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?
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.