, is that almost everyone will free-ride. And then in the end there's nothing to free-ride on.


I don't want to be a broken record, but this is exactly the model that American public radio relies on, and somehow it works. During pledge week, this point is even sometimes emphasized: "We're asking that if you can afford to give a little bit more, you do so that everyone in the community can benefit from this resource," or words to that effect. It's understood that an awful lot of public radio listeners "free-ride," either because they simply can't afford to donate or they selfishly (or thoughtlessly) choose not to. And yet enough people value not only the service that public radio provides but also the opportunity to support that service for others that public radio keeps going, despite the naive predictions of so-called "rational actor theory." So clearly, this kind of "distributed patronage" model can work. And on the web, not every person necessarily needs to be a patron of every content creator they visit, as long as each creator has at least enough of a base of supporters to fund their work: maybe I help fund the New York Times, but sometimes I also read the Guardian without paying, but since some Guardian patrons also sometimes read the New York Times, it works out.

But is this really a viable funding model for journalism and other information sources on the web? I don't know. Certainly Wikimedia seems to be managing under this model so far, though it isn't without challenges. The popularity of Patreon seems to work for a lot of smaller content-creators. But at least there is some evidence that there is an alternative model to the given options of ad support, paid access, tax funding, or vanity patronage.
posted by biogeo at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2016



But they can tell you with great exactitude the education, professional status,property valuation, and income levels of the people it's in front of.


Ha if you think print ad markets do this with "exactitude" then you need to play around with Facebook ads.

A print publication may be able to give you a demographic profile of its readers in general but Facebook lets you specify things like "show this ad to unmarried men age 23 to 30 who make at least $30,000 per year and live within 10 miles of my business" then spend only $20 to get an extra $15,000 in mud tire sales directly attributable to that ad. True story.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:28 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Facebook knows you. Facebook knows allllllllllllll about you.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:29 AM on April 9, 2016


More specifically, from the advertiser interface it appears that Facebook has integrated those massive consumer databases (i.e., data from loyalty cards, warranty registrations, subscriptions, online/mail order purchases, voter registrations, political donations, surveys, etc.) with the personal information people put in their profiles plus whatever they glean about other online activities from their tracking cookies.

You can get frighteningly specific in your targeting, so much so that they had to institute a minimum people rule after advertisers discovered that you could keep adding filters until your ad was being served to a specific individual of your choosing (e.g., that guy who famously trolled/gaslighted his roommate) and that was a bit too creepy for them.

Seriously, if you've got $5 and a couple hours to spare, opening a Facebook advertiser account and experimenting with the filters will give you an eye-opening hands-on education on modern consumer profiling and targeted advertising. You'll likely be impressed and/or freaked out.

Back to the main topic of the thread, I think this sort of advertising -- hyper-targeted sponsored posts integrated into news or social feeds -- is the way forward for funding online content. While I find most general ads obnoxious, the ones targeted to me and my interests are often quite helpful in finding me things I'd actually want to buy but didn't know existed.

I still remember how pleasantly surprised I was the day Drudge Report changed their ad service and started showing ads targeted to individuals instead of to their typical reader demographic. I was never going to buy colloidal silver, gold coins, or contribute to a Republican politician's campaign but fuck yeah I wanted a thistle seed birdfeeder with a gazillion ports!
posted by Jacqueline at 5:38 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Although I've never in my life clicked an ad on purpose, I've also never employed an ad blocker, so I feel like I'm a fairly okay citizen in that regard.

But that thing where you're reading something on your phone and then something somehow triggers the App Store to load? That shit's gotta go. As in, kill-it-with-fire gotta go. As in, the minute somebody invents some way of blocking that shit, I'll be the first to buy it.

Provided, of course, they don't use an App Store redirect to tell me about it.
posted by panama joe at 6:01 AM on April 9, 2016


Jacqueline, I totally believe you. We've done targeted facebook ads and have made that same kind of 100:1 return.
posted by jeather at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I see that ability to target is true, and maybe it results in more return. I'm thinking more about how the likes of the NYT and Boston Globe use their distribution in really-high-end households as a link to support from luxury-good marketers (travel, watches, fashion). I am not sure that's an audience that even has time for Facebook, and that sort of thing is currently what's keeping the machine running.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I find most general ads obnoxious, the ones targeted to me and my interests are often quite helpful in finding me things I'd actually want to buy but didn't know existed.

