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Money, Technology and Content

September 20, 2015  •  By Larry Jordan

[Originally published on Sept. 20, 2015 by Larry Jordan.]

The Internet was abuzz last week with Apple’s release of iOS 9, which, among many other features, included the ability for developers to create ad blocking software for Apple’s Safari browser.

What this does is prevent ads delivered by a remote server to the website that you are visiting from displaying on the screen. Perhaps not surprisingly, this affects all ads served by Google, but not, as I understand it, by iAd from Apple. From what I read, 90% of all web advertising is controlled by Google.

Personally, I hate websites that are nothing but collections of ads cleverly placed to force you to click on one, whether you want to or not. From my perspective, I will not shed a tear if they were to disappear. (I mean, does the world really need to know the Top 10 Things in David Letterman’s bathing habits? Probably not.)

In this fracas, I am not personally involved. Ad blocking software blocks ads from remote servers. None of my websites – LarryJordan.com, DigitalProductionBuzz.com, or 2ReelGuys.com – use remote ads. So we aren’t affected.

But…

ON THE ONE HAND

There are a lot of legitimate companies, creating great content, that are funded solely by web ads. Denying them ad revenue jeopardizes a lot of solid content.

While I don’t think blocking web ads is necessarily a bad idea, this is one of those times where the “Law of Unintended Consequences” will attack with a vengeance, as Neil Hughes wrote in an editorial at AppleInsider.com about the impact this new development has on them.

However…

ON THE OTHER HAND

No one ever lost money inventing ways to block ads. Look at the past success of DVR devices blocking ads from a traditional television broadcast. Or, more recently, look at the success of the new ad blocking software that has already appeared in the App Store.

None of us wants to watch ads, but all of us want to watch the content that advertising makes possible. This creates an irresolvable conflict.

My company gets the majority of its revenue from the web. I made the decision twelve years ago that we would focus on creating unique, original content to support the video community. Over the years, that evolved into creating free written content and selling our in-depth video training.

I avoided placing Google ads on our website because I couldn’t control which ads would appear. Instead, we handled advertising directly. Which, in hindsight, gave us far more control but provided far less revenue.

AN INDEPENDENT VOICE

It all comes down to the age-old question: “How do you pay for the news?” And its corollary: “Who wants to pay for the news?”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about business this summer. I surveyed my readers and key vendors in our industry asking what my company could do that they would like to see. By a huge margin, both groups wanted more product demos and product reviews.

I’d love to do more product reviews, but how do we fund them and still retain objectivity?

  • If a vendor pays for a review, how do we remain objective? (Hint: we can’t.)
  • Will any vendor pay for a bad review? (Hint: Not likely.)
  • Will a developer pay us to review someone else’s product? (Hint: Nope.)

Thinking about blocking ads is exciting for an end-user, but puzzling for someone who is devoted to creating new content. Our web traffic is up 50% this year over last. I have dozens of articles that get thousands of readers every week – even on subjects that are 3-5 years old. But, to keep my company running, how do I turn this traffic into revenue?

One option that we created is a subscription service where members can access more than 1,200 in-depth videos for a very low monthly price. Given enough subscribers, we can generate the funding we need to run the company, expand our product reviews, and generate training in new areas.

But, what I’m seeing this year is that training and subscription sales are flat – neither growing nor shrinking. I suspect this is a result of the rapid transformation in media technology. The industry is changing so quickly that people need information to make sense of it, but are hesitant to spend money investing in new technology because it changes so quickly. Perhaps this reduces their need for training.

From my perspective, based on my email, there is increasing demand for more informed information – especially more detailed product information – while the sources of revenue to pay for it are shrinking or blocked. Unless we can figure out a funding solution, that leaves product reviews in the hands of the manufacturers or people who are paid to say good things.

Neither of those options are ideal.

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