What’s wrong with this picture? Maybe nothing, depending on your perspective. It’s just lacking the ads that are normally at the top and the side of the page, thanks to AdBlock software that is readily available for all internet browsers, and now for mobile devices too. Unfortunately, their use is growing, and represents the biggest single threat to the viability of free content publishers, including CC. I hate to have to bring this to your attention, but we’re already feeling the effects, and its scary. Our financial situation is precarious as it is. Fortunately, there is a very easy solution to the adblocking. The rest is not quite so easy.
Every AdBlocking program allows one to “whitelist” designated web sites/domains, which then allows the ads to be delivered, as shown here. I’m not surprised that AdBlock has become more popular, because many site use very obnoxious ads that pop up, move into the screen, cover part of the images, autoplay video without being asked, etc… I’m at the point where I’m tempted to use it myself for some sites.
The whole issue is a very dangerous dance, because as more folks use AdBlock, web sites become more desperate and increasingly use more aggressive ads. And now with adblocking available on mobiles, which accounts for an ever-increasing share of web use, the situation becomes ever more dire. Here’s just one good article that examines the trends and risks for free web media.
It’s also fueling a larger trend in web publishing that increasingly reflects the media world at large: the percentage of web viewing by the largest sites is growing strongly, at the expense of the smaller sites. The web was once the great flowering of a democratic and universal media, thanks to a very low hurdle to publishing. But sustaining it is another matter; the economics of web publishing have always been difficult, but with the consolidation that’s happening along with adblocking trends, it will become an environment increasingly dominated by the large, with many smaller sites slowing down or dwindling away, as has already happened to a number of automotive enthusiast sites.
The stark truth about CC is this: if it weren’t for the fact that I’m not dependent on its income, it would likely have shut down long ago. It’s a full-time job, and more, with highly incommensurate compensation (roughly minimum wage). And that’s only now; the first few years there was almost no income at all. And that’s only when I’m not paying others to help out, which I do to get a bit of relief. Which is a big part of the problem: there’s not enough income to hire anyone on an ongoing basis, since no one else that’s properly qualified is going to be able to do the job for minimum wage, at least not for any length of time. Ideally, there would be at least one full time Managing Editor along with me to keep up with all of the submissions, housekeeping, and creating content. But it’s just not economically possible. And I’m always fighting burnout, given that I have to also keep my other business activities going, although they’ve been neglected.
OK, so much for the pity party. I love CC and want to keep it alive, vibrant and growing. And the revenue from the ads are a key factor. But I refuse to allow obnoxious ads that pop up or cover images, or autoplay, etc.. Our ads never interfere with the reading and images. But that limits the income, especially if they’re blocked.
We get paid by Google Adsense for both showing ads as well as for clicks, which yields more than just showing them. I’m not allowed to suggest that you click ads. But just delivering the display ads provides a substantial part of the ad income, and obviously both revenue streams are killed by adblocking. Our Google Adsense revenue has been stagnant, or worse. And the gap between page views delivered and actual page views has increased, undoubtedly due to adblcking or mobile use with poor ad placements/response.
Newspapers with high quality content are increasingly charging for their digital content, and as an appreciative user of such content, I pay for several of them (NYT, Automotive News, our local newspaper, some others), because quality content is worth the money, and I believe it needs to be supported. I don’t scrimp on the food I feed my belly, or my brain.
I’ve pondered the idea of also charging for CC, but realistically, it’s probably not a viable solution, as the number of subscribers might not make it worth it, or even if it did, it would reduce the overall reach of CC as well as the lively commenting that is a big part of it. I want CC to be available to anyone, and over half our readers every day find themselves here because of a Google search or such.
We do have a Donation button on the right side, and a few of you have been very generous. I really hate to even mention it, because it’s just not my thing to beg, although maybe an NPR-style web-athon is what we really need. But here’s my pledge: all the money that comes in from donations will go towards compensating some of our more needy young writers who work very hard and are trying to leverage themselves into a career, which is a challenging proposition. I want to encourage them, and it does help with my workload. And if there are enough willing to pay a small monthly amount, I would use it to hire an on-going Managing Editor, or a Weekend Editor, or such.
Ok, enough of the dull and dreary side of CC. But we’re sitting pretty much right on the dividing line of what is sustainable long term, and what isn’t. I can’t carry the show myself much longer. It’s a brutal prospect to have to fill up a Calendar seven days a week, or review and edit the posts that have been scheduled. Ask those that have done it before. It’s been almost five years for me, with only a few breaks. Having a healthy Contributor base is a great asset, but there’s always work associated with that too, except for those that have developed to a pro level, which a number of our writers have.
So if CC is to be long-term viable and buck the current trends, which are unfavorable to the smaller, independent web sites, we’re going to have to figure out a solution. Not blocking ads is one helpful part of that, but unfortunately not the whole answer. I’m still looking for that.