Ars Technica's lesson about content

Recently, the Ars Technica site, which I believe is fairly popular among tech types temporarily denied its content to internet users who were using ad blockers to block its ads. This was apparently an attempt to bring awareness to the problem of content creators needing to be able to generate income from their content. Ars Technica has posted a statement explaining its position.

As a person whose living depends on people having to pay to access content that I’ve created, I’m pleased to see a prominent player in the online community trying to take on this position.

Here’s the issue – if we are devolving into a society in which users will not pay for content or in which creators are unable to block people from accessing its content without submitting to its terms (whether it’s payment or viewing ads or whatever) – people will become unable to be professional content creators. And when content creation is sidelined into a hobby, then that will be the end of high-quality content.

If you want professional-level content, you have to allow the creators of that content to enforce their terms. If you don’t like the terms, then fine, turn down the deal and don’t access the content. But bypassing access and use controls and unauthorized copying is theft. It steals people’s jobs and lives.

[QUOTE/Here’s the issue – if we are devolving into a society in which users will not pay for content[/QUOTE]

Interesting question. I was going to post that I pay for the content in my paper i read every morning however it occurred to me that I just pay for delivery of said content. Someone needs to come up with a way to get people to pay on a micro level. While I wont pay 5 dollars a month to view a site (cause it would cost me a fortune to view all the sites I do) I would pay a 1/10 of a cent to read an article i was interested in. In my mind its the way to receive payment we are struggling with at the moment.

Well, I do not think this problem will be solved until web advertisers learn how to advertise without being obnoxious. Some do this well already, notably Google who make a huge amount of money from it, but if advertisers insist on popping up in front of the content people are looking for or flashing and flickering in the corner of my eye when I am trying to read something, people are going to block them.

Personally, I do not use adblock, partly for the reasons suggested in the OP. I do, however, use flashblock to get rid of flash objects that float over the page or are unstoppable animations. (I don’t ming animated gifs, I can stop the flickering with the escape key).

It is the advertisers who need to clean up their act. It is no good asking individual users to be nice to content providers when it opens them up to constant barrage of annoyances. Ads do not have be obnoxious to be effective.

I believe it was hoped that the Iphone and the Ipad in combination with the Itunes Store could get users used to the idea of micropayments. I’m not sure how good the trending is on that.

Micropayments are be great. I also like the Canadian idea of surcharging storage media and distributing that to content creators. Some sources will choose advertising, some will choose subscriptions. I think the point is that whatever choices a provider makes, users should abide by them instead of trying to get around them.

I think the idea of a surcharge on storage media that gets distributed to content creators is an awful idea. How do you decide how much each person or company gets? How does distribution change based on quality or popularity of content? What about those that want to give away content for free? It makes much more sense for content creators to decide for themselves how to generate revenue from their content.

This was the argument a lot of Ars users made in the comments on the story, though I admit that I read the comments back when there were drastically fewer than the 2000+ that are there now. There have been quite a few complaints about specific delivery mechanisms or advertising content at Ars in recent years. Given their target audience, I think it’s safe to assume that the more annoying ads will cause people to block the ads ever more aggressively.

I don’t see this as a problem. We already have examples of royalty distribution for radio broadcasts. It’s pretty straightforward. You set up a royalty distribution collective and give it guidelines on how it should distribute to its members. Require it to come up with some reasonable metrics for popularity. Under this kind of system people who want to give away content for free aren’t harmed.

I heard an interview with an Ars Technica representative who said that complaints about bad ad practices are taken pretty seriously by many site owners. In any case, it’s still pretty simple: If you don’t like the site’s ads, then don’t access the site’s content.

I’m generally sympathetic to the plight of professional content creators, but you’re doing yourself no favor by denigrating hobbyist/amateur produced content like this. There are many amateur produced sites which are as good or better than many so-called profeesional sites.
However the pay-for-content problem works out, professionals in the publiishing industry are going to have to accept the fact that they now and for the forseeable future will face competition, sometimes brutal competition, from unpayed enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, there is another side to this. There is a serious issue involving advertisements that serve to infect computers with viruses. Especially the ‘Antivirus 2010’ and variants. These infections come from Google’s own ads, or Yahoo’s own ads, and generally infect through a payload in a malicious PDF. (Please be sure to update your Adobe - public service announcement.) These viruses and malware are nasty enough they slip through even AVG or Norton.

This means that running around without an ad-blocker is like running around without an anti-virus. Foolish and dangerous. I don’t mind seeing the ads, if they don’t talk and caper about.

I do mind when my system gets infected because of them.

It goes both ways. It’s not enough for content creators to just set terms - they have to set terms their consumers are willing to meet. Right now, some consumers are not willing to view ads unless the content providers can guarantee the ads will be civilized. I don’t just mean unobtrusive and quiet. I mean virus free. Flash ads are regularly vectors for viruses and trojans. Turning off ads is part of browsing safely.

I’ve whitelisted Ars, because I enjoy their content and want to continue enjoying it. I’ve been a member there for years. But - here’s the thing - I only did it because I trust Ars not to suddenly fill my screen with flashing, yipping, malware. Content providers who can’t make the same guarantee can kiss my ass.

