Are Content Thieves Stealing Your Revenue?

Content Thief

I recently followed an interesting online conversation about people who read forums or blogs with ad blockers in place, so they get the content but they don’t see the ads that support that content.

A few well-known Internet marketers referred to this as “theft.” It’s an interesting perspective. Ads pay the bills. If readers don’t see the ads, eventually the advertisers will pull out and the bills won’t get paid.

There’s just one problem with this line of thinking.

If you get too attached to it, you’re road kill.

The decline and fall of the music empire

Big music companies are in serious trouble. With the advent of simple music-sharing sites like Napster in 1999, young people (who once kept record companies fat and happy) decided overnight that music was supposed to be free.

And once they decided that, it was free. You can try to lock down content with digital rights management, sue a few college kids, and shut down as many sites as you can find. But there’s no force in the world that is going to prevent people from sharing music without paying for it. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s nothing anyone can do to put him back in.

Does that mean all musicians now need to get jobs as waiters to pay the rent?

Nope.

Musicians create experiences like concerts that can’t be fully captured in a recording, and charge premium prices for that experience. They can print limited edition boxed sets with “collectible” packaging. They can license their name or creative content to advertisers, clothing companies, lunch box manufacturers, whatever.

The sticky wicket for record companies is that musicians can do all of this without their help. Global communication and distribution have become frictionless. Everyone’s a publisher now.

When the music industry stuck its fingers in its ears and declared, “music sharing is theft, period,” that might have made a certain ethical and logical sense. But it didn’t work. And now record companies are playing a painful game of catch-up. Some are simply not going to survive.

Getting out of the free content ghetto

If you’re a content producer, this can be a sticky wicket for you, too.

Let’s say you produce page after page of terrific content for free on your blog. If your users start blocking ads, or if they simply ignore them, you’ve got no way to monetize, right? You’re going to die poor and alone in a fifth-floor walkup with no heat and a really skinny cat.

Or . . . maybe not.

The nice thing about not being a multibillion dollar international conglomerate is that you can be a little more agile.

Context-driven ads do have a place. (Read about how Markus Frind makes $10 million a year on an hour of work a day if you think online ads are dead.) Sometimes they’re the right solution.

But sometimes you’re going to need to get more creative. If you have an “ad-blind” readership, if your audience is consuming content with tools that don’t show ads, or if you don’t happen to be getting 1.6 billion page views a month, you might need other options. Maybe we can take some ideas from how musicians are handling it.

Get creative about how to get paid

How could the concert model work for you? In other words, how can you create an experience that can’t be reproduced in a simple digital file?

How could you create premium pricing for access to your expertise, with your content playing a supporting role?

How could your content support someone else’s product? Could you use your relationship with your community to recommend really terrific digital products that solved problems for your readers?

Taking it a big step further, is it possible you could provide content that taught your readers how to get much, much more out of those third-party products?

If you taught your readers cool new ways to fish, is it just possible they’d buy fishing poles from you?

How could you create a community of true fans that would rather pay for your products than get free bootlegs? Because they don’t see you as an anonymous collection of pixels, but as a friend who has helped make their lives better.

I could try to find bootleg copies of products from Naomi Dunford or James Chartrand. But I don’t. Because I respect those people and I want to support their businesses. I’m grateful for what they’ve done for me, and I want to honor the work they’ve put in.

Not because I have to. Because I want to.

The law of reciprocity still works. You just have to learn the angles that work today. Create complex experiences that are hard to steal. Cultivate real relationships with your customers and readers. And start getting creative about new business models for information.

Some pretty smart people think that paid online training and multimedia continuing education is the best online business model for the 21st Century. Check out Teaching Sells for the many reasons why.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. True that, Sonia. It’s all building relationships, something that no technology can bootleg. James and Naomi are perfect examples. They further their reach by the strength of their voice. Being unique and genuine is their meal ticket.

  2. Great questions/answers! Lately I decided to try advertising my site with stumbleupon http://myphillynetwork.com/ .In their faqs though, they note how most of their users block ads and js so my google and woopra stats might not match their stats. How do I handle that? Thanx for giving me options now…

  3. Throughout all of this, I think its time we mention both The Simple Dollar and Zenhabits.net. Both of these blogs made their content free. You’re allowed to republish it how you see fit and decline to link back to their websites.

    These are two examples of bloggers who understand that there is more to blogging than the advertising model. Oh, and, maybe we shouldn’t be calling them bloggers now. We should call them Writers since both of them got book deals.

