|[Editorial] Advertising On The Web Is A Necessary Evil
by Michael Munger
The Internet brought great changes to our computing habits and one of the additions it generated is the Web. However, Web sites need banner advertising to survive because of the contemporary requirements associated with hosting your online creation. This phenomenon annoys a lot of Internet users out there, and they are tempted to filter them out with software - built-in a Web browser or external to the browser - that blocks advertising.
This reaction is so wrong when you think about the high expectations directed toward online content providers who just want compensation in return of their time and efforts.
What do people want when they visit sites? They want daily updates, great content, nice design, and reliability to be able to visit the site at any time without having to wait because the server is down. To fulfill all these wishes, you have to work a lot, folks, unless we are talking about a hobbyist page. The latter will never bring the great content that a dedicated staff does.
The Internet, like almost everything else, changes through time. Before, you didn't have to deal with big companies online and an individual or a small business could revolutionize it, almost literally. Now... well, it has changed. Organizations that exist for profit made the Net a part of their business strategy and today, if you author a quality Web site, you need to stick advertising in your pages or you will simply go out of business.
Why is advertising so necessary? Simple. The first element to consider is that there is a need for good Web sites on the Internet. If you run one of them to satisfy the demand, you have to put together the resources to give your readers what they are looking for. This requires money and frankly, even the richest people in the world hate to plunk their dollars without a return on the investment. This has nothing to do with millionaires, though, the folks who are daring enough to run a serious online site as a business are people who do not have an awful lot of money to lose. They have to somehow fund their efforts.
Requirements for a quality Web site
To host a popular site, you need good hosting. With free services... you get what you pay for. They'll go down at the one moment they just shouldn't. They might also change their policies with time. Look at GeoCities. Man, that used to be the place to host your personal home page when I got on the Net in 1995. It was such a cool free provider. Things changed. Among all the advertising possibilities, they chose the type that pops a window in your face each time you request a page. The banner is a necessary evil, but the pop-up window is beyond acceptable tolerance. A lot of people gave up on it and moved their pages.
The thing with hosting is that if you want readers to keep coming, you need to pay for a solid Web host service to make sure your site is always accessible. In addition, a smart move is to reserve a domain name for your site's URL to look cool without people having to update their bookmarks all the time as you change providers. Free servers? Ask anybody who has worked with free hosts and listen. As I said, you get what you pay for, and a good host costs money.
To offer content that satisfies the reader's quest for information, good writers are the answer. Good freelance writers require payment in exchange of their creativity. Anybody can whip up a page and write his own editorials and half-baked theories. However, to offer a minimum of quality, a site editor needs qualified writers with expertise and perspective in their field. There are some who will accept writing a bit for free, sometimes to gain exposure, but think about those who make their entire living, or at least a part of their living, from their pen. They require payment. This is a bread and butter issue.
You want to enjoy a well-designed site? Not everybody can conceive pages that will make it past your judgment. So an editor needs talented designers, and the top sites usually prefer to work with consultants for help. Again, they rarely work for free.
Then, on top of this, a site needs an Editor, a full-time employee who can put everything together and keep the site running smoothly. To have someone dedicated to this task, you need funds to sustain their efforts. Advertising is a great way to achieve that. It makes everybody's life easier. It is much better to visit sites freely whenever you want than to have to subscribe with your credit card and access everything with a darn password. Imagine the number of usernames and passwords you would have... you already have too many of them in the first place, Keychain or not. Imagine if all your favorite sites had to use this system. It might not happen because the people who block ads represent a tiny minority at this moment, but imagine what would happen if more started doing so. People who offer such sites will have to do other things to keep food on the table or to supplement their income. Some people do not realize that blocking ads could actually take money away from hard working human beings.
The Internet is more and more elitist and in this way more than any other, it is a good mirror of the society. People turn to more important sources (in size) to get reliable information rather than counting on the personal pages. It is so much better to go to the top-notch content providers when the whole Web is a huge maze of sites where you can easily get lost. This is a trend. The high popularity and current impact of the Mac Web on online Mac users, for example, tells me that there is a demand for sites jam-packed with content written by talented writers and put together by dedicated editors.
Before, the personal page had a huge impact on the Internet community. If somebody's page was informative enough, pretty much everybody interested about the topic could have seen it from links. But since then, the size of the online community changed, and so did a part of the mentality. The hobbyist site still has a place, for sure. But the dedicated sites offer you so much in return of a few ads.
Some tell us that just because they visit your site doesn't mean they actually like your work. Well, I refuse to buy that argument. The "I am coming but maybe not because I like it" statement does not make sense, at least not if said about Mac sites, that is for sure. Mac sites have readership that keep coming back for more on a daily basis, and I am pretty sure that such regular visitors are not just people who do not know if they like the site or not. While some visitors come to a site from a search engine, a link they stumbled on, or a recommendation from an acquaintance, Mac sites just aren't about readers who accidentally landed on a page.
