Last Friday, marketing expert and bestselling author Seth Godin suggested on his blog that “ads are the new online tip jar.” If you read a blog without ever clicking on its ads, he warned, “you’re starving great content… If you like what you’re reading, click an ad to say thanks.”
“If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks,” he said, “the economics of the web would change immediately.” Yes, several critics answered, it would—for the worse. J.D. Roth offered a particularly thoughtful response on his Get Rich Slowly blog: While there’s nothing wrong with following up on ads for products that genuinely interest you, “there are long-term ramifications to empty clicks,” he explained. “If an advertiser spends money on a campaign that doesn’t work, it’s not going to renew it.” Instead, Roth proposes, if you like a blog and you really want to help it flourish, you should take active steps to strengthen its audience—get your friends to read it, for example, or mention it on your own web site if you have one. “Trust me,” he says, “if new readers come, revenue will follow.” Instead of creating a extra chore for readers (“I haven’t clicked on an ad here in a while, I suppose”), websites should strive to inspire readers to “spread the word” without thinking twice about it.
This is where authors, publishers, booksellers and others who have built websites, with or without the “support” of advertising, should ponder one question carefully: Why are you cultivating that audience in the first place? Are you creating a pool of potential customers for yourself, or one that you can rent out to the highest bidder? (OK, that was two questions, and, yes, I suppose you could answer the last question with “both.”)
But Godin wasn’t done explaining his theory yet.