New Media Economics

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.

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8 thoughts on “New Media Economics

  1. “the general public isn’t prepared to pay for bytes in the same way as it was for atoms”

    never have i heard it said so well. of course the ‘micro-payments’ idea is a great one for media such as articles etc. but it’s use (more or less) in music is, to my mind, spelling the end of the album, which is a terrible shame. not sure it’d work with literature either… buying a book per page? maybe… buy the first 40 pages for a minumal fee, then if you’re suitably gripped… hmmm… you might be on to something here.

    • not a big fan of the extremes. a book exists as a whole. in a sense you are entering into a contract with the author to consume their work – that is what you are paying for. music … i don’t know… the music industry would appear to have killed itself by making it’s product disposable.

      in the case of web media, which i should have made it clearer that i was focusing on, the browsing experience is much more akin to picking up a magazine and scanning it for enough interesting content to motivate a purchase.

      if new media wants to evolve a business model it needs to do it in a way that lets people browse, and attach a value to the activity such that it both supports their business and the manner in which their customers desire to consume it… or something like that.

      • sadly the idea that an album is a l s o a complete package, like a book, would seem to be a minority viewpoint.

        but i agree, web media needs something happening to it. and yes, advertising IS a scourge

        • don’t disagree that the album is a complete package. my only point is that the music industry (ie. the labels) has poisoned the well. the music buying public has been conditioned to consuming disposable, 3 minute bundles of unmitigated shite, ear worms that they’re glad to be relieved of by the next 3 minute distraction…

          my prediction is that musicians are going to solve there own problems by ditching labels, and there is some evidence that that is already starting to happen.

  2. only just found this post now.

    short answer: i agree.

    i would really like to know why micropayments haven’t been attempted yet, or even (it seems) seriously considered for web content. i’m thinking primarily written articles. it makes perfect sense to me to drop a small amount of coinage on an article in order to read it in full, after being pulled in by the title or blurb. i’d happily spend a dollar or few a night on a bit of casual web reading, and i don’t think i’m alone in that.

    my guess is either they’ve done the numbers and don’t think a large enough percentage of readers would be willing to pay up at an acceptable price point, or there’s a roadblock or few in the money processing side of things. i can imagine the credit card and money moving companies of the world aren’t especially flexible when it comes to getting these things done.

    but really, i can’t see another way forward other than micropayments. the subscription model just doesn’t fit. it’s incredibly unpopular on the web, will receive near zero uptake, and is just a time wasting diversion at this stage.

  3. hmm. As for paying for online content, I know this is very niche but I just paid for this:
    http://www.lensworkonline.com/
    Seems that it has a lot of what I am interested in and it seems like a bargin compared to what it would cost me in books.
    Maybe there is a paid model but I think people publishers need to kill all the guff for a while before people catch on.

Wise words...

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