    Additionally, why don’t we look at what Brian Clark did. Instead of joining the advertising rat race, he created a special learning environment. He monetized it by charging a premium and people joined. It was almost like a private concert with a premium price tag…

  4. One way of getting over the ad blocking problem is to use Amazon affiliate programs. If you really like a product, you can write a post about it. And every time one of your readers clicks trough your post to Amazon and buys something, you’ll get your share from the revenues. If you state the fact that you’re an Amazon affiliate, everything is quite ethical. I don’t use it at the moment, but it’s a nice alternative that creates value for all three parties: the reader, Amazon and the blogger.

  5. This seems like the future of monetization for most online content producers. Your blog, or website, is used as an introduction and a way to gain familarity with potential customers. Monetization comes from expanding their free experience and offering value added products to them for a fee.

    Mat

  6. Interesting point of view.

    As a former editor of a computer_security journal–I saw a lot of articles about how the recording and music industry was suing students (and subsequently their parents) for using peer-to-peer networks to download and share music files. This is the age of the Internet… and Web 2.0. The students (and most folks) see a $15 CD or $20 DVD as “highway robbery” –because they know they can buy 100 R-CDs at CostCo or Walmart or OfficeDepot for about $30. And… they can download the music “for free”.

    When I was a kid… the music we heard on the “radio” was “free”… and I favored a particular FM station that professed to “not talk over the music”. And when I heard an introduction to a song I liked, I’d push the record button on my AM/FM/cassette player/recorder and record that song. Many times I got lucky and started and stopped the tape so that I wouldn’t get an advertisement or the announcer jabbering. Soon, I had a nice collection of cassette tapes with unique mixes of songs and artists. Some of those tapes got damaged (my tape recorder ate them, or Dad’s car tapeplayer ate them… or they got lost)… but by that time, I liked the song so much (and many of the artists’ other works) that I’d just go down to the local music shop and buy the LP (yeah, this was back in the days of the LPs–and yes, I still have those LPs.. and I’ve considered buying one of those LP-to-CD conversion players to finally free-up some space in my den). But I still occasionally find those old tapes. And I still listen to them. And yup, occasionally I’ll hear an advertisement (for a business long gone) that I inadvertently captured when I was taping the music.

    I did hear that there was some sort of “Music Gestapo” that would roam the country and step into restaurants, bars, and retail establishments and “FINE THEM” for unauthorized playing of music in a public venue. And, a few years ago, I noticed our church would indicate the license# for the Christian Musicians Association (or something like that) that indicated that they *DID* have approval and were paying a fee for using the music in a “public venue”. And, those fees helped to pay the musicians (I’m assuming here). But maybe this isn’t that widespread.

    Recently, my wife and I were watching the TV…and an ad for music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s on CDs came up. We went for it. Now I had those songs. I’m assuming that the singers/musicians got some MORE residual income from these.

    So….. using this analogy for writers/photographers/artists? How do we squeeze an income from our “content”? Make what we do “residual”… make it so valuable that folks will WANT to buy it. Make it EXCLUSIVE to only those who will pay for it. Have ways to check to see if it’s being used without authorization. But don’t freak if you see that it IS being used without authorization… just change course such that those using it without authorization will not see the course-change and won’t get the full benefit of your current stuff.

    This tactic/strategy may or may not work in your particular situation… but it IS something to consider when you are trying to squeeze an income out of your intellectual property–your creations.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    Dave Gardner, aka “EditorDave”
    http://www.squidoo.com/EditorDave

  7. So some parasites refuse to even look at ads, and the solution is to shill someone else’s product?

    The interweb is doomed.

  8. Thanks for the link to Markus Frind’s interview. I got motivated by his success back in 2006 and created TwoSoulsAsOne.com but after 3 months and only 200 members I decided to take a break and move to other projects. Now I see that he only had 40 members after two months and didn’t give up. I have already started getting back to finish an upgrade in features that I started a long time ago. Hopefully this time I can make it hit the target.

  9. Sonia: This line is gold:

    “You’re going to die poor and alone in a fifth-floor walkup with no heat and a really skinny cat.”

    I really like the angle, too. Bottom line, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

  10. As someone with a significant case of “ad blindness” I have never worried about whether or not people click on the ads in my blog…uh, I don’t have any at the moment anyway, LOL. I’m about to finish Yaro Starak’s Blog Mastermind course and one of the reasons I joined in the first place was that he didn’t claim that ads on your blog would make you rich. Instead his monetization methods span a variety of avenues including releasing your own products, paid reviews, affiliate marketing etc. I suspect paid advertising on the net is going to move toward a model similar to what we see now in TV advertising. We will see some version of “product placement” on the popular websites pretty soon!