That's often an argument I hear why I should want ads to be targeted and specific, and I always counter with a simple "doesn't mean I need the product. If I had needed it I would already have known about it, so you'd still be peddling useless bullshit to me. Sod off.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:38 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel the same. I've never clicked on a Facebook ad. Advertising is manipulative at heart, and there are plenty of ways to research the things I want and need without being baited by companies constantly.
posted by Miko at 8:40 AM on April 9, 2016


I can't actually find any ads on Facebook. I just tried turning off uBlock and reloading the page but I don't see a single ad anyone on FB.
posted by octothorpe at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2016


oh lol, ha ha ha

Facebook Struggles to Stop Decline in ‘Original’ Sharing

*deep sonorous voice*
and thy terms and conditions will come back to bite you one day
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Actually Jacqueline, there are strong arguments that "Targetable ad media have a peak advertising effect, where revenue peaks, then declines, while mass ad media do not".

In part, an untargeted ad signals value, so your viewer gets a positive impression, while a targeted ad signals manipulation, so your viewer potentially gets a negative impression. You might dislike all the Drudge Reports old advertisers, but you maybe left with an impression about those organizations' cash flow, seriousness, etc., while maybe your thistle seed birdfeeder signaled less.

There is even a case that "The best thing that you, as a user, can do to get better ad-supported content is to install a tracking protection tool."
posted by jeffburdges at 1:18 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


So many of the targets advertisements I see being delivered in various webpages are for things I have searched for and then purchased on whatever website that it seems like there is no "they bought this thing already" going on in whatever data collection, so I just roll my eyes when I see them.
posted by hippybear at 1:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ha! I totally agree, hippybear. While we were talking about the "Facebook knows alllll about you" boogeyman, I was telling some friends about how I was shopping for blue shoes for my wedding, then bought some. For months afterward Facebook ads were showing me blue shoes - apparently unaware that (a) I had bought them a long time ago and (b) there was a giant wedding event posted on my account that was receding into the past. It doesn't take a genius to associate "blue shoes = wedding." I was encouraged that the targeting is a lot blunter than we might fear -maybe good-ish but not that good.
posted by Miko at 1:44 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I show ads, they are invariably for a fat pill or a website I have visited and typically purchased from. This also appears in my Amazon recommendation emails, which are excellent at suggesting l purchase whatever item I just bought from Amazon last month. (But never consumables.)
posted by jeather at 1:53 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anti-Adblock Killer looks interesting.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:41 PM on April 10, 2016




That's a really interesting link, infini (and if it wasn't paywalled I'd say FPP worthy. Hypocrisy, thy name is me).

That seems to confirm something I've noticed anecdotally --- a lot of people seem to be disengaging with facebook. It's sort of a broad-scale replica of the "oh no my mom's on facebook" wave that happened a while back. By setting themselves up as the place where anybody/everybody who knows you can go to find out what's going on with you, you eventually sort of round down to a point where the only thing most people are willing to mention is the sort of Christmas-letter level stuff --- major life events and a spattering of vacation photos. Your lowest common denominator self.

Well, it's that plus the kinds of opinions you'd be happy to proclaim via a lawn sign. And that seems to be the part that's still going up, that more people are "sharing": The public self, the causes you'd like to advocate, the things you want to inform people of, the allegiances you want to declare. If the advocacy starts to drive out the personal to the point where it's hurting people's engagement with facebook, do they back away from the news/content sharing side?

Because the big picture of this thread is that content makers aren't making any money off internet ads. The only people making money off internet ads are Facebook and Google, because facebook knows who you are and google knows what you want. And that knowledge is basically irrelevant to the quality and amount of "content" you consumer via their services.

That would really screw the pooch, I think maybe, for content people. The Awl had a big think piece/trumpet of doom about this a while back --- for most content creators, getting their shit shared on facebook is they key to getting enough eyeballs on stuff to be able to sell ads in the first place. But it's a devil's bargain, because the more that people relied on getting their news from their facebook feed, they less they were cultivating independent, organic, loyal relationships with the sites themselves. Instead of walking out to the curb and picking up their copy of the paper to find out what's going on in the world, they open their phone and click on their feed. Will people migrate back, if facebook stops providing that? Or do they just stick to the swill facebook dumps in the trough every morning, except now it's whatever live video was popular instead of whatever NYTimes piece?
posted by Diablevert at 7:15 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


George Gilder warned against the dangers of intermingling content and conduit over 10 years ago.
posted by infini at 3:24 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Don't blame technology changes on the problems with capitalism, new orleans provides a perfect example of how layoffs are being blamed on the internet. In fact, it's just pure greed.

