This article is largely a rant about people simultaneously complaining about businesses putting advertisers first, while demanding everything for free. And while I use “you” in the article, I am not necessarily speaking to my readers. In fact, I hope that those who are reading this article, at least on Medium, are paying subscribers. The “you” to whom I refer is anyone who thinks that content on the internet should be free.
I don’t like the way Facebook does business. And in many cases, they must change their habits. Some things they’ve done are downright unethical. However, there are plenty of other times where they’re simply looking out for the interests of the advertisers, first and foremost, taking the interests of the users into account, but only as a close second.
That sounds horrible, right? No. Imagine if you were paying a company for something, and the company treated you like dirt, while people who were coming in and getting another service for free were waited on hand and foot. You’d be pissed off, right? Damn right! You’re a paying costumer. You’re the consumer. Businesses are beholden to you, because you’re paying for a service, and so there’s a certain expectation of responsibility.
Well, you’re not Facebook’s customer, unless you’re paying for ads. You’re not Twitter’s customer either, unless you’re paying them for ads. I am, because I pay for advertising. And so, both ethically, and legally, these entities must take my needs and wants into consideration, before they take into consideration the needs and wants of the user. And that’s how it should be.l
If you want these companies to treat you better, and if you want to have these companies think about you first, and the advertiser second, or not at all, then you need to start paying. You cannot expect everything for free.
A Hybrid Approach
A lot of service provides have ad and ad free versions of their platform. Pandora is a good example. By having a paid version of the platform, some of the users become consumers. That’s a good thing. But I still don’t think that it’s the right business model for social media platforms, especially something like Medium or Topix.
Instead, advertising should be more focused. Advertisers should largely be users. For instance, it would be nice if I could advertise one of my articles, on Medium, or at least advertise a publication if I decided to start one. But the revenue for advertising should also be used for a different purpose.
A social network should require payment, with limited free content, like Medium does. This “free free free” mentality is destructive, and by making a company beholden to ad revenue, it has to put the advertisers first, and the users second.
But charging for a service can hurt those who don’t have the financial means, and yet do have a need to engage with others on the platform. That’s where the ad revenue comes in. Ad revenue can be used to provide subscriptions to those who show a financial need. It can also be used to subsidize a referral program, gift memberships, and so on.
Meanwhile, the goal would still be to focus on users, as the advertisers in such a model would largely be users, or superusers, anyway. This setup would require a company to be beholden to both the advertiser and the user, and would make both the consumer, thus ensuring that consumer protection advocates do actually advocate for the consumer, rather than against them.
But users have to lead. Users have to show that they’re willing to pay for a service, and not become infuriated at the idea that a company dare to charge people for the time, energy, and material, that they put into the end product.