Linked by David Adams on Fri 19th Mar 2010 21:07 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes Online advertising has been a hot topic for the past week or so, with Ars Technica trying out an interesting, somewhat desperate experiment wherein they blocked access to their content for people using Adblock. Of course, if this were to become some kind of movement among publishers, it would probably just spark a technological cat-and-mouse game that would surely be reminiscent of DRM cracking or iPhone jailbreaking. But in their post-mortem, Ars states that it was a worthwhile awareness campaign, and I hope that's true. But I thought it would be a good idea to try to bring the collective OSNews brainpower together and crowdsource the idea of how to raise money for a web site in an age where advertising is increasingly un-viable.
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Comment by Kroc
by Kroc on Fri 19th Mar 2010 21:37 UTC
Member since:

I blogged on this subject.

* * *

Imagine running a restaurant where 40% of the people who came and ate didn’t pay. In a way, that’s what ad blocking is doing to us.—Ars Technica

Wrong. You are running a restaurant where the food is free, and on every table there’s a pot of leaflets advertising other restaurants. You are claiming that when people don’t walk out of your restaurant carrying those leaflets that they are stealing from you.

You are so, so wrong.

There is no signed contract I have made with anybody that means that I have to view any ads, otherwise I haven’t paid someone. Your contract is between you and your advertising agencies, there is no contract between me and them, nor you. If you give me your stuff for free, don’t complain if I then take it.

And don’t blame me if you made crappy decisions on how to run your business.


Because I’m publishing this publicly, it’s only fair that Ars Technica has the right to reply:

It’s a real shame that you didn’t comprehend my article and have instead created a strawman. I suggest you ruminate on the meaning of “in a way,” and follow that up by locating where in my argument I say anything about “stealing.”

And by the way, we’ve not made crappy decisions on how to run our business. We’ve seen more success than 99.99% of other online content entrepreneurs out there.—Ken

What I can’t understand is that if they are so successful, why is the article so riddled with blame? Your advertising is based on page-views, and those page-views are being cut off industry-wide. Don’t blame users, that’s one step short of the music industry blaming piracy, when they themselves created the need for piracy. Change your advertising model. Innovate. Never blame your customers.

For perspective, OSnews ran a story about its advertising problem in 2007. The comments make for interesting reading. My opinions have definitely changed and strengthened since then (because of the worsening of bad advertising tactics), and I believe that OSnews is, like Ars Technica, making the mistake of thinking that the current advertising model is worth defending—it’s not. I am working with OSnews to revamp their advertising.

* * *

Simply put, a model that depends upon, and assumes that page-views are the only meaningful existence of readers is broken beyond repair.

If you block our ads, you are still welcome here because your comments, and you sharing our content on social networks, and you simply being a part of OSnews and visiting is worth much, much more than a page-view. A healthy community is _not_ one that is counted by page-views.

Ars treated their readers as nothing more than ad-fodder. That their participation on the site was totally and utterly worthless because they could not directly extract cash by their presence.

I do not think of you OSnews readers, as ad-fodder. I see you as one of the most important assets this site has for its future. Treating you the same as Ars did would almost certainly destroy the wonderful community here.

I propose that, amongst other things, OSnews should have a topic for sponsored articles. Anybody who wants to put forward their product in a technical article can appear on the OSnews site like any other piece of news, except that it will be highlighted clearly that it’s sponsored, and the comments section can be used for the readers to give direct feedback to the sponsor about their product and the quality of their article. We would encourage highly technical, well written articles that could not be found elsewhere in the mainstream, to suit our community.

I think the community would not be too hard done by a decent, technical article about some server software (for example), if it was well written, informative and not mainstream-devoid of details considering that the community would also be able to talk about alternatives and experiences with the product in the comments as well as communicate with the vendor for questions. This would give advertisers the benefit of having an easy and powerful feedback channel.

I think the idea needs to be explained better, but it’s just one possibility to move away from banner-ads.