  11. I’m proud to say I Stumbled this post first :) Love it.

    I am a veteran music biz participant with many hats… I’ve seen massive changes of course, and most of them are TERRIFIC bottleneck-breakers.

    I think of it like this… the free stuff I make available (music and vocal information) is advertising. The public never paid for advertising… it paid for goods and services the advertising successfully sold them. Only now, the advertising we do has to bring real, tangible and measurable value itself in order to earn the trust of further transactions with people in the market for what we better do extremely well.

    The rules have changed. People have to learn them. I’ve learned a lot from following Copyblogger and did indeed sign up for Teaching Sells for a while to learn more.

  12. I agree that the rules have changed- dramatically. And if you are going to “play in the schoolyard” then today, with New Marketing, you need to become more creative in your marketing efforts. Ads are the way many pay bills- but just like TV- if an ad shows up- you can change the channel. Only a % of them will be seen. Social Media in many respects has changed the entire structure of marketing communication in today’s world. And MUST HAVE content -people will purchase. That is I believe the secret- provide content like copyblogger does and others do–that is jaw dropping. –Either you play by the New Rules- or risk getting buried by those who do. Thanks Sonia for this great post- and thanks Brian for sharing! Rocking Hot!

  13. I’m not yet at the point where ads are making me money, but even once my blog gets there I hope I’ll remember to focus on reader relationships first. From all that I’ve seen online, having great rapport with your readers is the ultimate way to make money anyway. Not to mention satisfaction as a writer!

  14. Wow, this turned out to be a much better piece than I expected. Kind of funny that bloggers could become the same dinosaurs that the rest of the big corporations became.

  15. Another ripper read! This quality content makes me welcome my Copyblogger email, rather than dread it. Many thanks! P. :)

  16. I’ve been pushing the model pay for incremental experience …. free html, pay more for print, pay a lot more for in-person … etc.

  17. It’s an interesting perspective to present the premise that java blockers are content thieves. I got a big of a kick reading this. I run FireFox with NoScript. One website I work for, I had been working for, for a few years. One day we were having problems with something so I turned off NoScript. WOW! I had no idea how many ads the site had.

    For me, I’d never click on the ads anyway, so no one is losing anything from my end and I don’t get annoyed by the noise of the ads.

    Plus my web page load times are so much faster.

  18. Nice post… the music industry/concert analogy is perfect! Being a former concert promoter, I completely understand.

  19. bruce hutcheon :

    Bring on the transformation of connection and a new media of marketing

  20. Hi Sonia,

    great post. From what I’ve seen, the ads to me aren’t a big deal. They’re usually not in the way so no point on getting blockers. Know what I mean? Also, was actually looking into the online training of teaching sells,thanks!

    AJ Kumar

  21. For anyone looking for a role model to follow, look no further than Gene Simmons of the rock band “KISS” fame.

    He didn’t sit around whining like everyone else in the music industry. He went out and made himself rich on the power of his celebrity with his raving fans.

    If you want a glimpse at all the different ways he found to get money outside of selling records, go get his book “Sex, Money and KISS”.

    It’s a gem. This is a book that will always be in library.

    Just don’t get your knickers all twisted with the idea that “I’m not in the music business. These ideas can’t work for me.”

    A doofus can make that diagnosis. A genius will figure out how to adapt what he’s done to what you do.

    Note Taking Nerd #2
    http://www.mynotetakingnerd.wordpress.com

  22. How could you create a community of true fans that would rather pay for your products than get free bootlegs? Because they don’t see you as an anonymous collection of pixels, but as a friend who has helped make their lives better. The anwser to that question lies in providing first and foremost good content for your readership. This way they will keep coming back for your content and the rest they will put up with.

  23. I think it all gets back to multiple streams of income in everything you do. Have the income stream all in one bucket and you risk losing it all. Plan for those contingencies that you couldn’t fathom ever happening and you’re less-likely to lost it all.

  24. A lot of people would like to do away with ads and get straight into content. Great post on how to get paid despite all the cunning ways. I have especially bookmarked this post.

  25. I understand that advertiser on TV have the same problem. Many viewers simply change channels whilst the ads are running.

  26. I have an ad blocker on my TV set – it’s called a remote control.

    Does that mean I’m a thief for watching the programmes without watching the ads?

  27. Very interesting point. Are the ads really that distracting? I find it easy to avoid them for the most part. The sites that are to overwhelming (pop up or full page ads) I just avoid them unless they great.

