Ad supported websites are dead or dying. Here's why.
September 10, 2019 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Ad revenue is sharply declining, causing cuts everywhere from Vice to Buzzfeed to mainstream news publications to the beloved Blue. Independent feminist websites, mainstream sites, and other websites across the spectrum are all going under, starved of money. But if they could make a profit off ads 10 years ago, why are they going under now? Why are sites closing in droves when everyone knows the big money is in advertising?

There’s money in advertising, all right, but not for publishers. The cost of digital ads went up by 12% in 2017 and have continued to rise, but the Facebook/Google duopoly, along with a variety of ad tech firms, are keeping that money for themselves. They're paying publications much less than what they net (and continually decreasing that payment).

Compounding the problem for websites, users are ever less likely to click on ads – you’re more likely to become a Navy Seal than click on a banner ad. And to make it even worse, ad networks practice creative accounting that would make Hollywood jealous, meaning they only pay out for a fraction of the ads a publication runs.

This means websites have to have far more advertisements on their sites to achieve a fraction of the revenue they would have gotten 10 years ago. And with more ads, they’re serving up more opportunities for malware to be installed via those ads. Meanwhile, users hate ads so much they’re installing ad blockers in droves, which leads to fewer clicks for the website, which leads to ever-lower revenue.

Companies are beginning to experiment with many new models as it becomes clearer that media organizations will collapse if they depend on ads alone for revenue.
posted by rednikki (115 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Let's have a web with no advertising, and no ad-supported sites" sounds like a hot take I can get behind.
posted by sourcequench at 8:25 AM on September 10 [30 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand the long-term business strategy of the ad firms. If by their pricing, they kill off the sites that hosts their ads, won't they lose revenue?
posted by octothorpe at 8:25 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


> "If by their pricing, they kill off the sites that hosts their ads, won't they lose revenue?"

I'm not sure Google and Facebook would mind terribly if Google- and Facebook-owned websites became the only websites in existence.
posted by kyrademon at 8:30 AM on September 10 [57 favorites]




I can't help but notice that I am wearing Warby Parker glasses and I just ordered a Cirkul trial to try out their water bottle because my podcasts keep trying to sell me stuff that I glance at and go "huh, I might actually like that." (Admittedly, sometimes this backfires; I wound up buying a pair of Allbirds flats after initially going to check out Rothy's after an Oh No Ross and Carrie ep.) I don't know, I just feel like that's an interesting contrast. I'm not immune to advertising, and if anything I feel like I'm more inclined than some to want to support companies that support stuff I like, precisely because I know making media costs money. I don't know how supposedly these things have gotten so smart and they're still this bad at figuring out what I might buy. The most applicable ads I ever get are the ones for stores where I just went to their websites... and have already purchased everything I'm going to buy from them for the next several months.

Just, please, if you want to run a service and can't figure out how to sell me stuff I might want, let me just give you money, I will totally do that. I would prefer that! But I'm a little confused how they're this bad at targeting me. Forget trying to support a site on ads; I'm shocked that anybody sees enough return on those ads to keep paying for them.
posted by Sequence at 8:30 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


Octothorpe: this is why agencies pitch "right person, right ad, right time." With real-time bidding and programmatic advertising, you don't buy an ad on a publication. You put it where your user is, whether they're on the New York Times or some 19th-rate blog that is only built to get advertising revenue. There's so many bloggers out there desperate for revenue that even if you put most of the "legitimate" websites out of business there will be plenty of places to put those ads.

Also, I honestly think most ad firms aren't thinking that far ahead. It's like fishermen who overfish a region, perhaps even to the point that the fish go extinct. They're thinking about the current money, not the future.
posted by rednikki at 8:30 AM on September 10 [16 favorites]


It’s legit fascinating that this is occurring at a time when (1) online retailing has become mainstream and may well become dominant and (2) tailored/targeted advertising has improved to the extent that, at least on a personal basis, I am more and more seeing ads that I am actually interested in and my click through rates have probably gone up.
posted by midmarch snowman at 8:32 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Whenever I see a "Please disable your ad-blocker", I just close the window, because -- whatever content you offer -- it's not worth any effort to view.
posted by mikelieman at 8:32 AM on September 10 [139 favorites]


Maybe if the ads were better designed so that a) they didn't pose a risk for malware and b) they didn't obscure the article you're trying to read and c) they didn't dramatically slow down the load time for sites, people wouldn't mind them so much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on September 10 [146 favorites]


Where I live now hardly any businesses, even restaurants, have websites let alone ads.

They can all use Fb and Insta for free, why would they pay to have a site and ads anywhere?
posted by sio42 at 8:33 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Podcast ads are A) much more effective than banner ads for appropriate product categories, and B) not under Google's or facebook's thumbs as of yet. There's much less of a race to the bottom there, as the inventory is much more limited and less prone to bot manipulation- there's a reason why a lot of direct response has moved to podcasting.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:33 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Sequence: yes, retargeting often targets people who have already purchased. But something like 1% of the people you retarget won't have made a purchase yet and they are WAY more likely to click than anyone else is. When you look at the analytics, retargeting generally shows better results.
posted by rednikki at 8:34 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


Just a note on why I posted this: I had a conversation with a MeFite in which he was shocked that Metafilter was looking for alternative revenue sources. "They made money off advertising ten years ago. What are they doing with the money that they can't make it work now?" When I explained the above, he was surprised, appalled and understood why alternative revenue sources are necessary. It struck me that if a really smart and savvy guy did not know this information, maybe many other people were also unaware.
posted by rednikki at 8:37 AM on September 10 [72 favorites]


I've always wondered how companies justify spending money on ads, when I've never purposefully clicked on an ad in my entire life; and when I have clicked on an ad -- due to accident or trickery -- it's led to annoyance and frustration, not the spending of money.
posted by panama joe at 8:47 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


The ad-supported free at point-of-use web is not sustainable. It doesn't scale well, and the existence of metrics is a problem because surprise, surprise, advertising isn't really worth what people charged for it, but advertisers had no way of knowing until the web.

It's why I find all the handwringing about "paywalls" so annoying. Did you consider plunking 50 cents down for a copy of the newspaper a "paywall"?
posted by Automocar at 8:49 AM on September 10 [13 favorites]


Did you consider plunking 50 cents down for a copy of the newspaper a "paywall"?

What year are you writing from, if newspapers are still only fifty cents?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on September 10 [41 favorites]


I was referring to the time just before the web exploded, about 20 years ago.
posted by Automocar at 8:58 AM on September 10 [7 favorites]


Just before the web exploded, most newspapers didn't have an online presence, and for those who did the online presence had less content, so people would have been more likely to accept the cost of paying for content if they wanted the news.

Today, the $2.50 cost of a single issue of the New York Times may be out of reach for many and that may be exactly what's driving them to seek out the online version.

Comparing the paper-vs.-web news from 20 years ago to now is comparing apples and oranges.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Online browsing is a different affordance than buying printed material, and "paywall" reflects the experience of the user in hitting a paid "wall." And whether or not intentional, also alludes to discussion of an "open" or "closed" web and "walled gardens."

It's also more conversational than saying "paid content" or "paid access." The problem isn't with the term itself, but that its usually said as a complaint or a disparagement, or in asking for help to get around the restriction. Though that can sometimes be defensible, depending on the particulars.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:04 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Nando.net started publishing its full newspaper online in 1994 and had regular updates throughout the day. I’ve had online news freely available in the 25 years since. I probably haven’t purchased a physical newspaper since I had my first data capable phone in 2001. For me, paywalls everywhere would be a deviation from the norm and would be incredibly inconvenient.