Some say that a lot of Web sites are not well designed and that editors might want to do their homework before displaying ads. Whaaat? No matter how good looking a site may be, there will always be some people who will complain about advertising. The design issue is just the current excuse that will be followed by another if this issue ever really gets solved.
The Mac Web depends on advertising
A big issue about advertising on the Web is that it ensures that sites can survive. The Mac Web is very sensitive about this because it depends on advertising to prosper. I have been told a few times that Internet sites are not always useful and they are loaded with nothing but a bunch of advertising graphics. While some personal pages do not contain anything good and do display too many useless ads, this is not the situation on most Mac sites.
Certainly much of the information and news available at Mac sites can be found at apple.com, but you would have to hunt for a while to get everything, or subscribe to a ton of newsletters, to be able to find it all. Visiting a couple of big Mac oriented sites that gather it all will shorten your research. The same thing goes for tutorials, troubleshooting and other Mac knowledge in general. While I understand that you might be able to find a part of a Mac site's content at the official source, it is a proven fact that people, especially newbies, prefer to rely on a knowledgeable person or third party organization rather than getting lost in a complicated manual or deep in a company Web site.
On the other hand, besides news, there are a lot of columns and features that you won't find elsewhere. You won't find at apple.com someone who has a good point when criticizing Apple's bad moves. Of course not. At apple.com, you will find PR, PR and more PR. That's their job. The same applies for all other company sites. What about the voice that you find between the companies and the customers?
I have said it often, and I will repeat it again, advertising on the Web is about survival. People want to visit great Web sites that satisfy their curiosity for news, commentary, analysis, tutorials, etc. To get all of this for free, they have to put up with a minor annoyance called advertising.
It's about survival, folks. Advertising is like Shareware.
The banner ad is like the shareware fee, but you do not have to take money out of your pockets! The comparison with shareware is simple. Shareware authors spend their own time (hours and hours and hours, sometimes days or even months) to make it good. That's the same thing we do for our Web sites. Refusing to pay shareware authors is ripping them off. Refusing to load the banner that compensates Web site owners and employees is taking advantage of their work without allowing them to get their money. It is ripping them off.
If too many people complain about advertising on the Web and use ad blocking features, site owners will have to change the way they do things. They cannot afford to have too many readers who take their bandwidth and work away without allowing the creator to get money in return of the resources and time invested. Again, you do not pay a fee to see the site, you just load a banner.
To boycott a site because the people behind it want the compensation they deserve sounds wrong to me, especially when you do not have to pay a single cent. Some complain about how capitalistic it is to show advertising in return of online content. It is not, it's about survival. Nobody can really work for free, you know. Somebody eventually has to pay the bill.
Europeans have quite an argument. They have limited Internet time because they pay by the minute (can you say government controlled telephony monopolies?). But again, there are plenty of web sites filled with much more graphical content than information or news sites. It is not like advertising took a megabyte of data transfer per page :-)
Is there a better way to advertise on the Web?
The creators behind an alternative Web browser for the Mac, and the folks who seem to complain the most about banner ads, have hinted that there should be a better way to advertise on the Web. Ok, I buy the concept that there *should* be a better way to advertise. I think it safe to say that there *will be* a better way to advertise on the web. The problem is, I don't know what that better way is, and neither do they. If you ask these people to suggest something or to help site owners find some way to implement advertising without the annoying and intrusive banners, they become silent. Why? These people complain about a problem and want to put an end to it without even trying to come up with an alternative solution. Well that is constructive...
Anybody who pretends to have the right to visit a page for free and to block banners before they could load, especially if they want site owners to discover a better advertising method, will get this from me: rights come with responsibilities. Your freedom stops where it stomps on somebody else's rights and freedom.
Site owners have the right to display banner ads on their pages if you visit them. If you block them, webmasters will find a way to block you. This could involve server side solutions or simple scripts, or maybe even through a subscription system where you actually have to literally pay for their content. How the freeloaders would howl if that happened!
As it is, the Web is almost perfectly free. Once connected to the Internet, you don't have to pay a penny to visit sites such as the ones cultivating the Macintosh as the best computer out there. If you want all of this to remain free, please show some tolerance and respect toward banner advertising.
For you, it is about enjoying your favorite sites (The Mac Observer, of course!) and for people like me, those dreaded banners help to pay the bills. Think about it...
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Michael Munger discovered Macs in 1994 in college during his pursuit of a journalism degree. Since then, he has never looked back at PCs. A former student of history now taking Public Relations at University of Montreal, he is a French Canadian living in Montreal, where he advocates the Macintosh with vigor.
He co-founded MacSoldiers in May 1998, where he was Assistant Editor and Columnist. He contributed to ResExcellence and MacPlaza with resource editing and interface goodies. He also layed a virulent spanking threat on the MacAddict staff! (Sept. 98 issue of MacAddict magazine, page 13). Be very afraid...
You can learn more about him at www.cyberboss.net, his personal Web site.