Made Good Money, Five Dollars A Day, Made Anymore And I’d Move Away

I am a fan of Maria Popova’s. Chances are good you are too, as her site, Brain Pickings, gets more than one million visits a month.

I like how Popova combs through offline materials to find things to feature online. It’s such a simple, yet effective, strategy. I am also interested in her reasons for choosing not to run advertising on her site. She favors a tip jar instead.

Brain Pickings-1

According to this profile piece in The Guardian, Popova believes:

Today, search engine optimisation is the “circulation management” of the internet. It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers. As soon as you begin to treat your stakeholder as a bargaining chip, you’re not interested in broadening their intellectual horizons or bettering their life. I don’t believe in this model of making people into currency. You become accountable to advertisers, rather than your reader.

I respect her mind and her route to success, but I want to challenge her thinking on this. The New Yorker runs ads and yet remains committed to broadening its readers’ intellectual horizons. As does Mother Jones, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, and so many more titles of substance, all of which make money via print and online advertising support for their editorial products. The pursuit of ad revenue and the pursuit of the truth are not mutually exclusive, in media or advertising.

From my perspective, I feel like most media companies need to seek income from any and every angle–from subscribers, advertisers, licensing deals, merchandise, events and from its creative services arm, if it has one. Of course, there are stellar examples of magazines that find their own way. The Sun, published each month in Chapel Hill, NC, refuses advertising and leans on a loyal readership for funding instead.

We’ve considered more than once what AdPulp might be without advertising. Would it be a better experience for our readers? I suppose in some ways it would be, but a site about advertising that doesn’t accept ads? It’s either genius or folly, and we’re betting on the latter. That’s not to say we don’t need much better ads on this site, and across all sites that choose to run them.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.