Sure, I pay for the Post, I pay for the New Yorker. I even pay for Apple News. I donate to the Guardian. But I read even more widely than that. I can’t afford to subscribe to everything. Ads are annoying but allow us to read from a much larger amount of content than we could otherwise.

Perhaps you would be thrilled to be siloed into your mythical 50 cent paper, but I’d rather not.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 9:09 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


They can all use Fb and Insta for free, why would they pay to have a site and ads anywhere?

Oh man if they want my business they better have their own website! Especially if they are a restaurant. If I try and learn more about your business and the only way I can do so is go to Facebook I’m gonna find another business that has a website or I’m gonna find a website that can replace your business.

Granted I’m in the burbs, so that’s a luxury I might not have where it’s more rural. But that’s also why I don’t live rural.
posted by Caduceus at 9:09 AM on September 10 [32 favorites]


i do feel like a lot of people still equate "web" with "free" even if it was 10-20 years ago that their local paper started putting stuff online.

there's a sense they're getting ripped off somehow. most people who pay to subscribe to magazines and newspapers understand that reporters need to be paid and that sites need operating costs.

i don't know why it's hard for people to make that connection.

also - Caduceus , i should have clarified, i live in a country outside the US. it's very well understood that you look in fb and ig for everything and use whatsapp to get your lab results and make dr appts. it's a wild time ;-)
posted by sio42 at 9:13 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


hey can all use Fb and Insta for free, why would they pay to have a site and ads anywhere?

2nding Caduceus in this. if I have to use Facebook to find information about your business, you're not getting my business.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:14 AM on September 10 [22 favorites]


Did you consider plunking 50 cents down for a copy of the newspaper a "paywall"?

For the most part, even in the day of the paid newspaper and no internet, about 50% of them were thrown directly in the trash unopened, so the cost was always going to be an issue. Which is why they wanted you to subscribe.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:15 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Whenever I see a "Please disable your ad-blocker", I just close the window, because -- whatever content you offer -- it's not worth any effort to view.

My little brother pointed out to me that in a lot of browsers (I know for sure Firefox and iOS Safari) have "reader views" that will give you just the article and hide the "please disable your ad block" nag screens. Apparently the new version of iOS that is coming out in the next week or two will let you request the reader view by default.

So, enjoy that while it lasts!
posted by JDHarper at 9:17 AM on September 10 [7 favorites]


For those Metafilter readers who don't spend any time in Metatalk, here is the recent thread about the state of Metafilter's finances. You can help fund Metafilter with a monthly donation here.
posted by gwint at 9:18 AM on September 10 [34 favorites]


I'll turn off my adblocker when all websites have ads like MetaFilter: unobtrusive and non-spying. I do not consent to being tracked all over the internet because I happened to look at a product for sale somewhere. I'll give you my pi-hole when you pry it from my cold, dead home network.
posted by SansPoint at 9:19 AM on September 10 [14 favorites]


Which is why they wanted you to subscribe.

And if you liked that, consider subscribing to me on patreon! It's really my patrons on patreon that allow me to do this, and if you subscribe at the ten-dollar level, I'll smash my face into a wall for the number of vowels in your name! Just go to patreon.com/pseudophile today! Thanks!
posted by pseudophile at 9:20 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


you’re more likely to become a Navy Seal than click on a banner ad

Are you sure clicking on that monkey in the banner ad wasn't part of the training?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:24 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


I understand ads, even support them in theory, as an informational source. EG: Here's a product we've made to solve a problem you have (even if you didn't know it). IE: The "Shut up and take my money" school of advertising. I've bought stuff that was advertised to me that way.

But once I've bought the product that advertising is wasted.

But the same ad served over and over and over again till it becomes a brain worm is maddening. Especially if the mind worm is for something totally unrelated to my life (Never can tell when I'll need death insurance in the US!). Combined with the down right unethical lying advertising and I've been browsing with a blocker since punch the monkey was a thing.

"Did you consider plunking 50 cents down for a copy of the newspaper a "paywall"?"

Even when newspapers cost $0.50 cents (and few people bought them that way, most circulation revenue was from subscriptions that discounted the individual rate). I would have given second thought to paying a nickel for a single article. And that is what we are really talking about. I might pay a few bucks to my local news organization for local stories. I'm not paying $5 to subscribe to the Idaho Farm and Lake Report because a Metafilter post linked to one of their articles. Some sites get this and give you one/a few page loads a month for free (though annoying when they ask you to disable your ad blocker; you do and reload the page; and then you've used up your free views).

Newspapers should get together and develop a subscription service like Spotify. $15 a month would get you access to global newspapers and revenue would be dispersed proportionally. But at least they'd get something rather than the negative revenue stream a paywall on The Backwoods Nowhere Reporter generates.

retargeting often targets people who have already purchased. But something like 1% of the people you retarget won't have made a purchase yet and they are WAY more likely to click than anyone else is. When you look at the analytics, retargeting generally shows better results.

That makes sense. The targeted ads that annoy me are the ones directly from the company where they know I bought the (long life, one time purchase) product. In fact the only thing they know about me is my purchasing history. Hey Loblaws, you don't have to send me a coupon to purchase toothpaste this week because I purchased toothpaste last week. Maybe delay that for a couple months eh?
posted by Mitheral at 9:27 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


Just before the web exploded, most newspapers didn't have an online presence, and for those who did the online presence had less content, so people would have been more likely to accept the cost of paying for content if they wanted the news.

Today, the $2.50 cost of a single issue of the New York Times may be out of reach for many and that may be exactly what's driving them to seek out the online version.

Comparing the paper-vs.-web news from 20 years ago to now is comparing apples and oranges.


Newspapers should have never put their articles online for free. It was a mistake, and many people that work in the newspaper business have said as much. Hindsight is 20/20, etc. etc.

My comment was specifically referring to the fact that the business model that made sense for printed newspapers doesn't make sense for the web, but we keep pretending that it does.

Bringing up the NY Times is a red herring. So many local newspapers have gone under or become shells of their former selves. They don't have the deep pockets or national reach of the Times, so they just... become lesser.

Advertising does not make for a vibrant and healthy online discourse. That seems blindlingly obvious at this point.
posted by Automocar at 9:30 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Sure, I pay for the Post, I pay for the New Yorker. I even pay for Apple News. I donate to the Guardian. But I read even more widely than that. I can’t afford to subscribe to everything. Ads are annoying but allow us to read from a much larger amount of content than we could otherwise.

Sure, it's great for you. But it's obviously not great for the people that write the stuff. And a large part of the reason why web ads continue to find new and innovative ways to annoy the shit out of us is because they don't work. Eventually the bill's gonna come due.
posted by Automocar at 9:34 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


The solution is micropayments. The solution has always been micropayments, actually—we just did micropayments via the online ad firms. Each click on an ad basically triggers a micropayment somewhere, in some billing system (well, if the firms aren't doing shady accounting, which apparently they are).

But the technical capability of doing micropayments is all there. There's really no reason why the ad networks—Facebook, Google, and increasingly Amazon; maybe most especially Amazon—couldn't help move small amounts of money from readers/consumers to publishers, rather than moving money from ad buyers to publishers as they currently do. Amazon already has my credit card details, after all, so they could batch it up into a monthly transaction to get around the CC companies' intransigence about handling payments less than about $5 without ridiculously crippling fees.

