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.