A stalwart, stodgy daily laid off hundreds of reporters and staff, because of "low profitability." A second, profitable daily newspaper was created with staff almost entirely from the first paper.
posted by eustatic at 5:26 AM on April 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Want More ‘Panama Papers’? Here’s How.
The world needs investigative journalism more than ever — but it doesn’t come for free.
posted by Kabanos at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


infini: "To me, a clear case of the message (and thus the delivery platform) being the medium. We had no trouble paying for newspapers. The webzez ruined us."

A big part of what enabled this was the concentration of resources via lack of choice. Even a big market in 1980 might have had a dozen or fewer newspapers; small markets even less. My town of 100K had two newspapers each of which alternatively seemed to be having money troubles (IE: the market would only really support maybe 1.75 newspapers).

Once newspapers didn't require a huge capital investment in a press and a startup barrier in the form of distribution the number of information sources exploded but basically the same amount of money was available to support the now thousands of sources. So advertising rates dropped through the floor for these new sources because their reach was diluted (IE: few would have 10-20K subscribers).

grumpybear69: "Humans are clearly incapable of valuing (in an economic sense) what they can't hold in their hands. This applies to pretty much everything online."

Counter example: certifications of all sorts. One of the most expensive things an average American will purchase is a secondary education.

Postroad: "I can't block ads in my print magazines.Nor on TV. Nor on home delivered newspaper. Nor on radio. I can, though, on net material so I do. If I could on other media I would too. Prediction: increasingly sites not you use ad blocker and they ask you to white list them. When this does not happen often enough on many sites, they will paywall their material."

I'm almost completely incapable of consuming radio and TV because I find the advertising so distracting/annoying. I watch plenty of TV but it's all Netfliks or other non advertising source. I probably listen to 5-6 hours of music a day and it's all ad free. I do listen to the occasional podcast with advertising but only those of the low intrusiveness, 30 second audible spot at the beginning. And sad to say the only thing I read of our minimalist local newspaper (really a flyer delivery device) is the front and editorial pages where advertising is well delimited and easily ignored as on the other pages ads are mixed in with the content and I find it not worth the effort.
posted by Mitheral at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe ad blockers will become integrated into people's browsers and on by default.

Brave is browser implemented in NodeJS with Electron (Chrome). It blocks ads by replacing them with nicer ones. And attempts to pay the publishes a bit if possible.

I'm nervous about Brave because their ad replacement scheme keeps too much about a user's browsing habits in a manor that's vulnerable to attacks by a quantum computer. And maybe classically via side channels, etc. I'm also dubious their "nice guy" approach will work once the lawyers come demanding more either.

There are no shortage of NodeJS developers able to open up Brave, keep the ad blcoker while stripping out their replacement scheme, and mixing in any good ideas from uBlock, Privacy Badger, etc. though.

There are two more Mozilla projects exploring doing the browser interface itself this way : Tofino built with NodeJS on Electron, like Brave. Browser.html on Servo or Gecko. And Servo promises to be vastly more secure than either Gecko or WebKit (Chrome, Safari, etc.).

What does this mean? You're browser will become a kind of local web app, so it'll become much easier to modify, fork, etc. All these forks will block advertisements like Brave, except without Brave's nice guy scheme. I suspect Apple and Mozilla will eventually follow these forks' lead by actively facilitating ad blocking frameworks and distributing their browser with a default ad blocker.

It's harder for Google to block ads because that's potentially anti-competitive, but they've this Alphabet holding company for spinning off anything that gets too hot, like Chrome with ad blocking by default. A browsers' performance and user experience is simply so much better with ad blocking enabled that Google may have no choice if they want Chrome to be competitive.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:30 AM on April 16, 2016


More big-name sites hit by rash of malicious ads that attack end users

Advertising malware rates have tripled in the last year, according to report

I'm wondering if these advertising networks or even the content providers could be held liable under CFFA for the malware they distribute.

Apple added "content-blocking extensions to Safari" in iOS 9 explicit to support ad blocking :
Ad blocking may save digital marketing from itself
Ad blockers top Apple charts as iOS 9 debuts

And Mozilla's Glass House experiment suggests they'll continue pushing the privacy angle.

There is an earlier post on peak advertising with interesting links, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:01 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


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