The Internet is a mess. As much as it is a fantastic resource for information, it is cluttered with distracting advertisements that prevent users from efficiently viewing content. Ads may be the most straightforward way to monetize the Internet, but ads also prevent users from focusing on the information they really want. In addition, companies’ obsession with revenue, active users and time spent on platforms leads to addictive interfaces, unnecessary and inappropriate methods of tracking and an often an inferior product. Hulu’s recent announcement of an ad-free subscription tier is the latest example in a trend of content providers looking into more sustainable models of publishing content on the web.
The constant barrage of advertisements detracts from the Internet’s original appeal of fast content delivery. The number of people using ad-blocking software increased dramatically over the past few years in response. In addition to profits being undercut because of this trend, the cost-per-click has been consistently declining. This is troublesome for the advertisement-funded web, and businesses are being forced to look elsewhere
The answer to the issue is that users have to pay. Not just by agreeing to stringent terms of service agreements and allowing companies to track their usage patterns all across the web, but by giving companies and creators money for their services and content. It is not a panacea, but it is preferable to companies tracking every move to find out what will make us click an ad. The option of directly financing a platform is preferable to the unpleasant charade of intentionally addictive interfaces and cluttered content. Companies, with a direct stream of revenue, could focus on delivering a compelling product in an efficient way rather than selling their users’ private data to third parties or forcing them to
Freemium, or a mix of free and paid content, is the solution to these woes. From Spotify, which is free with ads and ad-free with a subscription, to The New York Times, which limits the number of free articles a month or a digital subscription for full access, companies are giving users the option to pay for an ad-free experience. YouTube, which has been free but unprofitable for years, is introducing an ad-free subscription service, which will hopefully mean no more waiting for an ad to finish. Individuals can directly fund creators through crowdfunding platforms like Patreon. Increasingly, the option to pay is being made available.
Some may shudder at the thought of paying for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Google, but it could be a welcome, optional relief for others. In exchange for actual dollars, companies can take the ads away and hopefully the tracking as well. For millennials, paying for platforms and content could become as common as their parents paying for cable. Ad-blocking is not a sustainable solution, but it is certainly sending a message. Let us pay.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 8 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at firstname.lastname@example.org.