Related post: Too Poor To Protest: How Income Inequality Silences Your Voice
Reader happiness versus advertising revenue
This is infuriating and intoxicating all at once. When you start a site and begin to build an audience, monetary consequences become more important. There’s serious money to be made. If I place in-text ads in front of my readers’ eyeballs, I risk alienating them while also skyrocketing my earnings. As an author, I constantly wonder what’s more important: A comfortable reading experience or pure profits?
This equation is delicate for any news source. Without ads, they cannot operate. Share too much, and you may lose your avid readership. There’s been a push in recent years to make ads more seamless – an effortless part of the process of consuming media.
CNN took this to the extreme recently, as they turned a simple walk to a couch into an advertising opportunity. A satirical critique from The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart ripped the idea apart and brutally made fun of the network. Clearly, the balance and boundary for advertisements had been crossed. Shortly after displaying this depraved attempt at money making, CNN cancelled the in-show advertising segment.
Ad revenue is falsely, grotesquely linked to success
A recent article in Business Insider catalogued the many ways Android was failing in comparison to the iOS/iPhone platform. In particular, the article focused on the Christmas shopping season purchases between the platforms:
Apple users on iPhone and iPad accounted for five times what Google’s Android users did when it comes to online shopping.
This is certainly a story and interesting financial question: Why are Google’s Android users spending less than their iPhone carrying friends? But here’s where many media outlets take this one step further and assert an ad-friendly correlation that doesn’t necessarily exist:
What the heck is wrong with Android users?
Android people just seem to be sitting on their hands. Their phones are just as powerful as iPhones are. They have bigger screens, too. But they don’t do anything with them.
Simon Khalaf, CEO of Flurry, one of the larger mobile ad companies…had a surprising answer for us: Androids are simply dumbphone replacement devices…
…It seems like the users on the majority of the island aren’t interested in modern life.
By not supporting big business – as much – this Christmas, Android users are being vilified. This contempt for a population seems to be solely motivated by advertising revenue. They’re described as inferior and worthless in the eyes of this media outlet. Why look for Android users when iPhone users will buy more?
Unfortunately, this is an incorrect, vapid conclusion. The author seems to stop short of actually looking for reasonable conclusions about what is happening. Androids make up about 80% of all smartphones. There’s a great diversity in Android users, as many are more affordable than iPhones. Androids can be applied to less expensive prepaid cell phone plans and off contract. These options cater to a different, more frugal audience than iPhones. Shouldn’t these frugal users be exalted for spending less?
Apple appeals to many audiences, but its affordability is better suited to the wealthy. The company’s margins are well known for being industry setting limits, with some products garnering 50% or more markup on actual build value. The person that buys an iPhone is likely in a different income class than an Android user.
But all these reasons are simply a defense of Android users, and that misses the greater point. Larger media outlets often get distracted by revenue and profits as the sole barometer of success. These news sources even go so far as critiquing less ad-friendly executives as being childish.
Embrace ads and be revered by Wall Street
If you’re not developing a way to monetize your platform, Wall Street isn’t interested. When technology darlings rise beyond startup status and begin entertaining an initial public offering (IPO), investors analyze the earning potential. For instance, Snapchat may have a multi-billion dollar valuation, but it’s not making money yet.
Angel investors have pumped hundreds of millions into the company for development. The future looks similar to Facebook: mine user data without explicit permission or choice (accept the terms or get off the app), and plaster intrusive ads that capture your attention and wallet. But who decided Wall Street was the bastion for business acumen and respect for users’ wants?
This is a narrative that major media outlets across the board tend to support. One of my favorite websites, The Verge, suggested that Mark Zuckerberg was childish when he didn’t support advertising as much. Likewise, they suggested that the major turnaround in Facebook’s stock was associated with his new embrace of ads:
Zuckerberg decided to buckle down, grow up, and start focusing on the nitty-gritty of the business.
He got trusted engineers to give up coding and start working on spreadsheets and mobile ads instead. He began taking face-to-face meeting with important clients like McDonalds. And he embraced more ads in both the news feed and in the company’s mobile products. The result has been a strong turnaround that has boosted the stock to new highs. (The Verge)
The Verge’s article seems to portray an atypical business desire as wrong or inferior. Zuckerberg is painted as an idiot that needed to “grow up” to recognize the basic business needs. Instead of being considered a hero for trying to stand up to investors, the media tends to focus on something that supports the mass-media-advertising model.
Consumerism, ads, and real progress
Corporate America would like you to think you’re merely an employee that aids profitability. Why exist if you are not contributing to a bottom line? As a company, there’s this assumption that you should take any and all profits you make – no matter the cost. But there are limits to corporate greed, and a backlash may result from poor planning.
CNN was privy to a major critique of their strange advertising practices. Clearly, a line was crossed. It’s easy to confuse advertising revenues with success. Honestly, when I have months that make me less money on Frugaling, I wonder what I did wrong. Fortunately, there’s a healthier reality that includes the users’ perspective. Success should be gaged in sharing and commenting rather than the profit model.
When your goal is a powerful reading experience – versus profits – you’ll likely end up with more in your pocket anyways.