Another option is to ask users to donate $10 to be mentioned in the opening of the podcast. (ExtraLifeRadio did this to good success)

All ideas welcome.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Comment by Kroc
by David on Fri 19th Mar 2010 21:51 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
David Member since:

Thanks for your comments, Kroc, and I agree with you that the restaurant analogy in the Ars article did their entire argument a great disservice. That's the problem with the intellectual "property" debate as well. If you eat at a restaurant and don't pay, or you shoplift, you are depriving someone else of a finite resource. We can argue about the morality of depriving a creator of payment for a virtual, copyable resource, but to equate it to stealing just doesn't advance the conversation.

And I hope we can all come up with a workable alternative to the advertising status quo together. The problem is, it will need to "perform" as well or better than the current system for advertisers to be tempted, failing some system to punish them for their increasing intrusiveness.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by kragil on Sat 20th Mar 2010 02:27 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
kragil Member since:

I don't really get your business idea. It sounds a lot like Digg ads to me.

What is the difference?

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by fretinator on Sat 20th Mar 2010 07:38 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
fretinator Member since:

I hear having a rich, self-funded space tourist as a backer works well.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by Kroc
by google_ninja on Fri 19th Mar 2010 21:54 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
google_ninja Member since:

Wrong. You are running a restaurant where the food is free, and on every table there’s a pot of leaflets advertising other restaurants. You are claiming that when people don’t walk out of your restaurant carrying those leaflets that they are stealing from you.

You are so, so wrong.

It is more that you have a restoraunt where each table is a billboard, and people are walking around with giant black covers that they put on the table before they start eating.

There is no signed contract, but there is an obvious implication that you are paying for what you see with ads. Even if the site doesn't want to make money, they probably don't want to do work and provide content for free, PLUS pay for the cost of you to see it.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you think or what I think. If ad blocking continues growing, we will see ad based sites continue to shut down, since most are done with the assumption of it generating SOME sort of revenue.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by righard on Fri 19th Mar 2010 23:29 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
righard Member since:

No putting by putting a sheet over a billboard other costumers can't see it either.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by Kroc
by Pyramid on Fri 19th Mar 2010 22:15 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
Pyramid Member since:

Good luck with alternatives to ads. For the time being, I can at least whitelist OSNews.

Ars Technica got a redirect into oblivion in my /etc/hosts for their utter contempt.

Reply Parent Score: 0

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by pandronic on Mon 22nd Mar 2010 07:44 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
pandronic Member since:

Why do you think that you are entitled to free content? How would you feel if you did your job for free?

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by Kroc
by twitterfire on Fri 19th Mar 2010 22:59 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
twitterfire Member since:

You are so, so, so very right, Kroc. If you start blaming people for ad blocking, for not clicking enough the ads, if you see them only as cash cows, and not like a community, they start hate you back and they begin to visit your site less and less.

I think that the idea of publishing sponsored articles is great. Osnews can make a decent amount of money if it's done right. Right means good articles about good techie products not publishing articles about loosing weight pills.

And why not put a nice button in the middle of the header that reads: "Help Us!". Some users are more likely to donate money than to see annoying ads.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by Kroc
by scofmb on Sat 20th Mar 2010 00:00 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
scofmb Member since:

The main reason there IS a community in ars is because the good content they provide... and content is not free.
So even tho they value the community, the community will ran away if they dont provide good content.

So, you say they should find a new way to get money, tbh, i bet there are GREAT minds working in google thinking the same but they still didnt come with another solution, so.. till then, its the only way they could keep paying their expenses.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by Kroc on Sat 20th Mar 2010 00:21 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
Kroc Member since:

Would Ars' content be any worse if they simply put up a pay wall? No, I don't think it would. Would Ars' content be any worse if the community wasn't there? Hard to say, but Ars doesn't strike me as a community website. The comments section is only just above Engadget.

"You can't view our content unless you view our ads!" is not exactly community thinking.


I could imagine an Ars without the community quite easily (I hide the comments by default), but I couldn't imagine an OSnews without the community; it'd be really empty.

Edited 2010-03-20 00:31 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: Comment by Kroc
by Soulbender on Sat 20th Mar 2010 11:05 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
Soulbender Member since:

Who or what is Ars Technica?

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Comment by Kroc
by dacloo on Sat 20th Mar 2010 11:41 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
dacloo Member since:

Good comments and you're right about Ars wrong analogy.