If that means, as a content provider, you want to put your content behind a micro-transaction wall, I personally have no problem with that. But keep in mind, if you want people to pay for your content, you need to provide them something they can’t get anywhere else on the internet. Also, you will need to actively market your content. You’ll need to sell people on the idea that your content is superior to all the other free content (because as long as there’s a Blogger, that’s never going away.)

If you can’t sell your content to the public, it’s not necessarily the case that the public is at fault, even if we are stingy bastards.

Of course, there is always the rare gifted amateur that creates extraordinary work, but it’s a fantasy to believe that this is anything other than an aberration. Excellence in any field requires a lifetime of education, practice, and building of skill, which, except for a handful of outliers, can only be done by people who don’t have to do something else to make a living. Eliminating professionalism will push down the curve.

But you’re content to take their content nevertheless?

This kind of response is pretty common, but in my view it’s largely non sequitur. And, frankly, the tone borders the condescending and offensive. Yes, of course, if the perceived value of your content does not meet the price you charge, the market while choose otherwise. That’s simply competition. That is not the issue.

This article has convinced me to disable my ad-blocker on sites I visit the most frequently.

The stuff I was talking about, animated flash ads and pop-overs, are ubiquitous, and are found on the most reputable and well capitalized sites. You are wasting your time trying to lay a guilt trip on users. We don’t owe you a living. The people you need to be pressuring are the advertisers.

If you’re using the content, you owe, yes you do. The point is that creators don’t owe you content, either. If you’re going to bypass the methods they use to get payment, you’re not going to get the content you want in the future.

I reject your premise. If you scale it back to “it’s likely that less content would be generated”, I’d happily agree.

Remove the “professional-level” qualifier. Add a distinction concerning “creators” and “vendors”. Make explicit how agreement on the “terms” of the “deal” is negotiated. Then, perhaps I’d agree with you.

These things are not theft. Calling them such demonstrates a fundamental dishonesty in your position – namely, the attempt to make physical and intellectual property equivalent.

Then a good whopping chunk of the internet is a fantastical aberration. If professionals cannot compete on an evened playing field with amateurs, then the profession itself is overrated.
Professional photographers arer getting hammered by amateurs right now. That does not mean either that qaulity is declining or that we must find a way subsidize the careers of professional photographers.

Someone offers content for free and I owe them money?

Of course they don’t. But if they want to stay in business then they need to listen to their customers, and the general statement is: web users will accept some ads if they are unobtrusive and non-animated.

  1. Most sites on the internet are semi-pro at best. (It’s both the strength & weakness of the internet.)

  2. The vast majority of sites do better financially by having high circulation (well, not “circulation” but you know what I mean) even if some of the viewers use adblock than they do with microtrans.
    You know, the ultimate lesson to be learned from Ars’ little experiment is this: they realized that putting their stuff behind an adblocker wall was a bad idea. Clearly, if it was more profitable for them to do that, that’s the course they’d follow. (And more power to them, imo.) Ditto for going subscription only.

Ars has made a financial decision that they’re better off having an optional subscription system, with bonus content, and keeping their high readership numbers with free regular content. Yeah, I’m comfortable consuming the free content knowing that I’m part of their equation. (Aside from whitelisting them.)

As I said, if they want to put their stuff behind a tollbooth, they’re free to do that.

If they choose to publish their stuff openly, and they can’t promise their ads won’t infect my computer, then yeah. I’m content. I don’t think it’s too much to expect that, if a site wants me to view its ads, the site is then diligent about making sure every last one of its ads are kosher.

If they want to put stuff behind an adblocker wall, but can’t promise their ads won’t infect my computer, I’m perfectly happy to look elsewhere for my entertainment.

Oddly, I get the impression from you that that last option would piss you off.

So what’s the problem, then? Set up your tollbooth and carry-on. No one’s stopping you. If that’s the pay model you want, go for it.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but what it sounds like you’re saying is, you’re upset that putting in a tollbooth (whether it’s adblocker or microtrans) will cause some viewers to turn away from your site.

If you don’t want the public to view your content, then don’t make your content viewable by the public.

It sounds like what you want is to publish your content publicly and then expect all the viewers to retroactively agree to your fee for it (watch your ads) without being strictly responsible for the possible negative effect of those ads. And then getting pissed off because the public doesn’t like those terms.

<shrug> Maybe I’m just misunderstanding your ire here.

You keep misrepresenting what I and others are saying. No, I do not owe you a living! If you cannot make a living by providing me with an experience that I can enjoy then it is your fault. If you can’t find a way to make money from providing web content then find another line of work. Maybe if enough content providers go out of business the ones who survive will figure out a way to monetize their sites without pissing of their audience. I am guessing it won’t be you, because you clearly do not get it.

As I stated in my original post, I do not mind seeing advertisements, and I do not adblock, but I do mind having crap flung in may face. I also find it, frankly, quite offensive for someone to try and guilt trip me for trying to defend myself from the crap. You are the person who is trying to sell something. Take some responsibility for ensuring that it it does not get delivered along with a bucketfull of crap. The problem is not with users who you will never be able to control anyway, it is with advertisers. You are criticizing and antagonizing the wrong people. Try pushing in the opposite direction.