I think we're going to end up there almost regardless of anything at this point. Advertising just isn't worth enough to be used as the de facto currency of the entire Internet. It's just not worth enough. That's the real problem: the amount of value that needs to flow from one side of the transaction to the other—from readers to publishers—is more than the amount of money than online advertising is probably worth, once you really see its (in)effectiveness. So the ad-supported model will never really work: there's a limit to how far it can scale, and it's based on what the ads are actually worth to the buyers. At some point, there's simply not enough room to put enough ads on a page to pay for the content on that page, because the ads are increasingly understood to be worthless. So either we cheapen the content—this is what clickbait farms do—or we find a way of letting people pay for the content directly, without the weird and zero-value-add middlemen of advertisers in there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:49 AM on September 10 [34 favorites]


I turned off ad blocking the other night for a while and the only actual screen content I could see that wasn't unsolicited adverts was:
We see from our records that you recently bought a pair of trainers from us!
Would you like to buy a pair of trainers from us??
posted by Burn_IT at 9:52 AM on September 10 [7 favorites]


I usually run Pi-Hole on our internal network. It really cuts down on the random malware or whatever popups, plus it makes shit waaaay more readable, especially on the Ipad.

Spent a few days out of town and was using regular wifi to browse. Most of the ads were for weird "personal defense" stuff, or creepy affiliate clickbait articles. I assume because I was in suburban North Carolina, but it reminded me of the mid-afternoon television advertising scams.

To top it off, there were big ole top/bottom slide downs on top of a lot of sites that glomped over the content. Try to close them on an older ipad and mistouch and get taken to the target site.

If the ads were legitimately useful or interesting I think I'd be more okay with them. Sometimes I get yacht ads. I never bought a yacht, never researched a yacht, but it's at least an interesting thought exercise and reminder that I should never buy a yacht. But it's not a scummy prey on the scientifically ignorant (financially ignorant maybe, never buy a yacht) type of article.

The state of advertising has gotten so gross and pushy that yeah, of course people are going to try to avoid them.

The downside is, the quality content has no way to monetize. Free politicized or funded sleazeball propaganda will always win out against high quality paywalled content, just due to human nature and what we've all been prepped to expect.

TLDR: Yacht ads are fun, don't buy a yacht.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:12 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


People view native ads 53% more than banner ads. (Dedicated Media)
What exactly is a "native ad"?
posted by clawsoon at 10:13 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


>The solution is micropayments.

Just to agree. Yet one of the primary features of the net has long been the zero marginal cost model (whether via a walled garden, subscription service, or ad fees). Charging for that click is going to cause anger and behavioral changes. It will be interesting to see how this works.

Micropayments have long been touted as the solution to email spam -- again back to the zero marginal cost problem, if it cost a fraction of a penny for each email sent, then the economics of spam would be dramatically reconfigured. But we've known this for 25+ years and still haven't implemented anything at scale.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:17 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Businesses are maybe finally backing away from the promise and hype that online ads were sold to them with.

I freelanced briefly at a PR company for McDonalds. They were rolling out new menu items, and included was a press release interview with the CEO. Not even an ad, a short interview to sell the new items. One of the account people told me with a straight face that this interview they pushed out for marketing reasons was doing really well! It had scored SEVEN BILLION impressions so far!

I don't know the full story, but ad agencies have been overselling the potential of web advertising in a gigantic and maybe fraudulent manner. If anything, online ads have taught us all to install browser extensions and have trained us well at finding and clicking a small X on a monitor to minimize their content.

(and just for fun: the online ads that get pushed to me often involve improved, technical men's underwear)
posted by SoberHighland at 10:19 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


It doesn't seem coincidental that the only companies still making money (Alpha and FB) are the ones selling their data-driven miracle targeting capabilities, which are oh-so-conveniently a proprietary black box formula that y'all ad-buying companies/beholden adservers will just have to trust is worth the money.

Which isn't to say I think their data is junk - how would I know? - but no matter how good they might have become at knowing what we want to buy, they can still only serve ads for companies that paid them to serve us ads. Which companies are themselves more and more likely to be dominant in online sales ... and the best data will be what any given ultra-tracked customer bought most recently ... including where recently = yesterday. so yeah, want another pair of those trainers?

And we can rage or roll our eyes, but the algorithms, the proprietary tracking-data-brewed secret sauce that knows all these things about us, do not care unless Alphabet/FB tells them to. And at this point, I can't help wondering why they would care either. If the marks haven't caught on yet, why worry?
posted by Tess of the d'Urkelvilles at 10:23 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


> What exactly is a "native ad"?

An ad that, at first glance, appears to be part of the content.
posted by davelog at 10:23 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


"Let's have a web with no advertising, and no ad-supported sites" sounds like a hot take I can get behind.

Somewhere, there is a monkey's paw nearly spraining itself with the glee of what granting your wish would actually be like.
posted by Candleman at 10:27 AM on September 10 [24 favorites]


Another aspect of this - advertising isn't just about marketing and direct conversion, it's also a show of corporate strength, sort of a Veblen good without the quality and luxury. Back when I was in advertising, I remember hearing that two rival companies would place huge banner ad buys to prevent their competitor from filling the space with their logo.

Of course, that can't last forever -- if banner ads are completely garbage at conversions, then at some point the company that persists in marketing that way looks foolish to its shareholders, no matter what the networks say about their laser-focused tracking. So I'm guessing it's a highly leveraged situation -- at some point there will be (or is right now?) a tipping point where marketing departments just say it's not worth it.
posted by condour75 at 10:33 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I don't know if micropayments are the answer, but some kind of federated network of sites where you subscribe to one thing and get access to all of them for a flat fee might work.

Currently I throw money at The Guardian, IndyWeek, Mother Jones, The Washington Post, LWN.net, a Patreon for a Web comic I really like (hi, Questionable Content) and of course Metafilter.

I might have it in me to subscribe to a few more publications I'm devout about, but most of my online reading is of the form of following a link to a site I've never heard of before and may never visit again. I'd happily pay, say, $25 a month to support a network of local newspapers on the off chance I'll read one or two stories or maybe a series if something of national interest is happening locally.

Things seemed so promising for online publishing 20 years ago. It could have been amazing. If I could go back and talk to younger me, I'd say something like "everything you're pessimistic about is going to turn out fine, everything you're optimistic about is going to turn to shit. Also start exercising and eating better now, please."
posted by jzb at 10:38 AM on September 10 [16 favorites]


gwint: For those Metafilter readers who don't spend any time in Metatalk, here is the recent thread about the state of Metafilter's finances.

I'm glad to see that I was completely and utterly wrong in my pessimistic predictions about the impact on the mods of ending the politics megathreads.

It's interesting that Google and Facebook have made a whole lot of money by creating algorithms which lead to a world of ads which do nothing for the advertisers or the consumers. That's got to break sometime, surely? At some point, surely, advertisers with serious money will realize that Google and Facebook's algorithms are burying them in rivers of low-quality bullshit, and they'll want to be associated with more prestigious ways of presenting themselves to consumers? Surely?
posted by clawsoon at 10:39 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I daydream sometimes about what would happen if advertising was no longer tax-deductible as a cost of business.

