Internet, Ads and Writing

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:42 AM

A friend, who I'll let go nameless unless he wishes to identify himself, was having a spirited debate with me about Internet advertising. He remarked that it seemed to him site owners would prefer getting more hits over having fewer hits with advertising. It is an interesting idea, but I would suggest that it is an idea that is actually the same as the one that led to the Dot Com bubble and bust.

But, first, as I told him, the key principle for viewing ads — from a Christian standpoint — is that we are told the laborer is worth his wages (Luke 10.7, 1 Tim. 5.17-18). So fundamentally, for Christians, before we debate whether or not refusing to view ads is doing favors for the business owner, we ought to stop right here. Full stop, move along, there is nothing more to see here. It is only a legalistic, “find the loophole” view of things that allows us to say, “ads, oh, I didn't know that was a payment — surely I am not obligated to pay for services rendered to me!” The clear Christian principle is to pay for that which we receive. To deny a clear request for payment while enjoying the service rendered is simply wrong. And so, I try to practice this principle: if I find a site where I would need to remove the inline ads to be able to make use of it (because there are too many, or too many objectionable ones, etc.) I quit using the site. I've done so before, and will do so again.

That said, how is the business argument for overlooking people removing ads? Does it work? No. The flawed thinking here is based on the concept of “more eyeballs are better than profit.” Many early e-tailers worked on this principle selling products for massive losses purely to get more users. That could only work until they ran out of cash, then their companies died painful deaths.

The first rule of economics is simple: one produces a product up to but no farther than when marginal revenue equals marginal cost. If producing one more widget (or receiving one more visitor) means taking even the slightest loss, it doesn't make good sense to do so. If I can receive 2,000 visitors and make a profit, it is in no way better to get 10,000 and take a loss under normal circumstances. You are not doing Digg a favor by using their services if you never view their ads. They are better off without you, unless you happen to be Rush Limbaugh or Oprah and your endorsement is worth millions. Otherwise, do your favorite site on which you block ads a favor: quit using it.

No doubt, writers like to be read and will write sometimes for no cost simply for the thrill of having readers. Bloggers do this most certainly — though in large part my interest has more to do with interacting with my blogging friends. My own writings generally are not income generators, at least of any significance. But, on the other hand, most folks don't want to pay to be read. There are exceptions, for example, maybe I want you to read my site to sell my book, or my radio program, or what have you — but generally the question would be why would I pay you to read my work? Would I pay you to eat my culinary creation? Drive my car? Live in my house?

Yes, you as the reader pay for your Internet, but nearly every provider you deal with is paying more than you are. They are paying for redundant connections, power generators, backup storage, professional IT staffers and of course developers and writers of the services you enjoy — far more than the little $14.95 a month you pay for Internet access. And, remember: you are the one that wants to use Digg or MySpace (incidentally, I use the former little and the latter not at all), so it only makes sense that you are the one to foot the bill. That is how capitalism is suppose to work: the one who wants something pays for it. Put bluntly, if it costs you a little or a lot is your problem, not the provider's.

And so, as always, I present my challenge to those who wish to do the morally right thing but despise ads. Quit viewing sites with ads. Typically people making such an argument say the Internet was better before ads. Fine, maybe it was; let's find out by having you only use ad-free sites. Don't forget, that means no Google. Have fun. If you like it that way, keep at it and everyone is happy. If you do not, well, then, can you really complain about the ads?

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