I think, and write, a lot about media on the web. Music, movies, videogames, journalism and so on. And one thing I keep seeing over and over again is publishers of various types getting upset about freeloaders.
In music, movies and games, this usually means piracy. Everything that has ever needed to be said about piracy has been said, in most cases twice, so I won’t go into that. But what is interesting is seeing what happens in journalism. Most sensible news sites make their journalism available for free and pursue an ad-supported model instead. How does a person freeload on that?
The answer is with the use of ad-blockers. Niero Gonzales, the founder and publisher of gaming site Destructoid, has written an editorial about how approximately half of his readers block the ads on the site, usually using a browser plugin like Adblock. Those readers, he says, “hurt our writers”.
I think all of this hand-wringing about ad-blocking and piracy is missing something. *A certain amount of people will always be freeloaders on the web*, and if you don’t factor that into your business calculations, you’re doing it wrong.
The beauty of the web is that the incremental costs of replicating media are essentially zero. Sure, bandwidth has a price, but only when your traffic changes by an order of magnitude. The cost of these freeloaders to you is negligible - and the amount you should think about them is similarly negligible. Instead, the only people in your mind when you’re making editorial decisions should be your paying audience. They’re the only people that matter.
The one exception is when the marketing department is thinking about expanding that paying audience. Those freeloaders are people who are already interested in what you have to say, so convincing them to part with some money for it should be easier than your average member of the public.
But how, when they’re already actively refusing to give us money in a way that costs them nothing? Well, probably because their refusal isn’t active at all. Far more likely is that they’ve been annoyed by ads on another site completely, downloaded an adblocker for that reason, and just haven’t disabled it.
So try another direction. Sell merchandise. Sell e-book editions of your best articles. Run a conference. Start a membership programme with perks for enthusiasts.
Do all of those things and DIVERSIFY. Because on the web in 2013, the more ways you skin a cat, the better.