Simon St-Laurent originally shared this link on Facebook, and I left a comment. At his request, I’m reposting my unresearched, unedited rant here so that it can be found and held against me in the future (disclaimer: my OurAirports open-data web site uses as revenue to pay its hosting costs).
Article: Advertising is the Internet’s Original Sin (The Atlantic)
My original comment:
I’m going to propose another angle: what if people will pay a subscription fee for something they really want (like Netflix), but almost everything on the net is stuff people don’t actually want much (even sites that happen to have tens of millions of users)?
That means that when you’re thinking up your new web startup, you’re actually asking the question “how do I get people to make a habit of using something they don’t actually want or need, and won’t mourn when it’s gone?” The best hope is that they’ll be bored enough to hang around (like watching a reality show because you’re too lazy to change the channel), but that can happen only as long as it’s not too much hassle and doesn’t cost anything up front. Then you fund your site by spying on those users and selling their info to advertisers.
The point is that such a site might have no other possible business model — if advertising weren’t possible, the site could never exist. So the problem wouldn’t be that we’re not finding ways to fund web sites other than subscription, but that we shouldn’t be launching so many web startups.