However your suggestions at the end if the article aren't very effective. Perhaps on some sites but who cares being mentioned in a potcast? I've seen dozens of sites who offer donateware and have this section that says: "current donations: $16". That doesn't cut it. You say being innovative is the key but the problem is that no one came up with a new and effective idea yet (just 'new').

Google, Microsoft and other biggies still run on the traditional pay-per-view and pay-per-click model. THE problem is that they make most of THE money, not their publisher. When a campaign doesn't perform, they still got all their clicks and views payed. The publisher gets the bad name, not Google.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[2]: Comment by Kroc
by qroon on Sat 20th Mar 2010 15:02 in reply to "RE: Comment by Kroc"
qroon Member since:

I love potcast ;)

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Comment by Kroc
by Drumhellar on Sat 20th Mar 2010 19:31 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
Drumhellar Member since:

I think you purposely misunderstood the metaphor that Ken gave, as you seemed to ignore where he wrote,

The difference, of course, is that our visitors don't pay us directly but indirectly by viewing advertising.

When I go to a restaurant, I never signed an agreement stating I will pay for my food. Such an agreement is implicit to restaurants. As such, when viewing content on a web page, it is an implicitly agreed that I will view the advertising.

I also think to dismiss the rest of the OpEd piece due to a disagreement with a minor metaphor at the beginning of it is unfair. Something about that just smells funny. I can only guess as to your motivations.

Comparing their perspective to that of the record industry, i believe, is inappropriate (more so than their metaphor). There is no direct material cost the recording industry when somebody downloads an MP3 without paying, but there is a direct material cost to a website who has it's content downloaded without the ads being viewed.

Also, the record industry is clinging to a business model that is decades old, while newer, internet-friendly business models have been demonstrated to be successful.
Ars is a child of the internet. While the business model is extremely old, it still works when people play fair.

I do disagree with the tone of most of the article. It does come off as a bit, well, blamey (That should be a word). However, being one of my favorite sites, I felt like playing devil's advocate on their behalf.

As for those who recently decided to avoid all things Ars, you are doing yourself a disservice. Ars has some of the best articles around on a wide variety of topics. The tone of this article is unfortunate, but it is not typical. To dismiss the site out of hand based on this one OpEd piece seems almost childish and petty. Ars generally has much more respect for their readership, so I can forgive them.

I'm also going to add that I don't use ad blocking software. If a website has overly intrusive advertising, I stop visiting. To just block the ads is breaking the implicit agreement mentioned above.
This is why OSNews is one of my favorites. The advertising just sits quietly at the side or top of the page, just waiting for my clicks, which they sometimes do get.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Comment by Kroc
by macinnisrr on Sat 20th Mar 2010 21:28 in reply to "Comment by Kroc"
macinnisrr Member since:

I absolutely agree with your attitude concerning customers. To blame people for taking something for free after offering it for free is not only ludicrous, it's rude.

A better analogy for the current situation than a restaurant is another form of advertising: print newspapers. In the city I live in, there are at least three free newspapers which contain ads. While I can't use adblock, I'm free to write over each ad with a black marker, but that would probably have a reverse effect as I would have to look at the ad in order to do so. Nonetheless, I don't look at nine out of ten ads, critique the one that I do (I do graphic design) - which is often something I would have no interest in anyway, and maybe around 1% of the time (being generous) actually see an ad for something I would buy/use/attend if I had to. Nonetheless, nobody will stop me from reading the free papers just because I don't care about the ads they contain. The big difference is exactly that: 1)The newspaper doesn't say "ohmygod!" and 2) won't prevent me from turning the page until I acknowledge that I looked at a smiley dude. One could make the case that magazines which contain several pages of ads with little content (90% of them) do in effect prevent you from seeing what you came for before you see their ads, this is one of the huge reasons I don't buy magazines. Not to mention that most magazines contain not only pages upon pages of ads, but they also cost money!?

But I digress, the idea of ads you can rate is a good one, offering people pay options like their name on the podcast is really cool (who doesn't like being in the media, at least once in a while), and I would purchase sponsored articles if the option was there.

Ars - I never really liked you either ;-P
OSNews - Keep up the great work!!!!

Dick MacInnis

Reply Parent Score: 1