Should We Donate Attention To Support Bloggers?

In a post today entitled “The joke of advertising on social media“, Steve Hodson goes through some familiar territory in the challenges social media companies faces in coming up with a viable business model:

  • Social media is built around the idyllic concept that content should be free.
  • Social media companies insist to advertisers that they have a willing flock to make their millions off of.
  • But early adopters of social media behave like a swarm of pissed off wasps at the mere mention of advertising.
  • Case in point: many people (myself included) rejected Google’s Chrome browser because it didn’t support an ad blocking plug-in.

So far his argument is–or should be–uncontroversial. And I agree with his prediction that “Social media in all its goodness will only survive if people like you and me can contribute but know that we can pay our bills at the same time.” There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and bloggers cannot live by page views alone.

But then he continues: “users of social media…have to stop being so greedy with their attention span.” This is a slightly different take on the “no free lunch” argument than I expected. If I understand him correctly, he is suggesting that we click on ads out of a sense of obligation, to make up for the fact that we are receiving content for free.

If my understanding is accurate, then I have to part ways with Hodson. If bloggers want to put out a tip jar and encourage readers to leave tips, that’s fine. And if they want to make it clear that clicking on an ad is, from their perspective, equivalent to leaving a few pennies as a tip, that’s fine too. There’s nothing wrong with asking users to be generous. 

But the whole point of tipping is that it isn’t out of a sense of obligation. Tips are supposed to be on top of paying a fair market value for services rendered. I know that isn’t always the case; in the United States, the minimum wage law calls out the existence of occupations where tips customarily represent a substantial portion of an employee’s income. But that doesn’t make it a good idea, let alone an example for new markets.

I realize that individual bloggers are hardly in a position to unilaterally change the prevailing business model accepted by a culture where people expect information to be free. And so we run through the sequence Hodson describes, and everyone is frustrated: underpaid writers, advertising-inundated readers, and profitless investors. But at least reality is finally sinking in, and I am personally optimistic that the days are numbered for the dominance of the advertising-supported model. Call it an audacity of hope.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

4 replies on “Should We Donate Attention To Support Bloggers?”

when I say

>“users of social media…have to stop being so greedy with their attention span.”

I am not suggesting that readers clicks out of a sense of obligation. What I am more referring to is the fact that readers use things like ad blockers because they don’t feel that ads are worthy of their attention and should be ignored to the point of making them disappear from view.

I have tried “tip jars” and they don’t work worth a damn. I have tried affiliate type scenarios but because of the type of blog I write they are just as pointless.

The majority of bloggers will never see themselves becoming the next Arrington, Cashmore or any of the other blogging luminaries. Book deals aren’t in their cards, speaking engagements will never happen and subscription models for expanded content is a pipe dream.

So what is left for bloggers to try and make a living?

Advertising – but with people thinking that they don’t have to see any ads on blogs they visit – well to me that is just being greedy with their attention span.


Steve, thanks for stopping by. Actually, with FriendFeed (which I just joined), perhaps there’s a way to have a unified comment feed for this post and yours? I’m still learning the ropes.

Anyway, back to the substance, I agree with your characterization of the problem. Nothing seems to work except advertising, and even that is on shaky grounds.

But, just to make sure I understand, aren’t most of the advertising models pay-per-click? If so, then don’t bloggers need readers to not just view ads, but also click them? If the readers who despise ads don’t block them but still don’t click on them, how does this help anyone?

I’d be curious to know the average click-through rates and revenue-per click that bloggers see for AdSense or its leading alternatives. For how many bloggers is it realistic to make a living off of this revenue? Perhaps it makes more sense to consider advertising approaches that are pay-per-view rather than pay-per-click and that are less susceptible to ad blocking. Like product placement.

Maybe that’s extreme. But I think things will get worse before they get better. That’s what we get as a society for succumbing to the tyranny of free.



It all depends on the ad network and/or if you have sponsors i.e.: Scoble/Seagate. Some ads are purely PPC, others are CPM and yet others can be a combination.

So technically if a blogger has enough of a readership the CPM while on the low side of payouts will still pay money.

Now I am defintely not an expert by any means on the different ad mosels out there but I do know if I had my druthers I would perfer the sponsorship model. The problem with them is that very few companies want to go that route and if they do you need to be someone like Scoble to be able to interest them.

Unless you are again a big name in the blogging world AdSense is a pennies business as far as an income.


I prefer transparent models myself, and sponsorship meets the transparency test with flying colors. I haven’t overcome my concern that sponsorship will raise skeptical users’ hackles, but perhaps that’s overcome by a blogger building a reputation first, and then seeking out sponsors (who, in any case, wouldn’t be interested in a blogger who hadn’t already established a reputation).

But I do fall squarely in the ad-blocker camp. The attention market of web advertising (particularly AdSense) is extremely inefficient: most ads waste the reader’s time without yielding any return for the advertiser or the content provider. There’s got to be a more efficient way to make sure people are paid for their work.

That said, it’s interesting that ad blockers haven’t really caught on, despite their availability from the earliest days of the web. Perhaps the ad-supported model has more longevity than I give it credit for.


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