Count Dollars, Not Page Views

The Field of Dreams call to action, “build it and they will come,” has turned out to be true for many Web services. However, the maxim for digital developers needs some tweaking.
“Build it and they will come and pay to get in,” has a much nicer ring to it for those seeking to build sustainable businesses online.
Simon Dumenco, a.k.a. The Media Guy, addresses the problem for the Twitters and YouTubes of the world in a biting, yet funny piece on AdAge.

They’re socialists! OK, yes, I’m using the dumbed-down definition of socialism championed by numbskulls like Sarah Palin, but regardless of the finer points of economic theory, you’ve got to admit that at some level the boys at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are actively choosing to redistribute the wealth. They’re taking money from venture capitalists and deploying it so that millions of people far beyond Silicon Valley can get something for nothing. Entertainment, information, and self-marketing opportunities, mostly.
And, oh yeah, a sense of “connectedness” — cyber companionship — which makes this particular era of VC-wealth distribution all the more … touching. (Let’s all be friends — on someone else’s dime! Let’s all be perpetually jacked into the hyper-insta-now global hivemind of human consciousness — for free!)

Which brings us to another cherished maxim of the Digital Age: Information wants to be free. Uh, no it doesn’t. Free information is sinking a lot of ships right now–important ships with lots of civic-minded people on them.
At the AdPulp executive summit on Sunday, Shawn and I discussed a subscription model for this site. My contention is this: sure we’ll lose 99% of our readers, but since our readers aren’t prized by advertisers, there’s no economic impact from such a move. And the 1% who do decide to pay for our content will give us a fresh start and we can build from there.
I don’t know if we’ll make the change or not, but I’m sure many other publishers will. In fact, I’m willing to bet The New York Times moves to a paid sub model before the year’s end. Tossing radical notions around like “information wants to be free” was a fun intellectual exercise, until the bottom fell out. Now the idea just sounds stupid (from a business perspective).
[UPDATE] News Corp. is planning to extend the paid model it has in place at The Wall Street Journal to other titles. Likely candidates include Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, The Australian, The Times and The Sun in the UK, and The New York Post in the U.S.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I’d pay.

  2. Me too.
    I’d also pay to attend the AdPulp executive summit. Is there golf?

  3. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    One of the downsides of the internet is that it has allowed the masses to assume rights they never had. I.E. To my (and your) intellectual property for free. One of the things the founders of this country were most concerned with was the protection of the individual against the tyranny of the majority. What a wonderfully timeless issue you have raised. Majority does not, and should not always rule.

  4. Did you just say that I wasn’t “prized?” 🙂

  5. i’ve already paid. in addition to information, i think it gets you a beer with DB every so often. not sure about golf.

  6. Gentlemen,
    Thanks for the kind notes and your willingness to put a monetary value on what we do here.
    TD did in fact pay a huge sum (much more than we would charge for a sub) via a Pay Pal donation button that I made available here a while back. Ever since I have been planning on paying him back not just with high quality content everyday, but with even higher quality malted beverages on a regular basis. It helps that we can both walk a few blocks to an excellent brewery–one of the bonuses of living in NE Portland.
    Tom, I value you highly, but no one’s clamoring to reach you via an ad campaign herein. Which pisses me off, but what’s an ad guy to do?
    Stu, I’m all for sharing our IP and others’ (note my liberal use of quoted materials), but what I’m bumping up against right now is the cold hard facts of business life—either you have a solid business with decent cash flow, or you don’t. I’m sad to admit we don’t. When I was working a high paying job at BFG these past number of years, it didn’t matter. AdPulp could function purely as a network builder. Right now, as a hard working but under-employed copywriter/creative director, I need AdPulp to pay, or I can’t continue putting the time into it that I do.

  7. Zach O. says:

    It seems like the radio monetary model fits best. Paid advertisements between content (AM/FM) or paid for content (XM). Is it that simple? What happens when someone takes the same content you have written and then reproduces it for free? Can you stop someone from undercutting you?

  8. Switching to a paid model? OK, but having 17 readers who pay you $15 a year is a lot less fun to write for than your current audience, I bet. Tell me I’m wrong.

  9. @Zach – you’re correct, it would be hard to stop people from lifting our content in its entirety, but not impossible.
    @todd – you’re also correct, but it comes down to why I do this everyday. is it so i can feel good about my position in the ad blog world? or do i put this kind of effort forth in order to profit in some way? the thought has been i’ll profit by landing freelance or a better job, but that’s not real. i’ve had zero job offers as a result of my wok here. i certainly know a lot more people as a result of working this beat, but showcasing my thinking everyday does not lead people to think, “Damn, let’s put David on the job, he obviously knows the score.” No, work comes from personal relationships, just like it did before this site and the Internet were invented.

  10. Zach O. says:

    The network comes to mind as someone who seems to have a successful pay for online model. Then again there is the adult industry too. Those are more informational (about a specific team) or entertainment driven. Hulu uses an advertising model instead of a pay for though.