Another case of condour75‘s Veblen not-goods: overpackaged pseudo-luxury goods designed as business-to-business presents. Four ways in which those are deadweight? Five?
posted by clew at 10:52 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


At some point, surely, advertisers with serious money will realize that Google and Facebook's algorithms are burying them in rivers of low-quality bullshit, and they'll want to be associated with more prestigious ways

Not when there are much, much deeper pockets paying to control the entire narrative (and receive detailed surveillance data as feedback) so people buy pointless bullshit (all from the same half-dozen sources) to keep the anxiety at bay for a moment. Google killed Reader for a reason; Facebook convinced the entire world to pivot to video that nobody wants for a reason; Google's YouTube recommendation algorithm and creator revenue strategy works the way it does on purpose; Facebook's Instagram chooses what you see on purpose; Twitter can't seem to completely break chronological feeds (or lists) but it will eventually, on purpose, probably right after being purchased by Google or Facebook or Amazon.

Advertising today is driving consumers, not appealing to them.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on September 10 [20 favorites]


I work in media (on the editorial side) and have been well aware of the ad crisis for ... forever, really. I don't think we can return to the print heyday with ads but what I do think the people in advertising can notice is how, for a few decades, ads in magazines worked because they spoke to a magazine's very specific audience and extended the dream of self that every magazine reader was engaging in as they read a specific publication. Instagram has been able to figure out how to do this with your feed.

Ads on Instagram work really well. Amanda Mull wrote a nice little piece on it earlier this year (soon to be paywalled! I'll have to think about whether or not I want to add an Atlantic sub to my Economist, New Yorker, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wired, and Outside subs). This stood out for me:
Instagram probably knows more about me than my parents do, and it certainly knows more about people like me, which makes me feel like it’s doing some kind of work on my behalf. Amazon might show me endless options when I search its massive inventory for boots, but Instagram knows I’m single and relatively young and live in Brooklyn and have disposable income and want something cool. Instagram also knows what cool is, according to Hund, because its army of influential power users have spent years teaching both their followers and the app itself.
What's amazing to me is how so many people are giving away data and so many publications are giving away content. And someone, somewhere is taking all those raw assets and just making a mint off them.
posted by sobell at 11:04 AM on September 10 [17 favorites]


My little brother pointed out to me that in a lot of browsers (I know for sure Firefox and iOS Safari) have "reader views" that will give you just the article and hide the "please disable your ad block" nag screens.

Websites are getting wise to that little trick. I've already begun running into sites that manage to block you in reader view, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:25 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


someone, somewhere is taking all those raw assets and just making a mint

I'm a coder but was offered a ticket to a marketing event last week. One speaker that ran a company training online marketers, seemed to be quite current and pretty smart (if annoying) said that all writing (blogs, copy, etc) needs to be written for a single customer: Google.

(he also touted email marketing as the most effective tool, so maybe an idiot or just evil)

But unequivocally google and just google, not facebook or other niche, all others don't even move the needle.
posted by sammyo at 11:30 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


> What exactly is a "native ad"?

An ad that, at first glance, appears to be part of the content.


Yeah, it's like how you don't mean to specifically go get a peanut as a snack, but there are peanuts in each bite of a delicious, satisfying Snickers bar. I certainly wouldn't think "Oh, I'm in the mood for a peanut, or a bit caramel, or nougat, or even rich milk chocolate by itself." But somehow, when combined in the form of a sinfully decadent Snickers bar, the combination just works! Heck, it's enough to make anyone want to head on over to their corner store and pick up a Snickers bar!
posted by Greg Nog at 11:45 AM on September 10 [27 favorites]


I think what Mr. Nog really wants is a "payday."
posted by sjswitzer at 12:01 PM on September 10 [31 favorites]


I've whitelisted Metafilter and a few similar sites that show unobtrusive ads, in a known location, that don't interfere with the enjoyment of the site. But 99% of online advertising is intrusive, distracting, and potentially harmful. It's not like the corporations who have been bringing you giant freeway billboards, radio ads with sirens in them, and TV ads blaring at you have suddenly decided to change their tactics.

I hope they die off, and I hope the content creators are able to find a model to survive.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:01 PM on September 10


everything you're pessimistic about is going to turn out fine, everything you're optimistic about is going to turn to shit.

Nah, but get what you mean. While we were worried about the Millennium Bug causing planes to fall from the sky, an upstart online bookstore was sowing the seeds that would eventually destroy retail, take over cloud computing, undercut the USPS, acquire one of the largest grocery chains in the country, and undercut the United States Postal Service.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:02 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


One speaker that ran a company training online marketers, seemed to be quite current and pretty smart (if annoying) said that all writing (blogs, copy, etc) needs to be written for a single customer: Google.

This absolutely makes sense. I was required to take a LinkedIn Learning Path on SEO this year as one of my work objectives and among the things that stood out among the courses: Structuring your headline and content for maximal search engine results. Human comprehension or engagement was nowhere in the metric.

(I can remember being at a dinner party in 2008 and asking, "How will Google affect the journalism industry?" because we were already having discussions about SEO results and traffic in our pitch meetings. And several marketing professionals at that dinner told me they didn't imagine Google would affect journalism at all. It's not surprising those people are currently unemployed now.)

The best and brightest are going to figure out how to build an audience with content that engages both humans and bots, but I feel for audiences because few think about them in terms of whether the writing or images are useful, enlightening or delightful.
posted by sobell at 12:18 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


These articles can start the conversation, but speaking as a consultant who has touched into the publisher adtech space for the last two years (many more in martech and publishing), the problem here is - not complicated - complex (bordering on chaotic). FB and Google are so outsized that everyone is creating whatever models they can cobble together to optimize or route around the high rent these platforms are charging for market access. Chaos.

These platforms are also only concerned with high-scale revenue (i.e. the biggest names) - it reduces the complexity of yield optimization. This means that they won't care about the long tail going out of business until it's too late. They'll just keep raising access rates for publishers, because the price is still inelastic with the amount of demand they're offering. Enterprise companies can still afford the toll.

The explosion of technology and business models (mentioned above) has made it difficult to find purchase in the ecosystem, and very easy to find cracks to hide. Fraud is a huge issue, and is complex to track technically. Consider too that the work being done in programmatic advertising is collaboration between very technical internet engineers and yield managers, which opens up all kinds of opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding. Each publisher attacks the problem in a different way, meaning there is little consensus in good ways, let alone best practices.

This kind of chaos leads to "shiny object" superstition, looking for interesting technology to solve fraud or find better marketplaces to "waterfall" the programmatic bidding (meaning bidding out an ad request on one platform, then going to another platform downstream if no one can hit the price floor). Smart agencies can then sit at various marketplaces and get a cheaper rate by watching how the same inventory flows through several. Other structured programmatic bidding methodologies like "pre-bid" consolidate this waterfall, but can lock you into a specific marketplace.

The metrics differ a lot from buyer to buyer. For some, impressions/reach is king, but many are concerned with viewability, and/or audience match rate. There are separate viewability auditing services (which again have to be integrated). Some are looking for trackability - clickthrough, etc. Each of them require investment in technology and integration.

The tracking via cookie enables things like retargeting and affinity marketing, but creates a lot of problems to manage the privacy requirements. The result is an ongoing struggle to improve "match rate" when - again - marketplace size has a huge influence on the raw demand outcome. Advantage FB/Google.

