What Is to Be Done About the Ad-Based Internet economy?



Dennik functions a lot like a few other new sites I have seen. I think it is a good way to go: give people enough substance that informs them enough to know if they want to go further, and then takes the payment, plus the one-time viewing when you share the link. I hope that succeeds. And it can only succeed if the quality behind the wall is worthy. So headline, opening paragraph and whole story have to be aligned.


they actually work together on back end stuff with The Correspondent, but difference is that The Correspondent has nothing behind a paywall.

Dennik N has been running for 5 years, and are finally making more than spending, which allowed them to open a branch in the Czech Republic as well. OH: and they DONT cover sports, which I think is pretty cool (tho, who am I…)

As I mentioned above, I am generally against pay walls, as I think information should be freely available to all. But, I do think for a Local newspaper in a local language, if the fee is affordable even for those with minimum wage, this could be an interesting model.

It’s not the model we’re interested in with Coda Story. We started out with a fundraiser a few years ago, and are now funded by members, donations, and international donor organizations. But we’re trying to figure out how we can rely more on non-pay wall membership, and that’s quite “a puzzle”.

There are a few organizations looking into how to increase engagement in journalism, and they are worth checking out (because an engaged member, will support you - either through donations or word of mouth):

The Membership Puzzle - founded by NYU professor Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 program and De Corresponden, funded by Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Luminate.

Hearken - for-profit

Engaged Journalism Accelerator - run by the European Journalism Centre (EJC), funded by Civil and The News Integrity Initiative


Just a curiosity: how do you know that the 509 e-books are valuable? That would take longer than 50 hours to me.


For the library I built, it did not take longer. It was quick because a lot of the value of tech content can be judged from the book’s context (publication date and topic combination, the organization publishing it etc.). And since there is not that much open source / free content around about these topics, it was often about taking the first substantial work that covers a topic, with the option of replacing it later when something better comes around.

In the case of content on politics, sociology etc. it needs some more checking to weed out badly politically biased stuff, but also the library could probably be smaller.


A big step forward is moving social presence from commercial platforms that harvest data (in order to target ads) to platforms (personal domains, decentralized and p2p social networks) that users control. The ad economy feeds on the firehose of personal data. Take that away, and business models built on microtargeting become less practical.


Ultimately a producer (journalist, publisher or whatever) has to get paid or they will make a living some other way. When the product is substantial journalism in matters of serious public interest, so much of it comes without pay that the pull to get it “free” is overwhelming. Plus, subscribing individually to different news sites (and again, could be some other field besides journalism) you get into a lot of password and payment management. That is itself a daunting set of hoops. In many cases it is the difference between participation. This is true for me - ‘oh no, another password to manage, another site holding my credit info.’ Micropayment solutions have been tried in the past and have not worked. But maybe they are not easy enough. Maybe if it was as easy as dropping a coin into a slot so to speak, it might be viable. There has to be some kind of conscious bartering. Money or something else.

Here is a 2015 article about why micropayments for news struggle to take off.



Perhaps there’s an important distinction between two different advertising economies on the Internet:

  1. The system where ads provide revenue that supports content (like journalism) that consumers used to pay for directly

  2. The system where ads generate revenue by being interpolated amongst things like photos you share with your friends and family - This is content that people generate without an expectation that they will make revenue from it, but in fact the platforms are generating a great deal of revenue.

We need an alternative model for case 1 so that content like journalism continues to be produced for the public benefit. Case 2 could (and perhaps should) be replaced by a system that doesn’t have revenue generation/profit maximization as an objective.


Hello @jasongreen, welcome! I don’t think we met. I’m Alberto, one of the old guard on Edgeryders.

Several people here, myself included, have been longing for a non-commercial generalist social network-type platform. After trying several things that did not do it for me (Diaspora, Ello etc.), I am now cautiously optimistic about something called Scuttlebutt aka SSB – 10 months in and I am still using it. Several people here use it. @zelf has made a passionate case for SSB + mesh networks on this post.


and blendle is actually struggling in NL right now, although I do think the idea in essence is really nice. I have paid for dutch articles that were behind a subscription pay wall otherwise, but other stories they offered I could find for free online.


Some news orgs with paywalls send out free daily newsletters with headlines and a paragraph describing what is in the story. I get one from the LA Times and from Foreign Policy magazine. They both have paywalls, and I get a lot from their newsletters and do once in awhile click through to the story. These are pretty good examples of today’s “give away something in order to sell something” practice.

