Giving web services away for free in exchange for ad supported revenue has been the de facto standard for most web 2.0 properties.
While the concept works great for Google and a small number of web services, it does not work for the majority of web services. The ad revenues are just not enough to support a legitimate business. Unfortunately this is unlikely to change anytime soon unless there is a fundamental shift in how we think about advertising and the web.
In the past, most local businesses relied on print advertising a.k.a. junk mail as a cost effective means of promoting their products or services. Mailing out letters, post cards, and flyers was considered to be the norm. While most businesses considered the standard 1% – 2% response rate a successful campaign, most people would never even bother to open or read these promotions. Today the same can be said about online advertising. Most web users have learned to ignore ads unless they are in purchase mode searching for a particular good or service.
Grabbing the consumer’s attention has always been a challenge. So what can we do differently to grab their attention? We can pay them! Money is a motivator. Transferring the money from advertisers directly to the consumer’s pockets may sound far fetched to you, but this is our only hope of effectively monetizing the majority of web services out there including digital media. How? Let me explain. Charging users for web services has failed for the majority of businesses. Why? Users have been conditioned to think the web is free and Google has conditioned web site owners to think web services are suppose to be free. Print media was never free so why should digital media be free? Sure it’s much cheaper to produce digital media but does that justify giving it away for free. How do we change those perceptions? Give web users the advertising money and charge web users some of that money for access to your web service. It’s that simple and surely justifiable.
This would allow advertisers to bypass the gatekeepers and directly pay consumers money for their time and attention. Making this happen won’t be easy, but it’s our only hope for a truly “free” and “open” web.