I’m not a fan of limited thinking. I much prefer the intellectual exercise of accepting the challenge of a difficult supposition and then figuring out a way to expand the set of answers. I often think of President Kennedy‘s challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years when manned spaceflight had not really happened yet. Had everyone just said “no way” rather than “ok, so IF we were going to do that, how would we?”, we’d never have made it (nor had great films like Apollo 13!).
I thought of that this morning when I read the quote below. It’s from a piece about the need for advertising to support content and a rant on how ad blockers are killing off content:
And so it really is a simple math problem. If there isn’t any money to pay the people who create content or buy and maintain the servers that host that content, there will not be any content. No one’s really coming at the story from that angle. And those who have lived almost their entire lives consuming content for free might need a good slap upside the head. In fact, everyone could use that slap. Because there are only two choices: ad-supported content or subscription-based content. And we all know most will take free if they can get it.
So there is our difficult challenge. I disagree that there are only two choices, however. I’ve also come to realize that it’s really only a problem for a select group of content providers. First, the “two choice” thinking. What about a freemium model? Some very large publishers have successfully adopted it, and if the quality of what you produce is there, people will want more and pay. What about a donation model? PBS has used it successfully for years. So does Wikipedia. I know of several digital entities – podcasts and otherwise – that use Patreon to fund their content production. It’s possible to use the appeal of great content to support an affiliate sales model too – buying products from links on a review site, for example. Frankly, it’s not hard to argue that the ad-supported model is one of the worst options. Besides requiring a large audience to make it work, I think it encourages publishers to grab and abuse consumer data or to inflate page counts (and ad counts) with endless slide shows, etc. Limited thinking means limited choices.
The realization is this. Most “publishers” link to a limited set of high-quality content producers. How many stories that you read, even on big sites, link back to the original work done in the NY Times or Wall St. Journal? It might be a fun exercise to see how many of the people complaining about no money to support content creation are actually creating content or adding value to someone else’s content. Maybe another business model is a little pass-through of payments to the real content creators from those who are using that work to generate revenue? There was such thinking back in the early days of the web. What happened?
As I said upfront, I don’t like limited thinking. Hopefully today you understand why that is. Was I clear?