The ads and the tip jar

20 November 2014
20 Nov 2014
West Lafayette, IN
4 mins

In 2014, no matter where you are, as long as you are connected in some way to the Internet, there is one thing you absolutely cannot escape: advertising*. It’s not really an understatement to say that much of the Internet exists because of advertising. Take Google, for example – a company almost exclusively thriving through its popular advertising platform called AdWords. Google alone makes up for almost 40% of all of the Internet. Add to that Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, Bing, Yahoo, and countless other Internet companies whose business is supported by advertising, and it’s no surprise that using the Internet is pretty much synonymous with seeing ads all over the place – there’s a reason over 200 million people use AdBlock. And the moment you close your laptop and get your eyes un-glued from your smartphone screen, there are more ads waiting, on your TV screen, on the radio, in periodicals, and out in the streets.

I’m not trying to say advertising is all bad, though. In fact, they’re necessary, and quite a few people and businesses depend on advertising to make a living. Well-targeting ads often don’t hinder what people are trying to do – it’s a minor distraction at most. In fact, it’s probably one of the best business models there is at the moment. Google literally makes dozens of billions of dollars on search ads, but have you ever noticed any of the discreetly placed ads in your search results? I haven’t. I’d consider running ads on websites a much better solution, both for the visitors and the content creators of the website, than the alternatives such as paid subscriptions. When we use “free” services like Google, YouTube, E-mail, and Pandora, it’s easy to forget that behind those colorful screens are spendings of millions of dollars that somehow need to be paid off by the companies. In many cases, advertising seems the easiest.

However, at the same time, there’s a reason I personally don’t run ads on my websites: 1) it looks ugly and out-of-place, and 2) it’s distracting and somehow rude to the visitors. As long as there is advertising, they’ll always probably be ugly and distracting. Some people may also view it as just plain annoying, or even offensive. Ergo, crowdfunding. Some businesses and projects find another way out of advertising, taking donations of sorts from its supporters instead of running advertisements. Subbable, for example, is where YouTube content creators can interact with their more loyal subscribers, and the YouTubers’ subscribers can make little donations, often in lieu of him or her running advertisements on the YouTube channel**. Following Subbable’s rather successful launch, YouTube proceeded to create something of its own, called the “tip jar”, through which video watchers can “tip” channel creators for their content. These ways of carrying out projects stand in firm negation to those arguing that ads need to exist for people to make money while giving away content. Neither is truly more effective than the other at producing enough budget, but I think one inherently has a better appeal to it.

It makes sense that whatever media we enjoy, we create together.

I’m fascinated by the fact that people can come together around an idea or a project, contribute a tiny bit per person, and make something big happen. Although advertising might end up with the same result, it doesn’t quite have the same effect within the community. Creating budget through advertising is more of a top-down process – the company, business, or the owner is at the center stage, collecting enough money to pay for the necessities. But doing the same by asking for donations within a community has a completely different feel to it, because it’s a bottom-up process – the community makes it possible, together. In some ways, I also think having a community-created feel to a project or a business leads to better content, because there’s a certain sense of responsibility to those who make it possible in the first place.

The ads and the tip jar are really two different ways in which businesses and people can interact with us, the audience. On the one side, you can give everything out for free, but have the baggage of occasional ads to make up for it; on the other hand, you could borrow the power of the community that supports you in order to do what you want to do. Both are valid, and both have their appropriate applications. But in my opinion, the media ultimately exists for the audience. So naturally, it makes sense that whatever media we enjoy, we create together. I think that brings an entirely new value of media to the table that wasn’t possible before.

* Actually, make that two. Let’s add omnipresent surveillance to that mix.

** Subbable actually keeps quite a few successful YouTube channels alive, including CrashCourse and MinutePhysics, two of the top educational channels on the platform.

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