By Eric Pettifor
J.D. Frazer’s book Money for Content and Your Clicks for Free is more interesting for the insight it provides into the business side of the online comic strip User Friendly than as a putative how-to book. (Frazer has written User Friendly under the pen name Illiad since 1997.) As a how-to book, its advice on how to make money on the web is extremely easy to summarize. It breaks down into two steps:
- Create some online content, like a web comic, for example, which becomes super popular and gets several thousand visits a day.
- Monetize it with advertising, merchandising, and sponsorship.
This could be a candidate for Monty Python’s ‘How to do it’ show.
First do something exceptionally challenging which we’ll just gloss over without providing any information with regards to how to achieve it, then apply the following information which will be of limited value until you have completed step one. Of course, if you’re a User Friendly fan, you may enjoy the book simply as a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of a very successful web comic.
On page 150 (original italics), Frazer outlines an informal contract which he imagines exists between himself and visitors to his website. First he lists what he perceives his obligations to be –basically, providing a cartoon a day and behaving ethically –then he lists what the visitors’ obligations are.
- You will respect my intellectual property and acknowledge my sole right to determine how it will be used and distributed.
- You understand that content is not actually “free”; someone had to put their time, money, and/or effort into creating and distributing it.
- You will support me and the other independent creators whose work you enjoy through the purchase of memberships, visiting our advertisers, or even just by spreading the word and letting us know you like what we do.
- You will not use an ad blocker, particularly when you can turn the ads off by buying a membership.
- You will not consume content by Web-scraping or any other unsanctioned means that denies me or any other primary content creator pageviews and, therefore, ad impressions, and, therefore, money to help keep their efforts afloat.
- You understand that you don’t have a right to free content on the Net.
- You will always remain within the boundaries of ethical behavior and will let your conscience be your guide.
I have the feeling he is pushing against a perception on the web, conscious or unconscious, that everything is free. He claims that visitors to his site more-or-less meet his expectations. However, when it comes to advertising, if you have a hugely popular site like User Friendly, you can negotiate favorable terms where you get money for every ad impression regardless of whether or not the ad is clicked on (thus the concern regarding people with ad blockers installed in their browsers) — that’s what step one is all about, creating a hugely popular site.
I look at clicking on ads as a form of tipping. If I like a site, I click an ad. It’s unfortunate that I seem to be amongst the minority who are looking for simple, affordable ways to give back to content creators. I’ve even been known to hit the odd donate button to pass on a buck or two. I’m far from being well off, but the beauty of easy access by masses of people to low-cost content (very low relative to owning a print newspaper or TV station) is that if a significant percentage of people did the same, content creators could be rewarded at very little cost to the individual visitor. Indeed, clicking on an ad only costs a small amount of time.
I should note that I’m not encouraging you to click on ads on this site. No sir, that would be against Google’s policy. I’m not even mentioning the ads on this site, because even calling attention to them is against policy. If you think I’m encouraging you to click this site’s ads, or calling attention to them, then I’m sorry if I’ve somehow led you to this mistaken perception, since I most certainly am not suggesting that it would really help this site and cost you only a small amount of time if you clicked on an ad. And if the site’s proprietor appears to be encouraging you in this recent post, remember, he lives on an island, and I suspect it must be a very sunny one where he has suffered from too much exposure. Pay his ranting no heed, especially if you work for Google.
But with regard to other sites, and speaking very much in general, it would be nice if step one wasn’t creating a hugely popular site where one could make decent money from ad impressions, merchandising (backofthebook.ca toques anyone?), and sponsorship (“backofthebook.ca bloggers endorse [ this space for rent ]!”). Wouldn’t it be nice if producing a great site with interesting articles could be rewarded as well? Again, I’m not talking about any specific site here, but in general, if you like a site, and it’s clearly trying to monetize itself in some way, consider being a sweetheart and playing along. Consuming without giving back makes baby (Jesus|Mohamed|Krishna|Buddha|Moses|Darwin|other) cry.