3x59: Addition Edition

Jeremy Garcia, Jono Bacon, and Stuart Langridge present Bad Voltage, in which we discuss ad-supported services and the (potential?) rise of subscriptions. Have ads gone away, or started to? Are social media networks being supported by ads now pivoting to something else? And are Patreon and sponsorships mostly a boon for small creators, or a seed of a shift in the culture of how businesses and services work online?


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News music: Long Live Blind Joe by Robbero, used with attribution.

Thank you to Marius Quabeck and NerdZoom Media for being our audio producers!

I’m always weirded out to hear anybody say that ads would be great if they were targeted better…at least from someone not involved in a transaction about ad space. I mean, that’s advocating for surveillance, since you can’t target ads well without the ad exchange knowing everything about you.

My current favorite commercial, in fact, almost completely (and accidentally) rips the mask off the industry. It’s an insurance company of some sort (it’s not a good commercial), where one of the fake customers addresses the camera and says “it’s a great product. I typed best insurance into Google, and clicked the first result.” And this tells us two important things about ads.

  • You don’t need them, because the Internet and the ability to search said Internet exists.
  • Search result ordering is basically SEO, not product quality, and the same is true of ads.

In fact, that’s another huge problem, here: Ads (with the possible exception of political ads) are anti-competitive, since the already-wealthier company can always bid more for time/space ads than the upstart, meaning that you’re not getting the best product so much as the most established product.

In any case, I do buy into the premise of the episode that ads aren’t doing what people want them to do. The fact that the ad platforms are raking in money doesn’t mean that they’re doing anything. We’ve been promised for decades, now, that the beauty of Internet ads is that you’ll know exactly what you’re doing that works and doesn’t work, and…who has that information? Has anyone run an ad (or know of a company that does) who has that analysis? Because if they don’t know that they perform well (something which Google and Facebook would study and publish widely), we should probably assume that they don’t perform except for the platform selling space. And that does put media in danger.

Anyway, as to the point of the episode (long way around for that), I increasingly spend money on independent creators working on things that I either enjoy or see a need for. But I don’t know if subscriptions perform any better for all but a tiny fraction of that class of creator.