Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune

“The internet economy is fuelled by attention, and it’s far easier to seize someone’s attention with emotionally charged argument than mere information — plus you don’t have to pay for the expensive reporting required to ferret out the facts.”
Oliver Burkeman

How many people would pay a little over €1 a month to remove ALL advertising, sponsored links and promoted posts from their facebook feed? The same again for YouTube?

A couple of dollars a month is about how much each user is worth to these companies in advertising revenue, and how much you’d have to pay to cover their losses if advertising was removed from your feed. I for one would pay if only to recover the lost scroll time. But my main “gain” would be having more control over what I see on those platforms.

I’m part of a growing group of people who are worried about the impact of advertising on the content of the internet. What was once a medium where people contributed for the joy of it and they struggled to work out how to make money, is now a key driver of humanity’s zeitgeist. Who pays the piper calls the tune and these days those paying are advertisers.

In the good old days* journalists wrote news for print and TV and adverts filled in the space to pay for it. TV producers created content and advertisers paid to be near the most popular content.

These days content is not written to be the most informative, correct or enlightening. What you’re looking at online is increasingly being written to maximize it’s click-ability and share-ability, measured through real time tracking so that on the fly amends can be made to increase the spread.

We’ve known for a while that people were sharing links they haven’t actually read before clickbait really took off. The problem is only getting worse. There are sites that exist for the sole purpose of displaying adverts, and to add insult to injury most of them are doing so using stolen content.

So I can see two roads to improvement:

  1. Everyone realises there’s no such thing as free and we start paying for what we’re using.
  2. We hope for better, cleverer, more effective adverts that pay the bills but don’t pollute the waters.

From working in advertising I know there’s a better way. From working in technology I know there’s a better way.

There is such as thing as great advertising. Targeted advertising, as disconcerting as it is sometimes, may be the better way. Brand awareness is worthless if the wrong people are getting your message. But adverts that remind you of products you’ve browsed, cross sell you a related product, or target your known preferences can actually be useful to the majority of active consumers. People find it freaky and stalker like but it’s effective.

But the value of online advertising can be so low and the need for income so high, that we’re drowning in a sea of shit. What great advertising exists is drowned out but the cacophony of crap.

And ultimately advertising in any form helps choose the tune so I’d like the answer to be: pay what you can for your internet services.

I pay for my email, my main news sources, RSS reader, TV, Medium (of course), music (including poor old Soundcloud), and pretty much any app that can remove advertising for a fee. I do this to try and help free these services from being dictated to by advertising.

This could be seen as a wealth-centric privileged view that could be soon as encouraging firms only to target the “wealthy west”. However I’d argue that there are many paid for services that are booming in Asia and Africa and that market is growing fast and has plenty of room to grow. The wealthy already pay a larger portion into these companies and any service worth it’s stock should be interested in building a long term and profitable audience at a initial loss.

In short, that quick curiosity fulfilling click on your facebook feed is damaging the internet’s integrity. You not paying is reducing the quality and variety of content. So next time you have the opportunity to directly support a web site or app you use regularly, please do so if you can. Thank you!

*Such days never existed.