I made $300,000 from advertising!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 2:15 PM | comments: 0

This is a total bait and switch about ad revenue from my sites. I roughly passed the threshold of $300,000 in ad revenue over the last 20 years, though this does not account for the part that is Walt's share or any of the expenses along the way. It sounds like a lot of money, but if you divide it out it's not that much, especially when the current low is about 20% of what the high was years ago. What I really want to do is rant about how much it sucks to be an independent publisher of content on the Internet. There is no good story anymore.

While I didn't get into putting things on the Internet for money (you can read about that in the first part of the CoasterBuzz 20 story), it eventually became necessary at the height of the expense curve. It actually got to a point where ad revenue saved my ass, paying my mortgage during unemployment recessions in 2002 and 2008, as well as the time I spent writing my book and coaching volleyball in 2005. Importantly though, it meant that there was some value in publishing niche content when everyone was feeling that the Internet made everything "free."

What got me thinking about all of this was an article in the New York Times about Google's acquisition of DoubleClick back in 2007, a relevant event given the likely antitrust action the feds will seek against them soon. When DoubleClick was serving publishers early on, they made a huge impact, but then dropped me in 2001 after 9/11 (CB story part 2). What it really bought Google was an extraordinary ad serving network that, paired with their own growing ability to target users by what they searched for, would lead them to the dominance they enjoy today. They snuffed out all of the secondary and tertiary ad markets, and they're most of the game now. I only have one backup ad network now, and I doubt they'll last.

All the while that Google was consolidating its power, Facebook made sticky engagement via echo chamber psychology its priority. After all, the more it engaged you, where you were already voluntarily giving away information about yourself, the more ads it could sell. All of the niche communities that were out there in the aughts, created and maintained by passionate people, lost their participants who were happy to let Facebook own it all. I'm still disappointed even in the bloggers who left their own sites and moved to Facebook or Medium or whatever because that's where the audiences were. And by the way, Google has done the same with video, providing a platform to publish to, where they happily keep most of the ad cash and content creators have no recourse against a company behaving badly, or a place to go as an alternative.

It's all very discouraging for a person who changed careers because of the promise of the Internet and its equalization power. You didn't have to be Time-Warner or Conde Nast to reach potentially millions of people when it was 2000. While this is still technically true, finding the audience and figuring out a way to get paid for it is exceptionally difficult unless you play with Goobook.

The duopoly isn't the only problem, certainly. The shift to mobile accelerated things quickly. Mobile advertising continues to be worth far less than desktop advertising. The rest of the problem is that to a significant portion of the world, the Internet is a bunch of apps. They literally don't understand that Google News or a link on Facebook transports them to a "web site" (and one can argue that they don't know how to validate the legitimacy of the people publishing the information either). I wonder if anyone under the age of 30 even knows what a web browser is, or that you can go to sites directly without Google.

I'm not saying that everything has gone sour, just that independent publishing has. The Internet still creates historic opportunity, and as someone who decided four years ago to get deep into product work (much to the peril of working continuity), I have benefitted from the opportunity a great deal. The content creator in me though, the journalist, former DJ, writer, hates where things have gone.


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