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Monday, February 18, 2008

Journalism without ads?

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I really should have taken a day off after returning from San Fran, just to get my ducks in a row, but I didn't. And now I'm paying for it.

Here's an interesting opinion piece about journalism from Edward Wasserman, a j-school prof at my alma mater, Washington and Lee University. Incidentally, I didn't actually study much journalism there — I was an English major.

Wasserman wonders, "Can journalism live without ads?" I wonder that, too.

Modern computing offers unparalleled capacities to track and calculate. Imagine a vast menu of news and commentary offered to you ad-free for pennies per item, the charges micro-billed, added up and presented like a utility bill at month's end. The money that journalism providers got would depend on their audience.

Plus, if you uploaded comment or video in response, to the degree it was downloaded by others you'd get credited for it -- compensated like any other provider.

Interesting. I looked into the micro-billing option a few years ago, when I was working for cartoonist Alison Bechdel. At the time, it seemed that there weren't any good ways to micro-bill. Has that changed?

I wish there were a way to either 1) allow people to pay a small fee if they choose or 2) make some things pay per view (like, pay a few cents per view), in exchange for dispensing with ads online.

I'm not sure how I feel about it all yet — as a media-lover or as a media company employee — but I'd like to know more about what's out there.

I should add that I'm not really sure that removing ads is a good idea — not just because they pay my salary, but also because I use them as a source of information. A different type of information, to be sure, but they're a source nonetheless.

February 18, 2008 at 12:46 PM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink


Ads pay for our content. Some consumer's may like to pay to remove ads, but not enough to be a factor against the masses of marketing departments with big budgets.

So, we'll continue to let companies pay for our content so long as it costs us nothing to look at a few ads.

This is basically cable vs. network TV. And we all know those on the network shows get paid more than those in cable.

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 18, 2008 1:05:21 PM

I think you're seeing causation where only correlation exists, Jonathan. That network talent gets paid more is not necessarily a result the ad model's superiority. After all, most cable channels make their $ primarily through ads too (Comedy Central, USA, Spike, Nickelodeon, Oxygen, etc.). The difference is actually audience size, which is dictated only in part by the subscription vs. ad model (about 15% of US TV watchers get their TV from a free broadcast signal -- no subscription fees), but much more by cable tier structure. More cable/satellite subscribers get a basic package, which inevitably includes the networks, than get higher tiered services, which tend to include more niche-oriented offerings. As a result, more people see the networks, which leads to higher ad revenue. But don't be fooled, 85% of those watching network TV are cable/satellite subscribers who are not watching for free.

If anything, TV has shown us that a subscription model works very well. HBO and Showtime get zero $ from ad revenue and are pretty far up the cable/satellite subscription chain, but they do very well and produce award-winning, high caliber content.

Posted by: bill simmon | Feb 18, 2008 3:29:42 PM

Another way to approach the problem might be to try and think of ads as content, and rather than making them intrusive, make them useful (which they already are in many cases). As you said Cathy, you find them useful -- especially when they are in context and relevant to you as a reader, consumer or citizen... I think there's definitely room for subscription model content; but if that were the only model for paying for journalism I think you'd necessarily limit the amount and diversity of the the journalism produced -- the more ways you can find to pay for it, the more you can do.

Posted by: Ernesto | Feb 18, 2008 10:17:48 PM

Your point regarding information as a source of information reminded me of something Dave Winer said a while ago:

"Advertising will get more and more targeted until it disappears, because perfectly targeted advertising is just information."

In that case, we're not really talking about seeing the end of advertising, just the end of bad (read: poorly targeted) advertising. The discussion would then be more likely to center around privacy and data ownership issues associated with such a shift.

Posted by: Justin Henry | Feb 19, 2008 1:13:17 PM

Good point, Justin. That discussion is already underway, especially over at Facebook.

Posted by: Cathy Resmer | Feb 19, 2008 2:35:32 PM

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