And of course, a lot of work to optimize the audience experience technically for programmatic bidding (with multiple ad requests!!) without taking precious seconds to load creative. Particularly in the video space.

Now consider that organizationally within the publisher, there are distinct teams for editorial, for content management (i.e. CMS), for tools (like video players or operations folks managing adtech partners). These teams are not integrated. Things break a lot.

Sorry for the lengthiness of this, stuff I've been thinking about a while and not put down on paper. I guess my tl;dr here is: it's worse than you think, and the programmatic marketplace in specific leverages non-human systems to create behavioral oddities that are hard to put business strategies against.

My personal take is that publishers need to ween themselves off of Google/FB to put pressure on rates, and put energy into a better tracking mechanism that traverses devices and protects privacy. There's been an interesting post from IAB in the last week on this.

For further review - check out Aram Zucker-Scharff, AdTech skunk works at WaPo. Talks a lot about fraud and publisher-side concerns.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 12:28 PM on September 10 [11 favorites]


Paywalls. I subscribe to my local paper, which is the most important because it has high impact, subscribed to NYTimes when I had a student email, give to MeFi. Will probably subscribe to WaPo, give to the The Gaurdian and NPR as finances allow. What I want is to read a very wide variety of news sources. I'd like to pay 5 bucks a month and get 50 articles, and have a web service that will follow me and distribute funds accordingly. The nature of the Web is that you get access to everything, but every subscription-based service wants you to only use their site, and most of us don't do that. The nature of the Web is very different than old media, so different it's still not used effectively most of the time.
posted by theora55 at 12:35 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]


Ads work. But now I have been trained that some large per cent of links are really crappy clickbait. I use adblockers because even though I am reading text, most sites will shove video and/or animated ads and content at me, and fuck, no. When I read my local paper's Sunday paper, I barely register ads, until I'm looking for an electrician or Hey, Macy's is having that semiannual sale and I could use towels. Ads for Pepsi increase the amount of Pepsi people buy. I miss the good sales on flights because they don't get to me. And it makes no sense, because Pepsi and southWest have huge ad budgets.

The entire Web wants to mine my data to "sell to me more effectively"and they suck at it. They have gotten better at offering useless crap to me, when I am a person who resists useless crap. Facebook keeps telling me about local stuff that isn't very local, so I write to small restaurants and tell them their ad money with fb is poorly targeted. It's all Push, as in Push it down consumers' throats. The better they get at pushing crappy animated ads, the more I resist. Facebooks ads are really crap, their Marketplace is aggravating. Because Facebook is all Push, and doesn't help me define what *I* want, even though they could. Their mindset is that consumers are foolish wallets who deserve 0 respect or control. I don't much use Instagram or Twitter, never use Whatsapp.

I shop. I have tried to buy clothes on Amazon and it's an incredibly awful experience. They shove results at me that aren't what I wanted because that vendor pays them to. Their search results are really crap. I may want a particular style that I know is available, but finding it and getting a realistic price & postage is way more annoying than it should be. I specify fabric and it's ignored. I close the tab. Hey, Zappos, you show me the same style in every color as a separate search result, I get tired of scrolling and close your tab. I'd call this Pull, and from Ask.Me I know it's something we all do - shop for something with specific requirements - and it should be sooo much easier via the Web.
posted by theora55 at 12:39 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


The consolidation of everything on the web into a few sites like Facebook and Instagram and such makes it harder to have a more reasonable, privacy-respecting ad model. Imagine this: I host a website and forums about model trains. I don't collect any private user data and the ad companies don't track the users. Because it's a train site, model train makers put some ads on my site. The end.

I guess what i'm saying is that making advertisers pick sites to host their ads, and guesstimate a "best fit" ad that's most likely interesting to the users of that site, seems like a feature not a bug if you want privacy to get better. Site owners should also get to opt-in to specific ads or advertisers. And If I bought a funny t-shirt one time I don't need people logging that and trying to sell me more funny t-shirts till I die. It's none of anyone's business what I've bought in the past or what kinds of things I like.

And "I have a free thing for you but you have to let me suck out all your personal data" = not a real business model. It's just bullshit. Make a product that's useful or produce some content people are willing to pay to read.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:49 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that Google and Facebook have made a whole lot of money by creating algorithms which lead to a world of ads which do nothing for the advertisers or the consumers. That's got to break sometime, surely?

It's often overlooked in these kinds of discussions, but a very high percentage of Google's ad revenue comes from search; looks like 70% ads on Google things, and 15% ads on other sites (and 15% other stuff). If you see an ad for a couch on a random website, it's basically noise. But if you've just searched for "couch", the ad has a very good chance of being relevant, and the auction for that are space will be competitive as a result...
posted by kaibutsu at 12:57 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you. You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It's yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don't owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs.

Banksy
posted by wellvis at 12:59 PM on September 10 [52 favorites]


This is really obvious when I'll occasionally search some askme question and suddenly ads for related items pop up all over the place. Ya Amazon, I don't like mini mars bars and I really can't see myself importing them from the US, but thanks.
posted by Mitheral at 1:03 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


i do feel like a lot of people still equate "web" with "free" even if it was 10-20 years ago that their local paper started putting stuff online.

Because they pay for an Internet connection, which they didn't have to do in the old days. If they pay AT&T $120 per month, this calculates out to $120 for cellphone service, $120 for cable TV, and $120 for Internet. Maybe the Internet providers should be profit-sharing? [any-day-now-skeleton.gif] Should the corner store have had a cover charge? :)
posted by rhizome at 1:36 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Maybe the Internet providers should be profit-sharing?

Far from profit-sharing, the Internet providers resent being "dumb pipes" and want to get a taste of any commerce that happens on their networks too - what, we think because we pay for Netflix and their service that's enough? Hell no! Netflix should be paying for the privilege of being delivered to AT&T (or whatever's) subscribers.
posted by jzb at 1:39 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


> What exactly is a "native ad"?

An ad that, at first glance, appears to be part of the content.


Paid placement or minimal visual separation, yeah. But there's another kind of native ad: ads that are sold directly from the website. Imagine that, like a magazine, websites had a "Advertise with us!" link, where the prospective advertiser could buy space and time from the website. No surveillance, no PII, no malware, just a GIF, served from the same domain, that links to whatever bullshit the company wants to make. A site's weblogs can provide the same-but-better information that readership stats for print did (no pass-along, tho).

I think this could still be viable if it were made easier (read: wordpress plugin), and it's really the same mechanism as buying a t-shirt. You can say, "they'll never go for it," but if a critical mass moves over, advertisers would have no choice. An added benefit could be a perception that, sure, advertise with Google...if you want to deal with adblockers and infect your users with malware.
posted by rhizome at 1:47 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


rhizome: The problem is, right now, advertisers want data. They want to know who saw the ad. Where they saw the ad. How many times they saw the ad. How many people converted from the ad. Data data data. All the data.

I've had to deal with this on the publisher side and it's fucked.
posted by SansPoint at 1:55 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


They'll go where the eyes are and accept whatever terms they have to in order to put their clicksquare in front of those eyes.
posted by rhizome at 2:01 PM on September 10


A few weeks ago I bought a plumbing part at Lowe's. I never searched online for the part or anything related to it. The next day ads for that exact part were following me all over the web. So it's not even just online - but we all already knew that. Either Lowe's or Mastercard, or both, shared my purchase with other parties (probably ad networks) who then decided if I just repaired one sink, obviously I want to repair more.

