People vs Advertisements

Advertisements are frustrating and serve only to annoy the free user. Jan Koum and Brian Acton, founders of Whatsapp, hated advertisements. Jan’s first-ever tweet, a reference to the movie Fight Club, goes- “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” Here’s another quote from one of the early Whatsapp blogs- “Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought.” (It’s interesting to note that Facebook, which acquired Whatsapp in 2014, basically makes money off ads. Yet, Whatsapp has managed to remain ad-free as of today.)

The Problem

YouTube shoving ads down a viewer's throat

I can’t think of one person who goes to YouTube just to catch the ads before the beginning of the actual video. Unsolicited ads are not welcomed. People either tolerate them or use ad-blockers to get rid of them. In fact, as of January 2020, there were around 181M desktop ad-block users, up from 21M around 10 years ago (source). Unsolicited ads seem to be universally hated and yet online platforms like YouTube have been shoving increasing number of ads down our throat. 

If you’re accessing blogs or news or any other kind of content for free, then you’re subjected to a bombardment of ads. They’re distracting and make it difficult to figure out the actual content. On the other hand, there are websites that will keep the content behind pay-walls and only allow you to access it if you’re a paid subscriber. I don’t like either of these models. There needs to be a better way; there has to be a better way. 

A screen with paywall and another with too many ads

As a content creator or a product owner, however, ads may make sense when you’re providing “free” content. I would argue though that in principle, the content is not free, and that the audience is paying a price with their most valuable resource- their time and possibly their sanity. 

Not Subscription

New York Times website offers 10 articles per month for free. Paid subscribers get access to unlimited articles. But what if you wanted to access just the 11th article and would likely never access the 12th? It seems unfair in this case to pay the full weekly or monthly price for something you won’t access that often, even when it may cost about the same as a cup of coffee. 

Now, what if there is this different news site that you want to access and has a similar business model? You wish to access the 11th article so you spend another couple of bucks on the subscription. So now you’ve subscribed to two services that you would probably never use as often in the future.

A possible solution could be bundled subscriptions. In my previous blog, I talked about this business model. Apple One is one of the latest examples. But different companies may not be as likely to cooperate and combine their services together. And the bundles may not have services that individual users would prefer. 

Micropayments via crypto wallet

There needs to be something more universal, something that doesn’t tie you down and something that is more democratic and affords privacy. Maybe a universal wallet with a universal currency that drains as you access more content. There would be no advertisements involved.

Access to content determined by the balance in your crypto wallet

Today, every time a visitor watches an ad, some money, say, a fraction of a dollar, is paid to the content creator. More viewers equal more money. This may not cost the visitor any money, but it costs them time and frustration. 

Content behind ad

Now, what if instead of watching an ad the viewer decides to instead pay what the ad would to the content creator? (This is assuming that the content itself doesn’t promote a product- meaning that the creator is being paid to create the content). The visitor in this hypothetical scenario pays a small fraction of a bitcoin (equivalent to some tiny fraction of a dollar), a micropayment, using their crypto wallet to the creator. The platform, let’s call it Not-YouTube, recognises this transaction and doesn’t display the ad to the viewer. So, it’s a pay-per-view (or pay-per-access; I need to contact some attorneys to clarify this terminology) model and not a subscription-based one. 

Pay and access content

The pay-per-view might make more sense in cases where the visitors do not want to make a longer commitment. Most of us know of the pay-per-view model from living in hotels, where they charge you for watching certain channels. But here, it implies a micropayment and not a payment worth a few bucks. This would require trust and the system would need to establish this trust without causing frustration to both the creator and the visitor. 

What this means for Advertisers

For an advertising company like Google, this could mean trouble in the shorter run. We are talking about getting rid of the ads. Future video streaming platforms like Not-YouTube would allow users to pay from their crypto wallets to the creators and save time and frustration. Google would be looking at pivoting with their business model or risk going under.  

It is to be noted that there are people who don’t mind the advertisements. I asked some friends who said they prefer the ads. Maybe they would change their mind once a new model is introduced? Personally, I hate them, and they present an opportunity for an alternative business model. 

Related Articles-

https://hbr.org/2014/05/making-freemium-work

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/business/media/advertising-industry-research.html

https://medium.com/maximum-tinkering/looking-beyond-the-advertising-business-model-86664fe197ed

https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/10/02/ad-blockers

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