What's the alternative to ad supported content?

I intended to have more posts this month and have a couple in the brain hopper but between working on my YouTube stuff, my day job and some crazy housing related stuff that may be coming our way soon, something had to give and it was unfortunately this. I hope to rectify that soon.

There’s been a lot of discussion among enthusiast sites (principally gaming related) of late on the subject of supporting them with advertising and how a large and increasing number of users are running ad blockers. These ensure they get the content without having to see the ads which allow that content to be offered for free. It’s been a subject of debate in the background for some time but it came to a head recently with a post on Destructoid in which their head guy lamented the situation in the politest way possible. A while after, Ben Kuchera from Penny Arcade Report chimed in with his version of the situation, in which he states that the types of click-baiting articles many of us hate are necessary because they drive the ad revenue that allows more meaningful (and sadly, niche) pieces to be authored. It’s an interesting perspective, though as usual, skewed by Kuchera’s ego which led him to speak as if he was representing the entire industry and not his own site, which is run under a unique arrangement to put it mildly. John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun took him to task in a better way than I ever could so just go check his post if you want to know more.

Normally I would just observe this debate and little else but as someone who recently started producing video content which I do hope to eventually make a bit of money from, you guessed it, advertising, I’ve been thinking about this a lot more. I haven’t used an ad blocker ever. I see banner ads of all shapes, sizes and levels of obnoxiousness every day. I consume hours of YouTube content every month and most of it has pre-roll ads, post-roll ads and sometimes, even ads in the middle. None of it bothers me. Sure, I don’t like having to wait 15-30 seconds for an ad to clear before my video starts or worse, waiting 10 seconds only to have to click the Skip Ad button to avoid a longer one but I tolerate it.

The reason for this is simple: I’m being given content for free and that content creator has to pay the bills somehow. Ad revenue is a pittance to begin with. When I looked at how big I’ll have to grow my YouTube audience just to make enough per month to pay for my Internet bill, I thought it was a typo. When I then thought about people using ad blockers and watching the content I worked hard on for literally nothing, my first reaction was one of anger. It takes time and money to produce this stuff. I’ve already put almost $500 into my YouTube channel and will probably put another $500 into it within the next couple of months. This is on top of the several hours a week of my very limited free time I put into recording and editing the videos. You aren’t being asked for anything but 15-30 seconds of your time to watch an ad before 20+ minutes of content. And that’s too much to ask? Seriously? It’s amazing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making video content to get rich. I’m a realist, I know I’m not going to be the next TotalBiscuit and I’m not sure I want to be anyway. It’s a fun project first. I would like the videos to make enough money that it’s not costing me anything to produce them in the end but that’s my only real expectation. I get frustrated to think that some people are so short-sighted and entitled as to think that they can refuse to give the creators their pittance and still expect the content to come out, with the same level of quality, for free. This is the real world kids, it doesn’t work like that.

That said, I also know this is an issue that can’t be completely solved. People will always find a way to make ad blockers work and they will always find justifications for why they’re using them. They’ll say that ad networks sometimes deliver viruses (something that’s so rare now it’s basically a bullshit excuse), they’ll say they slow the browser down (you may want to consider using something faster than a Pentium II), they’ll say they’re distracting and make articles hard to read (I can do it and have major attention span issues, get over yourselves.) Whatever the reason, they’ll keep doing it and neither I nor anyone else can stop them. If you find a way to completely block out your content from those using ad blockers, guess what? That part of your audience will just go away and read/watch something else. You can either work within the constraints you have (however unfair they may be) or just get out of the game. It saddens me that many people are taking the second option. It also saddens me that the solution many are employing is sensational headlines and click-baiting stories, both of which are a plague in the tech and gaming press these days. Those types of articles aggravate me more than even the most obnoxious, auto-playing video ad.

While I do and will work the constraints of the audience, there is one thing many do that takes the entitlement to a whole new level and that I simply cannot abide. That is the people who go “You’re relying on an outdated business model and that’s not my problem!” Nothing drives me further up the wall than people who think themselves fit to tell someone else how they’re running their business wrong without offering a better solution. And worse yet, people who use that as a crutch to justify ripping a creator off. They did it with the music industry, they did it with movies, they did it with games and now they’re doing it with web and video content. They claim the “old ways” don’t work and need to evolve but they don’t step up when other evolutionary paths are offered. “I will pay you directly for this content, all you have to do is ask!” is an argument I see bandied about quite a bit. Has anyone ever thought that maybe no one’s doing that because those who tried it didn’t have their audiences step up? Don’t believe me?

Giant Bomb and the Whiskey Media family of sites tried this. They couldn’t pay the bills with advertising so they instituted premium memberships that removed the ads, got you access to exclusive content and a host of other benefits. Enough people (including myself) stepped up and paid for this to slow their cash bleed but it wasn’t enough to keep them afloat. Eventually, the company was split up and sold off. Jeff Gerstmann has since lamented in two of his Jar Time videos if they hadn’t sold, those sites likely wouldn’t be around today. The Escapist tried a similar approach with their site and was recently sold as well after a fairly well publicised period of financial hardship. In short: People love to say they’ll directly contribute to support content they love but in the end, most of them are all talk.

If you are one of those people who say that the enthusiast press (or any other industry for that matter) is failing because they are clinging to an outdated business model and you think you can do it better, I suggest–nay implore–you to start up a consulting firm because if your method works, you will make more money than you will know how to spend. The brightest minds in this industry can’t figure out another way to do it. If you’ve got one, you’re missing out on an opportunity to write your golden ticket. If you don’t have a better means, then just shut up because you don’t know jack shit and are just trying to rationalise not supporting something you’re getting for free just because you can. Ripping people off is one thing and that’s bad enough but chastising how they do business while sitting on your high horse with no better answers is way worse. I make content and if you want to block my ads, I can’t stop you, I accept that. But don’t tell me how I’m doing it wrong if you don’t have a better option.

As a creator who likes to think his content is worth the price of admission, all I can ask of you is that you whitelist my site and my videos on YouTube. Better yet, set your ad blocker to whitelist by default and only block the sites that have ads you disagree with. Give them a chance to demonstrate that they can’t do it tastefully before you pass judgement on them. The ads pay the bills (or at least some of them) and if people keep blocking them, something will have to give and in some cases, that’s already happening. Stuff costs money and if people can’t at least make that back, they won’t keep making the stuff. If you’re like me and you’re sick of seeing enthusiast journalism go down the toilet in favour of top 10 lists and click baiting, then step up and do your part. It’s really not a lot to ask and helps more than you may realise. At the very least though, if you do feel justified in blocking the ads, at least keep your opinions of how we monetise our work to yourself. If you have a better idea, we’ll listen but if not, we could do without your salt in our wounds.

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