I actually turned off my ad blocker a few weeks ago to test Duck Duck Go's privacy extension that blocks the tracking and malicious ads, but lets most of the ads through. It's been ok - I haven't gone back to the ad blocker yet. Interestingly, both the NYT and Wash Post insist I'm blocking ads when I block their tracking. Turns out if you disable javascript when on those sites you bypass the paywall.
posted by COD at 2:09 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


I've had to deal with this on the publisher side and it's fucked.
+1. but also, this is how the publishing strategy was sold for years. publishers pursued that rah-rah "advertisers will pay for content creation" model, rather than trying to figure out a flexible, reasonably priced subscription model/bundle.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 2:11 PM on September 10


There are literally countless current and aspiring elected officials, unelected powermongers and warlords, corporations and a whole ideology (yes I'm looking at you capitalism) who would be really happy if journalism, independent media and diverse sources of debate were to essentially disappear. The coexistence of this fact and the state of affairs described in the OP are not coincidental.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:17 PM on September 10 [13 favorites]


In the spirit of microtransactions and content networks mentioned in several posts, does anyone know of any non-profit, co-operative approaches to the problem? Could such a network accept a subscription of $5 or $10 a month from users and then hand out micropayments to network participants based upon user visits? (Perhaps one infrastructure that supported multiple networks of interest focused on sports, tech, fashion, etc.) I guess I'm asking if there's a non-profit way of looking at the problem that would benefit the content-providers with payments for visits, but dissuade some of the bad actions of the advertising companies engaged in profit seeking.
posted by SurfThug at 2:20 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I think we should consider independent, quality journalism as a public good, essential for any sort of democratic polity. Also a good that the market (as discussed in this post and this thread) cannot provide anymore - and I'm not sure of the independence offered by the advertising model of yesteryear. I really don't think that there will be much of a future, outside the margins, for journalism (as opposed to PR dressed as journalism - there will always be a market for that), without some sort of public subsidy for the press. This need not be a state-controlled process, but can involve schemes that might include vouchers, tax deductibles, grants or whatever. Also a direct tax on the internet giants that could be directed to a fund for sustaining real journalism, as proposed relatively recently by the British Labour party.
posted by talos at 3:31 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Maybe if the ads were better designed so that a) they didn't pose a risk for malware and b) they didn't obscure the article you're trying to read and c) they didn't dramatically slow down the load time for sites, people wouldn't mind them so much.

And they d) didn't track my ass.
posted by Quackles at 3:43 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I find it consistently surprising how easily I can zone out pre-recorded podcast ads, even the ones using the host(s) and how much I pay attention to podcast ads that the host(s) say and change for each episode. I never buy things because it's always US-centric but it's really a remarkable difference for me.
posted by jeather at 4:08 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


If we're going to look to 20 years ago, when newspapers were 50 cents, keep in mind that price is subsidized. It was pre, well, Internet. Pre-Craigslist and pre-Match.com (et al), and newspapers charged for. This revenue stream allowed newspapers to live, and it was much harder for them to survive without it, especially in rural areas. This was also before the Internet's reach resulted in the insane competition for our attention that we now live in. Back in that day, newspapers also got away with reprinting AP stories for national and international news, and drew (local) subscriptions that way. A bit harder to do when they're not needed as the middleman.
posted by fragmede at 4:53 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


there's a reason why a lot of direct response has moved to podcasting.

There's too many comments already, but I wanted to say that a very specific slice of companies with high LTV customers have moved to podcast ads. There's a ton of internet advertisers who have not moved to podcasts and never will. There's a reason you hear the same half-dozen companies advertising on every podcast.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


And they d) didn't track my ass.

hey gotta know who clicked so they know how much to pay. There's literally no internet CPC or CPM advertising without tracking.
posted by GuyZero at 5:19 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


There's really no reason why the ad networks—Facebook, Google, and increasingly Amazon; maybe most especially Amazon—couldn't help move small amounts of money from readers/consumers to publishers, rather than moving money from ad buyers to publishers as they currently do.

When you say "no reason" it's actually been built: Google Contributor.. No one used it. No one cares.
posted by GuyZero at 5:22 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I used contributor: it was great. $5/month removed the majority of ads. Note, however, that they changed how it works for the worse: previously it would remove potentially *any* Google ad, because you were essentially bidding on ads for yourself. But they cancelled that program, and now websites have to explicitly opt-in, which makes it basically pointless.
posted by Pyry at 5:29 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


There's literally no internet CPC or CPM advertising without tracking.
This seems like a problem of the advertisers, if they want to advertise to people who don't want malware running on their computers.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:50 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


The solution is micropayments. The solution has always been micropayments, actually—we just did micropayments via the online ad firms.

It's microtransactions with some sort of trust/whitelist system, or its subscriptions with some sort of network model.

A prompt for *each* transaction is going to make people too stingy, I think, whereas with no prompt or restriction people won't trust the system. And subscriptions to a single site just don't fit the web model at all. The hardest paywall I can think of at the moment is the WaPo and guess how many of their articles I read these days? That model probably does work out okay for a major newspaper because that's something for which some number of people are willing to pay to get all the content. In fact I do have, well, shared access to an NYT subscription. But given that, the chances that I'd also pay for the WaPo are nil.
posted by atoxyl at 6:16 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


It was a few years ago that I was on a forum for writers that was hosted by a large non-profit. On that board I recommended another forum that had good community and good info. The response was immediately dismissive because the forum I linked to had a donate button right up top. Untrustworthy, it was called, probably a scam somehow, to have such a thing.
Well, anyway, I wonder how those people feel about the internet in 2019.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 6:28 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Maybe if the ads were better designed so that a) they didn't pose a risk for malware and b) they didn't obscure the article you're trying to read and c) they didn't dramatically slow down the load time for sites, people wouldn't mind them so much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos

Plus ban dynamic ads, or at least the auto-play versions.

I can handle static ads, but the moment they start dancing and singing without my permission I nope the fuck out of there.
posted by Pouteria at 6:36 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I think this could still be viable if it were made easier (read: wordpress plugin), and it's really the same mechanism as buying a t-shirt. You can say, "they'll never go for it," but if a critical mass moves over, advertisers would have no choice. An added benefit could be a perception that, sure, advertise with Google...if you want to deal with adblockers and infect your users with malware.

In order to make ads impossible to separate from content with blockers (or at least much more difficult) the advertisers would have to trust the content providers not to pad their impressions or viewership numbers.
posted by Mitheral at 7:40 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Sure, and advertisers can work on ways to do that without problematic intrusions, just like they've been working on invasive methods for the past 20 years. We end users have been paying too much for too long.

How did advertisers trust readership numbers back in the print era?
posted by rhizome at 8:37 PM on September 10


Plus ban dynamic ads, or at least the auto-play versions.

These ads pay like 2x-10x static ads. Why do you hate publishers making money?
posted by GuyZero at 9:14 PM on September 10


How did advertisers trust readership numbers back in the print era?

3rd party circulation audits.

And they wasted vast amounts of money on useless advertising. Vast.
posted by GuyZero at 9:15 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


3rd party circulation audits.

Also I should add this is why you can get a paper magazine subscriptions today for less than the cost of the paper they send you. Subscribers are verified readers that help drive ad rates.
posted by GuyZero at 9:16 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


This seems like a problem of the advertisers, if they want to advertise to people who don't want malware running on their computers.

