RSS Ads Continued

My mini-rant turned extended-rant about RSS ads was very cathartic for me personally, but it probably wasn't the most constructive way to get my point across. I unleashed some negative energy on Wednesday, so I'd like to start this post with a picture of my cat.

awww, my cat

Now that some balance has been restored to the universe, perhaps a more constructive way to talk about ads in RSS is to think about alternative models for revenue. People aren't putting ads in RSS with the intention of inconveniencing their readers. I assume many are advertising in RSS because they're loosing web readers to RSS readers, and they need to find a way to pay their bandwidth bills and keep their business/site running. I further assume that they assume any loss in readership because of ads is a necessary price for the revenue it brings, and many of their readers won't blink.

Advertising on the web isn't going to go way (no matter how much I complain). It has become the business model for web publishing. Google is building their empire on the long tail of would-be advertisers and ad-hosters. And ads are becoming ubiquitous across both personal sites run by individuals and business sites. If you publish on the web (and via rss), what else is there?

I don't know. But I believe there has to be creative, alternative ways to fund web publishing. I like Jason's turn of the term donation to micropatronage, and I hope his experiment is a huge success. I generally like the idea of patronage, and I think it should be more widely practiced—and not just at the micro level. For example, I bet people at Sony, Nokia, Danger, and other gadget makers read Engadget and Gizmodo (and a bunch of similar sites) religiously. I bet they're also reading private gadget and hacking message boards. They're not reading these sites because they're advertising venues. (Though some probably are.) They're reading them to stay on top of their industry, see how customers are interacting with their products, and find out what people want to happen next. They're reading them to connect with a community of potential customers. This is an incredible value for these big companies, and they should be willing to support it. (Perhaps even anonymously to avoid putting the authors into a conflict of interest.) I bet a tiny sliver of Sony's R&D budget could keep ten Gizmodos running well into the future.

Another potential source of revenue is patronage via aggregation. When I pay my cable bill each month, I'm not only supporting Comedy Central and the handful of channels I watch. I'm also supporting Disney, Lifetime, A&E and everything else in the lineup. I could see a similar strategy for websites that want to group together to find patrons. Say a group of 20 sites puts together the "gadget network", and encourages donations to a single fund. Each site is paid out of that fund, and the 20 sites are working together to promote and encourage people to support their site through the "gadget network" fund. While not as good as a one to one direct donation, I think this could be a way for sites to pool their audiences toward a common goal.

And in general, I think the idea of paying for what's valuable to you on the web needs to be promoted.

These ideas aren't going to solve my frustrations with advertising on web, because ads work. But I think there is still room for experimentation, and there are ways to make money by serving readers directly and without diminishing their experience.