  28. @Michael Long, the interwebs have been doomed as long as I’ve been using ‘em to hang out with other folks, but that’s a mere 19 years. They just may hang on for another week or two.

    @Demian, thanks. I have perhaps too good an ability to imagine such scenarios.

    @Judy, thank you! I think that’s absolutely the way to look at it–the music, even though it’s at the core of the whole thing, is the advertising. The mindset shift is the trickiest part.

  29. Not only is it a timely and interesting topic, Sonia, but your writing is a treat.

    See folks, she just sold me. I’ll be back to read more.

  30. I have to admit, I’ve been mostly ignoring the music industry as of late. Purchase an occaisional CD, my kids and wife get music online.
    But the new connection between musicians and the audience began at at Buckethead concert I attended with my son last year. There were three guys in the audience covertly wiring the guy in the middle with microphones to bootleg the show. Appalled (being old school and having seen people thrown out of concerts for less in the days when we had to walk 40 miles uphill in the snow to go have our eardrums pounded) I of course pointed it out to security. The security guy said – no worries, its encouraged at these shows.
    By the next concert we went to that year – Disciple, Superchik – one of the opening acts was encouraging people to post any videos they took on the cameras or phones to you tube.
    It’s a different business model these days – and I think your right – it may soon have nothing to do with record companies unless (unlike our auto giants) they decide to be more like baking soda. Sure they can make records, but they will have to find more uses for themselves if they hope to survive.

  31. I should caveat I meant “But I became aware of the new connection between musicians and the audience” – as it was the first real concert I had attended in years.

  32. I only use ads on secondary pages and only to cover the expense of running the website. I figure that is zero overhead if the ads on the secondary pages make enough to pay the expenses for the whole business. It seems to work! On the top interactive pages, I create value and offer highly original products or services.

  33. Its important for all newbies to note this. If your aim to “Create it” is to eventually “Convert it” you should build the blog around those lines. I have removed the ads from my blog, because my Idea to “Convert it” is different. And that’s so important to avoid annoyance.

  34. Good post. I happen to think piracy/inevitably-free-content is good. It forces the market to evolve, and usually, become better and more sophisticated.

  35. Great content and a Remarkable product, make for a great website, business, blog…, this site has all of that. I’m going to come back if you’ll have me. I’m sorry to say I didn’t look at any of the ads here! We have done some articles on Creative vs Directional advertising on the blog at our website.

    1. Creative Advertising: you advertise in a magazine, Newspaper, or TV, and hope a homeowner will see your Ad, and call you.
    · Can you name the last full page ad you read anywhere?
    · Can you remember an ad, on the radio in the last hour?
    · Can you remember a truck side ad you’ve seen lately?

    2. Directional Advertising: The buyer searches for your business, typically through, Google, Yahoo, MSN, or the Phone Book.
    · Are you actively using Google Adwords?
    · Are you actively Blogging for your business?
    · Are you publishing articles in forums on the Internet?

    What you’re doing here is what sells now, keep at it, I’m going to keep coming back and maybe I’ll buy something!
    I am going to tell people about this blog, and that’s all that really matters.
    Thanks, Bob Lewis

  36. nice posting, hard economic situation like now, making people doing everything for creating money and pass the crisseas

  37. Great read. When I read this I thought of one success story. Jonathan Coulton gave all his music away for free, one song a week for a year. He was building a following that now rivals anyone else online. Now he travels the country, no the world, to sold out crowds; people who took something for free and is rewarding him by going to his concerts. You have to build a community; build trust and mutual reciprocation. That’s where the success is.

  38. That is how many marketers send me newsletters. One marketers sells his product on how to get free traffic to a website. He gives some useful information freely and then tells us to find the detailed plan of attack to put that information to use after buying his product. I think this definitely works.

  39. Ah, the law of reciprocity. I was SO effing happy with Freelance X Factor that I bought Teaching Sells. And ignored teaching sells. Not because I didn’t want to get into it, but I’m busy right now. And I’m not unhappy. If I never finish Teaching Sells, I’ll be fine. I’ve already made my money back.

    And if I DO go through Teaching Sells and earn that it’s as $/productive as X factor, man.

    (X factor mostly told me to go after better clients).

  40. Giving away valuable contents and helping your readers are the new way of marketing. The pushy sales tactics do not work in this area. I notice when somebody aggressively forces me to buy, I naturally pull away, but if they offer real value the first time, I agree with the article, I’d want to buy just to support them.

  41. This is some valuable and useful information.

  42. Yes, I concur being a creative writer can help one to use his writing skills to generate revenues.