Not sure I equate a HTTP cookie with malware.
posted by GuyZero at 9:17 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


How did advertisers trust readership numbers back in the print era?
It's called ABC, which is an independent audit, which can be rigged but you're going to be found out and exposed by your competition.
This thread has been interesting to an old (really, really old) newspaper person, with few illusions then and fewer now. The price of a single copy was never 50 cents, it was probably more like $1.00, with advertisers picking up the rest of the cost. So eyeballs were always the product, not the customer. The business was a cash cow for years because the age of multiple papers in single markets lasted about as long as a short war, which it was, and there just weren't that many ways to sell soap and washing machines. Multiple disasters hit hard and fast — direct mail, radio, TV, Craig's List, the intertubes and there we were, working for the journos promoted beyond their business capability with no real understanding of a) the emerging world of finance with its shiny easy loan terms b) the natural limits of market growth c) the intertubes. They made a whole lot of bad decisions in a very short period of time including, as has been mentioned, not charging for online content.
But the truth is, 90 percent of what we wrote was to fill empty white space that surrounded ads, which was the real business. Most of the content was crap then and is crap now. There was no good old days of "real" journalism. I believe in the tradition of participatory democracy that information is a public good and should be treated like any other utility. That will not likely
happen in whatever short lifetime I have left. Thank you for the opportunity to rant.
posted by kemrocken at 9:24 PM on September 10 [38 favorites]


Support your local city council beat reporter with micropayments. Just cut out the bosses, cut out the media conglomerates, cut the ads.

Newspaper executives are the worst thing to ever happen to newspapers.
posted by eustatic at 9:31 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


And they wasted vast amounts of money on useless advertising. Vast.

There's always that famous old quote: "We know that half of advertising actually works, the trouble is, we don't know which half." Something like that.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:20 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


There is some value in editorial decisionmaking about relative importance of the day's articles, tasking people to generate sources for later coverage, and probably among the most important: reining in the reporter's worst instincts, finding where shortcuts were taken, and preventing them from falling into the trap of speculation and crackpottery.

The best reporters are excellent listeners, great writers, are quick to grasp things well enough to uncover underlying narratives, and are very persistent. In a word, clever, in the British sense. All of these are qualities that have an element of danger to them, though, as they have a tendency to work together in dark ways that often leads people down a path of paranoid madness if not nipped in the bud.

It is rarely remarked upon how a substantial fraction of journalists manage to go off the rails into conspiracy land when left on their own writing for their personal low traffic blog with nobody to call them on their mistakes, misinterpretations, and other bullshit.

What the Internet and the confluence of recent events is taking away is perspective. Everything is the most important and most outrageous thing requiring immediate remedy once you've been buried up to your neck in shit for weeks to months trying to expose it. Every story thus ends up combining to keep readers whipped up to an unsustainable degree as the new normal. But it's not normal. And it leads to a nearly disabling inability to prioritize, plan, and execute, ensuring the cycle is not broken.
posted by wierdo at 11:14 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


And they wasted vast amounts of money on useless advertising. Vast.

Eh, another way of looking at it is that that's just the price of advertising. Why care how much is being spent? My attention should be expensive.
posted by rhizome at 12:08 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


@GuyZero: Not cookies, but malvertising.
posted by XtinaS at 3:09 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I remember when we first started putting stories online and tracking which ones readers clicked on (page views) and read (time on site). As the numbers came through, I used to be accused of being wrong/lying about twice a month, which I took silently because it made me sad too...often the complex articles we were proud of were low traffic and the best hairstyles were huge, especially in pre-social-media-dominance days. In a way what we learned is every time was asked readers what they loved, their answers were coloured by what they thought they should love. But when we saw their behaviour directly, they were spending a lot more time on wrinkle cream reviews than stories about the reality of women’s wages, or racial profiling.

I think advertisers have been going through a similar experience, learning that the actual value of their advertising is lower than they thought in some ways. Supporting National Geographic with big full-page ads doesn’t produce as much aspirational buying as they’d hoped. Also, depending on the thing advertised, online shopping etc. has reduced margins and their budgets are shrinking (also because the middle class is getting squeezed out.)

Basically I think advertising was also optimistic that if ads sat next to great journalism, people would buy the Lexus. What the click data showed was it’s better to show the Lexus at the moment your Corolla gets written off.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:43 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Not sure I equate a HTTP cookie with malware.

Using cookies to track and monetize one's activity on the web after interaction with content without knowledge and consent of the end user is increasingly seen as a creepy, malicious violation of privacy, and it is what has motivated enactment of laws in Europe to codify and regulate this behavior. Such cookies may not meet the classic definition of malware, but they are adjuncts to malicious software and may as well be labeled as a modern-day equivalent.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:26 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


re: subscription, The L.A. Times' disappointing digital numbers show the game's not just about drawing in subscribers — it's about keeping them: "how many digital subscriptions each newspaper has today."

I don't know if micropayments are the answer, but some kind of federated network of sites where you subscribe to one thing and get access to all of them for a flat fee might work.

apple is trying this?

oh and re: micropayments

China is close to releasing a Libra-like digital currency, just sayin!*

also btw :P
-BoE's new policy sets its course for a digital future
-Who Should Provide Central Bank Digital Currency? (supervision!)
posted by kliuless at 4:36 AM on September 11


Sometimes I think about how all the podcast ads are shop by mail for stuff that used to be a trip to the department store. Makes you worry about the state of retail.
posted by cricketcello at 4:46 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I even pay for Apple News.

The iPhone and Apple's Services Strategy: "Pay one monthly fee, and get everything Apple has to offer."
posted by kliuless at 4:48 AM on September 11


Ads on Instagram work really well.
Yeah, they're probably the only ads I've clicked on in 20 or so years.
I always wonder about our other algorithmic overlords, FB, Amazon, Google, Spotify, at how bad the profile they have on me seems to be.
posted by signal at 5:04 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Saying Instagrams ads are great and Facebook's are awful is a bit odd as they're the same company and are integrating their ad systems.
posted by GuyZero at 8:45 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Today, the $2.50 cost of a single issue of the New York Times may be out of reach for many and that may be exactly what's driving them to seek out the online version.

And in the olden days you could expect to find a used paper for free, and that was factored into the paper's circulation numbers for advertising purposes.
posted by terrapin at 10:49 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I remember when we first started putting stories online and tracking which ones readers clicked on (page views) and read (time on site). As the numbers came through, I used to be accused of being wrong/lying about twice a month, which I took silently because it made me sad too...often the complex articles we were proud of were low traffic and the best hairstyles were huge, especially in pre-social-media-dominance days. In a way what we learned is every time was asked readers what they loved, their answers were coloured by what they thought they should love. But when we saw their behaviour directly, they were spending a lot more time on wrinkle cream reviews than stories about the reality of women’s wages, or racial profiling.

