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In defence of online ads: The 'net ain't free and you ain't paying

Lee D Silver badge

I pay for content. I paid for shareware. Everything from WinZIP/PKZip to Z80 Spectrum emulator (Gerton Lunter).

I pay for my movies. I pay for my games. I pay for my applications. I pay all required and proper licensing. Hell, I paid for my AVATAR that I use on websites... literally the image I upload in the "user avatar" box on forums that support that. I paid for it. I literally have the email that proves I can use it for the purposes I use it for, from the original artists. I paid for every artist-created pixel I use in the games I write, every font, every MIDI note, every library that requires it (but I tend to be open-source).

And I don't object to advertising. But I object to this:

- Imagine the Internet doesn't exist, but "Internet ads" pervade other media that we used to be familiar with.

- The front page of your "free" newspaper has a huge headline and "continued on page 3". You can't turn to page 3 of your newspaper without inserting a card that you only get by subscribing. Newspaper goes in the bin.

- You turn on your TV but before it will let you change to ITV, you have to sit through 30 seconds of ADDITIONAL adverts. If you switch back to Channel 4, they throw adverts at you again. And then back to ITV and you have to wait another 30 seconds. Oh, and the volume control is disabled and you can't do anything else while the 30 seconds is happening. Oh, and the normal program adverts are still in there half-way through the program too.

- Additionally, 1/3rd of your TV screen is just constant flashing, blinking, repetitive adverts at all times, no matter what you're watching, usually adverts for bigger TVs.

- The post comes through. It has the usual junk mail. But when you try to dispose of it, it jumps back out of the bin and tries to jump in front of your eyes again. It does this several dozen times. Every time you read the advert, however, it automatically grabs you by the ears and tries to make you stare at other adverts in the area. Sometimes it tries to mug you for your credit card or phone.

I'm not sure we'd tolerate those.

Additionally, the simple fact of the matter is: I won't pay just to access a website. Especially not websites that do things I don't care about, and don't cover enough stuff I do care about. It would be like asking me to subscribe to a knitting magazine.

Honestly, I wouldn't pay for The Reg. It's a nice forum. There's good discussion. The occasional article is interesting. But I wouldn't pay £1 a month for it. I'm really struggling to think of ANY of my usual websites where I'd do that. I bought a subscription to Slashdot once. I bought a subscription to SoylentNews once. I paid for LWN.net subscription once. I reckon it would work out between 1p and 10p a year for those sites, overall, and that was because at the time I was on them multiple times every day and found them really engaging. But... I wouldn't pay 10p a year for any site, I wouldn't pay 10p a year for Slashdot any more, and I wouldn't pay 10p a year to a whole bunch of other things that I use a lot more often. I probably wouldn't pay 10p a year to access BBC News (ignore anything about TV Licence, etc.).

I might pay a few quid a year to access iPlayer, however. No different to Netflix, TVPlayer, Amazon Prime, etc. But I don't pay to access my Google Play at all. I've paid for titles, but not for access.

Not everything has a "right" to make money, no matter how much effort goes into it. When a multi-million-dollar blockbuster movie employing thousands of people has me umming and arring over a £5 DVD purchase (hell I even nearly didn't use a £3 cinema ticket recently until I realised I could watch Deadpool 2 with it, and even then it was a close-run thing) what makes you think I'm going to pay fractions of that for literally half-an-hour of a journalist's time on a short, non-techy article that's often beaten by some funny guy pounding out on a blog for free?

I'm glad The Reg exists, but if it didn't others would. They always did, long before the days of online advertising, and probably always will. It'll be amateurs who get popular and then it turns into a job and then ten years later they realise it's become unsustainable and they move on, and then someone else will pop up, and so on.

My brother used to make a Scouting site that got more hits than the official Scouting sites for basically all of the 2000's. He never charged a penny, it was a labour of love, and it was serious amounts of expertise and information used to create a very popular and useful resource. Advertising got him a deal with Millets and Blacks and places like that for a couple of hundred pounds a year, and then Google ads knocked it out of the park overnight but still it wasn't more than a few hundred a year. To be honest, I don't think if you added it up it would cover even the hosting costs over its lifetime, even subsidised as they were by a very charitable commercial hosting company.

Content just isn't in the realm of being worth paying for. People might pay for a newspaper - what? 50p? It's a long time since I had to buy one, as I only ever read The Metro if I'm stuck on a train and otherwise I use online resources. Let's say that 50p a day to one company is the absolute most people will pay for all their news content. It just means that there's too many players for anyone to ever make money on that basis.

Sorry, but if advertising works: Good for you. Keep it sensible and out of my way and some other mug in an advertising brokers somewhere will pay you to write a blog and call yourself a journalist. Cool, for us all.

If it doesn't work: Nobody else is going to pay for this stuff.

Now the exception MIGHT be - and I can't see it ever happening - if a bunch of popular sites/services all got together and said "if you pay £5 a year, you get access to all these sites..." and it included a bunch of things that I could see myself using... then it's possible I'd do it. I'd have to get as many hours of entertainment / information out of it as any other service, but it's more viable that way. And, crucially, it would have to involve multiple rivals sites that are in direct competition with each other - the sites I go on to find the stuff that The Reg doesn't cover, or covers the other side of, etc.

So... don't complain about advertising. It buoys up a lot. But it's in no way necessary that I have to feel grateful or somehow change how I consume advertising in order to allow that. If advertising changed (and online advertising has been very nasty at times), or the content quality dips even a fraction, then I just stop consuming that content. It's not the end of the world at all.

And as one of the only people on the planet who bothered to pay for WinZIP or my online avatar, you can be sure I'm one of the people most likely to give money for things I find useful.

As time goes by, it's only going to get worse. Open communication means that the traditional media etc. industries are going to get more and more stretched. When something happens now, do I just read BBC News coverage and nothing else? Far from it. I will dig into everything from major news channels, to Twitter accounts of those involved, to official statements from those involved, to commentary from random people, etc. I take it all with a pinch of salt but it's the only way to get all sides.

When Spectre/Meltdown hits, do I just pop on the Reg to see what everyone else did? No. I'm all over multiple resources.

As children grow up in that environment, they are not going to pay to see things any more. It's already alien to pay for TV to most of them. Podcasts are basically "free radio". They skip adverts routinely. They share Netflix with all their mates. And so on. Nobody's going to pay for content no matter how much you beg.

When there are millions of content producers, convincing millions of people to pay for even one of them is extremely difficult to do, and not likely to net much. But when the advertising dries up, the only thing that will die is commercially-reliant stuff. All the big business. All the hobbyists/enthusiasts/interesting people will still be around.

The advertising world toyed with micro-transactions but I can't imagine a microtransaction that you could charge to pay for this article, for instance. Or my comment (which may well be longer than the article - and I did it for free!). You'd literally be into fractions of thousandths of pennies. Because otherwise my daily media bill would be through the roof.

(Ironically: People are still paying £100 a month for their Sky... I can't work that out at all).

Enjoy it while it lasts. But don't expect to guilt me into enjoying being subjected to it.

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