Historic footnote: do you know that a lot of this method of doing business came from the Grateful Dead?

As a band they made a lot of albums that didn’t sell. They were primarily a live band, and for those who “got it” they were the best band in the world, if you like rock music to be more like jazz in the sense that no two shows are exactly the same with a lot of jamming and free-form playing. So fans went to the concerts way more than they bought the records. The Dead allowed their fans to openly tape record the shows and share them afterwards. This encouraged more people to go see them live. This process led eventually to the late 80s when the Dead sold more live show tickets than any other band. This was right when the Internet was getting started and a lot of early Netheads were also Deadheads. How do you think JP Barlow got so much early traction for his statements? And along with his pronouncements about cyberspace and liberty, he also stressed this fact about the Dead as a modern way to market products. The rest is, as they say, history…


and this just happened https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/05/quartz-built-on-free-distribution-has-put-its-articles-behind-a-paywall/

“At its debut nearly seven years ago, Quartz’s model was to be everywhere — not behind a paywall, not locked inside a mobile app, ready to build an audience through social sharing. But times change — and audiences change. In a move that got little attention last week, the much-lauded global business news site announced that for the first time it would be putting all its articles behind a metered paywall. Read more than 10 or so and you’ll get a pitch for the Quartz Membership, which runs $100 a year or $15 a month. (The membership program launched six months ago, but was originally framed as giving paying users access to more content; Quartz’s traditional articles had remained free to all.)”


ps: that’s an amazing story by the way!


It should also be said that news orgs tend to follow the pack a lot…


To be completely honest, journalists aren’t the most “ahead of the curve” unfortunately.


Usually too busy getting the story.


@inge Thank you very much for sharing the Quartz story!

@Emily, is this maybe also of interest to you? What is your opinion of the role of advertisement or paywalls, or other solutions such as the “Öffentlich Rechtlichen” (tax money sponsored media) Medien?


All media - social or otherwise - could be behind a paywall. That is how it used to be except for hobby BBS systems. I think I said it already, but as a reminder, the advent of domination by advertisements came from the web being tiny and kind of hard to get into compared to other systems that back then depended on a CD that had the program on it. AOL mailed those things out by the millions over the years. You loaded the program and bang - “you’ve got mail!”

Getting onto the web required at first that you have 2 different programs that you had to carefully configure loaded onto your Mac (which is what I had) and you had to have an account with an early ISP (Internet Service Provider). The big companies like ATT and Verizon didn’t offer that. In Europe forget it at first. Telecom was still in the dark ages with their PTTs, until the mass use of mobile phones.

In 1995 I was flown by Apple to New York and Los Angeles to give a talk in their big day-long event called the Apple Multimedia Road Show. The NY event was in a huge hotel right at Times Square. This is 1995 and I was the only person there talking about the Internet. Everyone else on the agenda was talking about CD ROMS. Can you imagine?

I I get up there and my first slide says “The Web is Like Rock and Roll.” And I said to them the Internet and the web was going to crash like a tsunami, and soon. Most in the crowd seemed to look at me sort of like, “huh?”

Anyway the point is that those of us with a lot of content to offer on the web (like news - we had a ton of it) had almost no chance of luring even modest numbers of people into paying for our initial product, especially if it was such a hassle and expense just to set up to use the thing when those CD services worked with a plain old phone line.

So, ads…going that route brought us big numbers over time. Then it became the train you couldn’t get off of.

Now with paywalls they are trying. But we still route around them whenever we can, seems like.

What is happening in your worlds this week?

And it should be said that a lot of people like the ads and they like them to be targeted. So maybe the ads aren’t the real problem, but rather the data they use to target the ads more closely. Do you know what is being collected? Did you give permission?


They totally are a problem. In the current ecological crisis, anything that increases consumption is a problem, no? And ads have been doing that since decades now, with all kinds of insidious techniques that exploit people psychologically …


This takes us straight into value theory. Ad-based is good for business, but what is business good for? After all, the NGI initiative is out to build a human-centric Internet; we already have a business-centric one, and it leaves much to be desired.

A value theorist would say that an ad is an informational device that has value only if it contributes to the production of something of value. Matt has a point that many products bring negative value to the economy. For example, nothing good is going to come by consuming more carbonated drinks, so ads for them are also value destroyers.