I know a guy who spends hours looking for illegal MP3s to avoid paying $.99
on iTunes. Some people are likely to prefer watching ads to paying for content
despite all the drawbacks. The point is not that advertising is
bad for everyone in every situation. But it is unfortunate that advertising is
so often seen as the best or only way to make money from digital wares.
It's worth remembering that ad-financed television came to the fore at a time
when no alternative would have been feasible. The technical challenges of the
day involved getting a decent picture on a 17" CRT without standing next to the set holding the
antenna all evening. Subscription or pay-per-view models were not in the cards. Now we have the
technology to meter and charge for content in many new ways, but we've gotten into the habit of
expecting TV shows to be free.
One of the quirks of human psychology is that, once we get used to free doughnuts, we are enraged
by the idea that we might have to pay for them.
If we succumb willingly to disfigured television shows, psychological
manipulation and higher prices on SUVs and shampoo so that we can avoid paying a
few dollars for entertainment and internet services, we have no one to blame but
ourselves. When the most frightening hoax imaginable is that Facebook
will start charging users, we can hardly blame them for slathering more and
more lucrative ads onto their website. It would be fantastic if creative types
were to look for less intrusive ways of financing their work. But that is
unlikely to happen until consumers start to realize that free is sometimes the
most expensive price of all. And best told by interactive communication!