The World’s Second-Oldest Profession

Ben Brooks:

Ads are likely not the future, or the answer, because as readers we have many, many, tools that allow us to ignore, gloss over, or outright remove ads from content. Even if an advertiser still registers a page view on their ad, when they stop seeing returns on their advertisements they will no longer desire to pay publishers. This is where the market is beginning to head — the race to the bottom.


I could sit here all day and talk about why I think the current model is broken, but that solves nothing. I personally only see one way forward: asking readers to support you.

It’s the direct model, it’s old-fashioned, but it works. If blogs are no longer driven by page views, then we — as a whole — get better content, content we as readers deserve.

Journalism has long been paid for by advertising.

Even in their glory days, newspapers were chock-full of ads to help cover the costs of writing, editing, printing and distributing the paper everyday. Selling the paper wasn’t enough to cover the costs of getting it out the door each night.

Magazines are no different. Even digital copies of magazines are stuffed with ads.

Ben’s desire to move away from this model isn’t new. Just look at newspapers — many of them have launched paywalls to try to separate their well-being from online ads, and for the most part, it hasn’t worked.

Here’s the problem: the number of people willing to pay for content isn’t big enough to offset the smaller number of ad impressions.

When it comes to us independent guys, I don’t think it’s different. I don’t think readers — on the whole — want to pay writers directly. Sure, some have successful membership drives, but I think most casual readers would rather see an ad than Paypal someone $3/month.

For example, if something I write ends up on Daring Fireball, Hacker News or the front page of Reddit, I see a spike of traffic, and with it, a spike in ad impressions. This helps offset the increased bandwidth I have to shell out thanks to the increased load on the site. However, I don’t see a jump in membership after the fact. Income based on ads helps smooth things out.

Advertising-supported writing might leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, but it’s been this way for a long time for a reason — because it works.