Warning: rant ahead. Nick talks about conversational advertising, one of the alternatives to regular advertising that some bloggers are trying out. The one thing that we constantly have to remind ourselves is that there really is no such thing as free anything. Advertising has to appear in some form. Everything costs something, somehow, sometime, somewhen. You may not pay for something directly or even in cash, but you will pay in some way. Sometimes it’s in cash, sometimes in reciprocal activity.
So let’s ask ourselves, what do advertisers want? Our cash, yes, but first they want our eyeballs (and ears for radio), and they’ll pay to get it. It’s always been that way. Early on in the history of TV, not every business person believed TV ads were worth it. But eventually, they realized the hypnotic power of TV, and the influence in purchasing decisions. TV is still the most expensive medium out there (but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), because of the immense cost of doing business.
Of course, the Internet has had a similar effect, but which is still in its infancy. The right form of advertising online doesn’t exist, in my opinion. There are always some people who won’t like advertising, but it’s a cost associated with the distribution of any kind of information or entertainment. Even public TV broadcasting caved in North America, and to survive, allowed a few minutes of commercial advertising per hour.
While shows like Firefly or others just may be able to swing the production costs of an entire season just by pre-selling a future DVD collection, not everyone is going to manage this. When I was publishing my book/ film/ music review magazine, someone in the publishing industry once told me that some of the “best” books ever written would probably never see print (i.e., distribution). He’d taken upon himself to set up his own imprint and publish one or two quality literary hardcovers per year, when he could afford it, and whether or not he’d make a profit. (He would at least break even, but he had to maintain a high-paying job to manage this act of altruism.)
I did the same thing with demo tapes of select young bands that came to me and asked for a helping hand. This was after my print magazine folded, simply because I just didn’t have time to go sell ads, and couldn’t trust any of my ad people to do anything other than spend my money on lunch and parking. I struggled through 2 years of booking bands, putting on shows, paying for demo tapes, posters, stickers, and so on. Ultimately, the market didn’t support it, because during a time of recession, young people would rather pay $10 to listen to a half-assed, snotty DJ play tunes they’re familiar with than go see a new, talented but raw band for $5. That’s life, and you have to work around that, be innovative, or find something else to do.
So what’s the problem on the Internet and with everyone who thinks that blogs and websites and RSS feeds, and what have you, shouldn’t have advertising? Arguably, it’s the current generation raised from a very young age on the Internet who have been able to get so much for free, whether by hook or by crook, and believe that everything should be free and that they shouldn’t have to do anything in return. You know who you are. Nothing free can be sustained for long.
Sorry, but this just isn’t possible, and if you think otherwise, you’re delusional. That includes everyone who says that RSS feeds should be full-text. The bandwidth costs are too prohibitive for most small publishers, especially those whose sites or feeds aren’t yet earning what their content warrants. And in the case of full-text RSS feeds, far too many subscribers update their feed folders multiple times per day when it’s unnecessary. I won’t do the cost breakdown, but it’ll be prohibitive for most publishers.
It’s all very easy to say that if their content is any good, they’ll eventually earn money. The fact is, it’s easy to forget that money is simply a symbol, not the entity we’ve made it out to be. It’s representative of a transaction that’s happened or about to happen. That means that for my offering you a service, you must reciprocate in some way, whether it’s to buy something from me, or from someone else who in turn buys something from me, or by simply lending my sponsors your eyes (or ears). There really isn’t any other way around this.
I’d love to be able to offer you all of my blogging at no cost, but for the service I offer you (those that read my blogs), I have to somehow earn compensation, or throw in the towel. Unfortunately, online advertising has a ways to go before it reaches a maturity level and form that’s acceptable to the majority. But how exactly does that happen with a billion people online? That’s the question that has to be answered, obviously.
Oh, and while I’m ranting, for Robert Scoble and all of you who want full-text feeds at no cost, in subscriber fees or advertising, I say to you, learn how to use a feed reader properly. All it takes is one damn click extra to see the rest of an excerpted story. Are you that lazy? And to all of you online publishers b*tch*ng about your blogs or feeds not getting click-through to your permalink pages, write better titles and opening paragraphs ;>