“Ads are being cast as the enemy as consumers find more and more ways to block them.”
This Ad Age article paints a pretty scary future, and I’m not just worried about all of the industries and jobs that depend on the ad business or the impact on entertainment and content production that is currently ad-sponsored. The real concern is the continued trend towards class-ism, where those who can afford to pay premiums receive a significantly different experience than those who can’t. We already have riots of metro bus riders upset over Google buses, do we want to separate Jimmy Fallon’s audience into warring factions the same way we have San Francisco commuters? We already exclude some of the world’s best content behind expensive paywalls at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, even Ad Age (although they at least offer a few free articles per month), effectively excluding the financially-disadvantaged from having the same cultural, business and news resources as those of us with a subscription.
Now I’m not saying that an ambitious but underprivileged future Warren Buffet can’t scrape his pennies together for the WSJ subscription that’s going to make him the next bond-trading mogul, because anyone who has the savvy to understand that heady prose can probably find $12 a month through some clever means, but what will the internet become when every great piece of content requires a fee? First, each site will start their own pay model, and we’ll pick the ones that are most important to us, and abandon the rest. Users will consolidate into closed subscription groups, rather than graze the entirety of the digital buffet as we do now. The pressure on smaller sites will be too great as they find fewer and fewer subscribers, and they will need to join forces with networks of sites in order to survive. Soon, broad subscriptions will encompass collections of content and consumers will need to choose between collections, won’t want to pay the outlay of more than one large collection, and will cease to explore anything outside their subscription group. And then what do we have?
Cable, that’s what. We have cable. Is that what you want, world? You want the internet’s cost structure to mirror that of Comcast? Think about that for a minute before you block all the ads, because unless you want to be trapped in a content monopoly and pay a monstrous monthly fee for the few “channels” you are interested in because that’s the only way to access them, then you’d better start appreciating the advertisers that take on all the risk to give you a free internet on the off-chance they can sell a few widgets, because our “free exchange of information” internet is about to be far from free.