This is partly a choice of metrics problem. My local paper, The Seattle Times, started tracking how individual articles affect subscriptions. What they found is that the in-depth, complex articles are much better at producing subscribers than the shallow articles that get large amounts of traffic. Here's an article about it from last year. I find that very encouraging. Yes, people love the best hairstyles articles, and by all means, we should keep having them. But what people want to pay for is the meaty stuff.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:00 PM on September 11 [9 favorites]


On another front, I've been a little mystified at the ad ecosystem of iOS games. It seems to be entirely ads for other games monetized primarily with even-more intrusive advertising than the game you're already playing. Turtles all the way down.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:21 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


So here’s the thing about Google Contributor and the Apple thing and whatever. I would love either option being kicked around here: the network subscription service, where I pay a monthly subscription for access to a variety of online periodicals, or genuine micro transactions where I can pay 10 cents or whatever for access to a single article without crazy transaction fees that make that impractical. But I actively don’t want it from any existing tech company, except maybe Mozilla. I don’t want more of my life to be tied to these awful megacorps that consider me a product. I think we need to figure out how to antitrust break up each and every one of the big five and probably a bunch more like Paypay and Comcast to be safe. So even if Amazon and Apple and all the others start offering those services I’m going to go “Eeehhhh” and try to avoid it in the hopes someone without a monopoly comes along instead.

Like ideally it’ll be a nonprofit organization devoted to good journalism that figures out extra ways to reward outlets that publish in the public interest.
posted by Caduceus at 2:29 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: " Newspapers should get together and develop a subscription service like Spotify. $15 a month would get you access to global newspapers and revenue would be dispersed proportionally. But at least they'd get something rather than the negative revenue stream a paywall on The Backwoods Nowhere Reporter generates."

As it happens, my local library offers me access to the New York Times, plus literally hundreds of newspapers, including the Washington Post, and hundreds more magazines, including the Atlantic. So I already have subscription access to practically anything I want to read.

Unfortunately, the way to access those (and make sure everyone gets paid on up the chain) is for me to actually go through the library's online news system, which is much more trouble than simply clicking a link.

So what usually happens for me is: I click a link, it goes to a paywalled site, and I just close the browser window rather than reading the thing, because it's an extra 30 seconds to go to the library website and search for the article. So everybody loses: I don't get the information - even though I've already paid for it through my taxes - and the publisher doesn't get the micropayment they would get if I did bother reading it via the library (I don't actually know whether they get paid by usage, but I assume so).

We already have a system that provides extensive access to published journalism in a way that compensates publishers, but it's broken enough to be barely used (or rather, barely used for current news; it works fairly well if you're researching a specific topic, especially if you want to see previous years' articles). We could absolutely develop a National Library to which everyone can have access, and it shouldn't be too hard to build browser extensions that would log your access to your currently selected library card (in case you have more than one!) to reduce the hassle.

( .... now that I've written this, I might try making an effort to actually go find articles through the library rather than just closing the browser window and going off to read something else.)
posted by kristi at 9:23 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Let's have a web with no advertising, and no ad-supported sites

I remember those days browsing with Mosaic, back when the world-wide web seemed like a good idea.
posted by lathrop at 8:14 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah I always find it a bit odd when people are like "we can't possibly go back to the pre-advertising Web 1.0" without seemingly considering that it's that Old Web that begat the commercial web and Web 2.0 and all of its chicanery. It was actually pretty nice, in many respects. (I'd take Usenet over Twitter any day.)

I also think people severely overestimate the cost of running a website once you jump off the Web 2.0 / advertising-analytics treadmill. The cost of running a modern AWS-backed MEAN-stack site may be non-trivial, but you can also just toss a bunch of text files into the maw of a static site generator and put the result up on any number of so-cheap-it's-almost-free webhosts and that's that. (I mean, GitHub is actually a pretty decent free hosting provider.)

The problem, of course, is the content. Specifically the cost of creating the content in the first place. And unfortunately, if we go back to Web 1.0 now, which I personally wouldn't mind in many respects, we actually end up with a lot less than we had in the 1990s the first time around. Back then, the Web was an adjunct to newspapers and magazines, which cost money but had non-trivial content paid for via their subscriptions and advertising. The Web was for passion projects, hobbies, vanity homepages, discussion, etc.

But the Web of the 2000s+ ate the rest of publishing, along with big chunks of the rest of the economy, and made it dependent on a particularly fragile kind of advertising revenue which is not stable in the long run. Another model needs to happen, if we want to have the quality content that was previously the domain of traditional print, but also have it on the Internet. The Internet, natively, doesn't solve that problem: at its best it provides a level playing field for anyone, no matter how crazy, to shout their message. It doesn't preference quality content nor does it provide a good funding mechanism for it.

But I am, compared to a lot of other issues plaguing society, relatively optimistic about this one: as long as there is a demand for high-quality, expensive-to-produce content (as opposed to just reading other people's blogs and project pages), someone will figure out how to match the demand to the supply and take a cut for themselves in the process. It'd be nice if that cut wasn't big, and if the intermediary wasn't a giant multinational corporation, but someone is going to do it regardless.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:14 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I'd take Usenet over Twitter any day.

I love me USENET but it didn't scale past not being tied to a employer/academic provider. Once people could do whatever they wanted without the nominal threat of an organisation taking their access away the writing was on the wall that the effective end was near. Think Twitter has a Nazi problem? Would be a drop in the bucket.

Also USENET was more of a discussion service, much like Metafilter, rather than a blogging platform.

It reminds me somewhat of reddit in that there were/are groups/reddits that were informative and useful due to moderation but the unmoderated majority is a cesspool.
posted by Mitheral at 11:42 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I also think people severely overestimate the cost of running a website

My personal website gets about 100 visits a day, which is more than many (most?) small business sites get. I pay about 40 cents a month to host >500 pages created with a static site generator.
posted by COD at 12:46 PM on September 13


MAKE WEB GOPHER AGAIN
posted by SansPoint at 1:17 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


any number of so-cheap-it's-almost-free webhosts

I've always been fond of both the naming and execution of NearlyFreesSpeech.net
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:27 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


NearlyFreeSpeech is where my 40 cent a month site is hosted.
posted by COD at 5:44 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


The problem, of course, is the content. Specifically the cost of creating the content in the first place.

There is, though, the delightful cornucopia of content created for the sheer joy of it. I, personally run a handful of hobby sites, which are explicitly designed to be completely non-commercial (no ads, no affiliate links, no revenue), and I know people find value in my sites. I just built a new one last weekend.

I know there is essential content that can't be effectively created for free (quality journalism, for starters), and I believe that content creators' work is valuable and I am HAPPY for them to be paid for it, and prefer a system where that happens; but I think it's worth acknowledging that there is a considerable amount of information and creation that happens with zero expectation of being compensated, and exploring the best of that subset could very well keep us all happily entertained for the rest of our days.

If the ad-supported websites all went away, we would be seriously impoverished, but we would not have nothing. (Obviously, I would like very much for the vast majority of revenue-generating websites to remain in business - Metafilter most especially. Just pointing out that people do create for reasons other than money.)
posted by kristi at 7:09 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem is a lot of us don't actually have any discretionary money to spend.

I'd be very glad to click (non-obnoxious) ads on sites that I frequent (so, basically here, and The Guardian online) if it was a frictionless transaction to get me something cool or practical that I wanted and could make long-term use of (while supporting the website at the same time) but the problem is:

1. Everything for sale is shit;
2. Even if it wasn't shit, it isn't a frictionless transaction (I gotta enter a bunch of details and set up an account and confirm things and ugh);
3. Even if it wasn't shit and was a frictionless transaction, I rarely have the spare money;
4. Even if it wasn't shit and it was a frictionless transaction and I had the spare money, I already have other plans for that money, that don't involve that product or service.

Perhaps if our incomes were higher, and the cost of living lower (or if those things were even just on par), we would click on ads and buy shit, because we could. But, whoops!
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:53 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


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