But in a recent story, we learned that this year-old bizarre attempt to get users to pay for content is getting very little traction. In that report, Google says that the program is active on “thousands of sites.” Really?
Gee, do you think that the slow adoption may be due to the fact that to participate, you have to understand all about real-time bidding, a topic that maybe a thousand people on the entire planet understand? Here are excerpts from the actual instructions:
The system that makes Contributor work is the same auction system used by advertisers to run advertising on the web. Advertisers and Contributor bid for a given ad space in real time. Advertisers specify criteria that must be met, along with how much they are willing to pay to show an ad. An ad space might be more or less valuable to an advertiser depending on a number of factors, including what site it appears on, where a person is geographically located when they visit a page, even time of day. The maximum amount that Contributor bids on your behalf for a given ad space depends on a number of factors, including your remaining account balance for the month and the cost of the ad spaces where your thank you message has shown in the past.
Got it? Me neither.
Why not ask audiences to write their own bidding algorithms? Or develop their own single container tags so that they can manage global and partner level time-outs, set and manage ad-quality parameters and price floors / blocks in a single interface, pass multiple, dynamically generated bids to DFP for concurrent evaluation — or perhaps measure partner performance across multiple dimensions, including response time, bid rate, bid/win ratio and revenue? Seems reasonable enough.
For a bunch of highly intelligent folks — to whom one day we will all report — this is an incredibly stupid way to get audiences to pay for content and/or see fewer ads. Especially since they can simply download an ad blocker and be done with it.
Even without Google Contributor, sites have had very little success begging readers to contribute. Most who have put up paid firewalls have taken them down because they needed the "free" traffic to support their ad sales efforts -- the rare exceptions being The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, whose online subscriptions are deductible business expenses for the vast majority of their readers.
To me the most interesting experiment now is ProPublica, a nonprofit where high-quality journalism is being produced by experienced reporters and editors, but relies on funding from a foundation and donations from readers. Yes, the publication takes advertising, but will never get enough to make a difference. Its investigative journalism is about as savvy as you will find anywhere. But it remains to be seen whether it can survive on donations.
Still, at least they don't ask you to be an expert in RTB to send them some bucks.