I was reading through several adblocking forums this morning and I kept seeing the same basic comment over and over again:
“Ads suck. Go find another business model“.
Sounds easy. But is there really another business model that works?
Let’s be clear, since the dawn of publishing periodicals there have really been only two business models: Subscriptions and advertising.
And in general, advertising is the bigger piece of the revenue-pie. (Although there are exceptions of course).
But the web is not printed media. We web-readers interact with our media far differently from readers of printed content.
We enter through the Side Door:
Increasingly, when we browse the web we rely entirely on Search, and/or news aggregators to bring us directly to a page. When we get there, we’re likely to read just one page on the visited website, and to bypass the homepage entirely. Website “bounce rates” (the rate at which users abandon the site after just one pageview) are now in excess of 50% for a majority of websites.
Another common dynamic of web visitors, is to move from one website directly to another via referral links. Here too, website traffic is increasingly likely to bypass the homepage.
We may not even be aware “which” new website we have linked to. We simply consume the content on that second site, and perhaps we “click out” to a third website along the way. As we traverse the web we enter and leave multiple websites “sideways”, that is we don’t ever see the homepage of those sites. We jump from a page deep in website “A” to another page deep in website “B”. More and more, this is how we browse the web. We are not “readers” of a website as a whole, or as a brand. We are simply consumers of individual pieces of content that happen to exist on a particular website.
As Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab reports:
A remarkable 88 percent of traffic to The Atlantic comes in sideways, meaning just 12 percent of site visits begin on the homepage.
More importantly, we frequently visit thousands of websites which we will never visit again. We pop in, consume content, and leave happily — possibly without ever knowing the name of the site we were just on.
Why is this important? Because if it is increasingly likely that we have no relationship with the sites we visit, it is also increasingly unlikely that we will voluntarily support these sites.
So how do those sites with which we have zero reader/publisher relationship monetize the millions of visits from these fleeting visitors?
Why the subscription model doesn’t work:
In these cases, where our entire interaction with a website consists of one two-minute visit, followed by no further visits ever, the lowly ad is is one of the few means by which a publisher can hope to monetize his investment. Now imagine if during that “once ever” visit, a pop-up jumped on to the screen and said “Please subscribe for $20 per year”. This request would seem deeply out of place within the context of a user simply ‘passing through’.
Of course, there are dozens of additional ways to monetize web content from affiliate marketing to native ads. But few websites are able to incorporate these methods across as wide a range of articles as they are with banner ads.
To suggest that websites “find another business model” is to either ask media to spontaneously devise a heretofore never invented model, or to walk the “other” well-trodden path of subscriptions. The latter suggestion misunderstands the way in which modern web-readers interact with digital media. We come in sideways, and leave sideways. And as the web expands to unprecedented proportions, our affiliation and repeat-interaction with websites decreases in frequency.
Given the difficulty of monetizing this increasingly non-repeat web traffic, the solution more frequently chosen is to ‘push back’ by blocking ad blockers entirely, or to use a nag screen to encourage whitelisting.