Alternatives to advertising

John Ohno
6 min readSep 18, 2015

Thinkpieces about the ethics of ad blocking are all over the news recently, because apparently things only become newsworthy when Apple stops banning them. The time to discuss ad-blocking is not now, really — after all, the largest tech companies make all their money from advertising now. The time to discuss ad-blocking was 1994, when the first banner ad was introduced.

That said, there are new (or at least new-ish) things to say about alternatives to ad-based monetization on the web, in part because during the past few years alternatives have been successfully implemented, and in part because intelligent people like Jaron Lanier have been writing at length about possible alternatives recently.

If you’re reading this, you — like most people — have probably heard the idea that advertising is justified as the sole alternative to paywalls and merchandise sales, and swallowed it completely. You probably didn’t quite realize that Kickstarter and Patreon were genuine alternatives to an ad-based revenue model. Allow this post to be an introduction to the variety of ways in which you can distribute media for free and still get paid.

Why advertising is a bad model

Some reasons why advertising on the web is bad are probably familiar to you: targeted advertising implies tracking, which eats up bandwidth and is a potential violation of privacy; advertisements are typically both irritating and irrelevant. Other reasons will be familiar to people who have hosted ads: click-through…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net