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Saturday Pot Pourri: Ads, Donations and Gardening   (March 24, 2007)

Now that I've accepted donations--thank you, A.B. ($15), P.H. ($50), M.A. ($20), S.K. ($25), P.M. ($12), C.G. ($15), P.G. ($15). P.V. ($25) and A.C. ($20) for your gracious support--I've also been thinking about advertising and free markets.

find out more about Zombiestra now!! Advertising and marketing are so ubiquitous that we seem blinded to their pernicious effects on our quality of life. It used to be there were ads in supermarket windows; now there are ads on the shopping carts, on the floors, and even on the small plastic dividers used between customers' groceries at the checkout.

Websites and blogs have followed commercial television in the strategy of interweaving "content" with distracting ads. The "user" or viewer has supposedly agreed to this trade-off: we get the content for free in exchange for sitting through (or being bombarded with) ads. In the alternative "pay per view," you buy content such as The Wall Street Journal--and you still get bombarded with ads. Hmmm.

The general view is that web surfers just ignore the ads, so "everybody wins"--the advertisers get their service/product in front of millions of eyeballs, the blogger gets a few bucks for splashing ads all over their page, and the viewer gets content for "free."

My view is: everybody loses. The advertiser's ads are ignored, the blog is cluttered with ads which distract from the content and the "customer" / user / visitor gets another dose of marketing, whether they like it or not. (Yes, there are programming tricks which delete the ads; I've described some here before.)

There is a cost to cluttering our lives with advertising and marketing--it just doesn't carry a price tag in dollars.

In a truly "free market," wouldn't we all have the opportunity to pay for ad-free content? Yet we don't. Even content we pay for is smothered in ads.

The Third Way is the PBS model, in which ads are clustered between programs and customers/users are cajoled/badgered into donating to the station twice a year. While I understand the necessity of "pledge drives" in this model, I also truly loathe them. In lieu of the programming I like--NOVA, etc.--I am subjected to aging pop rockers or some "financial expert" or "diet guru" extolling some terribly obvious common-sense for hours on end. Yikes!

Here's another take on the "free market" in websites and blogs. I am free to post content which I reckon has value, and if no readers find any value in the content, then I have no regular readers. That's about as free as you can get.

If I sell ads, then you the reader have no choice (without using some programming tricks) but to have your reading--the reason you visit the site in the first place--cluttered by ads you did not choose to view. Even if you ignore the ads, in placing ads I have removed a key freedom from you, the customer/reader: the freedom to choose ad-free content.

But any original content takes time and money to create and host. We all know this, so there is an unspoken contract which you are free to honor or not: in exchange for the content, the customer/visitor offers something in exchange. You visit or not, based on your assessment of the value of the content. If the value is high enough to spark your goodwill, then you choose to honor the content with a donation, the size being entirely up to you. If you can't afford to donate or choose not to, the site remains free to you and everyone else with an Internet connection.

This model puts the onus on the "business," i.e. the site/blog creator, to not only provide content which visitors will find valuable enough to spark their desire to honor the value of the content, but to ask the visitors to do so. It's the model used for shareware software, and it relies on this unspoken contract that enough users/customers will decide of their own free will to honor the content with money that the programmer/creator can survive to create more content/software.

Whether this model is sustainable remains an open question. Believe me, the easiest thing for a content provider (what a clunky phrase!) /creator to do is put some ads up. You don't need your customers/visitors' approval, and you're saved from the indignities of asking for visitors to honor your content with hard, cold cash, even if it's one dollar.

But I've decided I like the direct honesty of this approach. I can't see charging for "premium content" or a "for paying customers only" model, though I understand the appeal to creators seeking a steady income. Why? Because then I might hesitate to post some worthless absurdity like a 1,000-foot bamboo tower being built by an imaginary Chinese cookie company, or a review of a 40-year old film or a goofy ad spoof. And I need the freedom to create the variety of content which interests me--and hopefully, you.

In conclusion: that's why this site will remain ad-free, and why I will humbly continue posting this "tip the poor dumb writer" link, should any of you choose to honor the content with a donation. For some of you, $5 is a lot of money; for all of you, $12 or $20 (or Lordy-Lord, $50) means foregoing something else of value which you could have bought for yourself. Knowing this, I am both humbled and honored. For those not moved to send in a donation, that's okay, too, because it's a free market here: you don't have to visit, and I don't have to create content. If I don't originate any content, I miss out on the joys of that process; and if you don't donate, you miss out on the satisfaction of participating and on the gratitude of the recipient.

In other words: the world is a tiny bit better place because this is an ad-free zone, and because readers/contributors are an integral part of its success as a forum for ideas: as contributors of topic ideas, comments and questions, and also as contributors of their hard-earned money.

On to another gardening book recommendation, this one by knowledgeable reader Brian H:
Regarding gardening and self-sufficiency: All it takes is time.

My wife and I can TONS of stuff and try to build from scratch, amazing how your food costs go down and taste comes back when you are cooking from scratch.

Pizza: $2

Spaghetti: $1 (for easily a meal for 4), because we can all our own sauce, etc, all you pay for is pasta (ok, you could make that too, but we donít)

Bread: 50 cents


This is THE BEST book on just about anything in a rural setting (and you choose by what you mean rural):

Storey's Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance

We have used that more than just about any book I can think of. Tells you everything, we now give them away as Christmas gifts, etc, always become a valued contribution to whatever family we give them, too.

Take a look, youíll be impressed.
Thank you, Brian, for the recommendation. As for myself: I better get some seeds in the ground before the weeds get started.

Hi, I'm Charles, and I'll be one of your servers of content today. . .
Your readership is greatly appreciated with or without a donation.

For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.


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