Matt and i have an ongoing ‘dispute’ about my use of ad blocking. As far as i’m concerned ads are a blight, a pest that encourages consumption in the face of lack of need. As far as Matt is concerned ads support the free consumption of content that would not be produced if it were not ad supported.
There doesn’t appear to be much that could reconcile such differences. My opinion is that my life would continue (uninterrupted) if all of the ad supported content was removed from the web. It might be less ‘content rich’ but books / periodically would flourish and i’d be perfectly happy. In Matt’s opinion, i’m inherently enriched by having access to so much ‘free content’, and by blocking ads i’m de facto stealing.
Being essentially an anti-capitalist, i’m not inclined to do anything that promotes consumption for the sake of consumption (this all stems from a desire for humanity to have direction, rather than to flounder about attempting to maximize consumption).
All of which leads me to wonder why it isn’t possible to assign value to the media that we are consuming. It would appear that the general public isn’t prepared to pay for bytes in the same way as it was for atoms. Negroponte was, in a sense, wrong in Being Digital, people do consume digital media because it is perceived of as being cheap, or free. Why buy a newspaper everyday when you can skim it online for free?
The obvious conclusion is that the average media consumer does not place a value on the quality of their media consumption experience or the media that they are consuming. If they did they’d be horrified by the adds that spring up to obscure a page, the endless twitch reflex movement covering half of any page.
Perhaps there is a market for ad supported content that is the equivalent of tabloid journalism. And, just as i’d read a copy of The Sun if i found it discarded on the Tube (page 3 at least…) there is very little chance that i’d pay money for it… but rest assured, there are many that would.
The quality, broadsheet equivalent, end of the market would appear to be at a crossroads. They either have to start charging for content, which in turn means raising the quality of their products, to the point that they have real value, or they have have to find a business model that doesn’t drive a large part of their target audience to boycott.
The Ars Technica piece is an interesting example. Ars Technica is a site that i keep bookmarked, and periodically has articles that i’d consider worth reading. They also have a site that is emblazoned with ads for the likes of GQ, IBM, and a host of other completely irrelevant ‘brands’. The ads are, in general, inoffensive, but probably meaningless to their (presumably) tech-savy target audience. The Ars Technica solution to this is a subscription model, where the user is expected to pay for access of all the content, even though a good 90% of it is unlikely to be of interest.
There really isn’t a site on the internet right now (except maybe Realclimate.org…) where i read even 10% of the commercially published content, and yet i’m supposed to pay as if i’m reading it all? How very old media!
My solution to all this is micro-payments. Someone (i’m looking at you Mr. Ito) should fund a start-up that can let users buy internet media credits (in all major currencies), and get major sites signed up to charge a nominal number of credits for access. On web scale sites, even sub-cent charges are meaningful. The start-up only needs to do billing and clearing, and can charge a small percentage of money that it is delivering to the content providers for it’s services.
The nice side-effect of such a solution is that is provides a means to support non-commerical, creative commons licensed, content, on a ‘tip culture’ basis.
In summary, advertising is a scourge, and content needs to be assigned real value.