You hate ads. We hate ads. Everyone hates ads.
But they are a necessary evil when running a publishing operation. Or at least they were. As I've written before, online ad revenues are collapsing for everyone as advertisers go from buying a site, to buying an audience. What's the difference? It means that an advertiser can go to Google and buy the exact audience they are looking for, say, 18-29 males who root for the New Jersey Devils, no matter what site those Devil fans are visiting.
Sites with tens or hundreds of millions of visitors still have the scale to live off that advertising. Everyone else is hurting.
We at Daily Kos have been lucky in that we've already began transitioning away from full reliance on advertising by doing things such as adding the tip jar on our candidate donation pages, so people could tack on that $5 to Daily Kos. Numbers from that and other new revenue streams add up, and so far we've been been able to offset much of the loss in advertising. So much so, in fact, that advertising has gone from 95 percent of our total revenues just a few years ago, to about a third thus far this year.
And therein lies an opportunity. We expect advertising to bring in about $750,000 this year. Maybe a little less given the trends, but thereabouts. That number has now fallen far enough from previous years that it might be possible for the community to replace that revenue completely.
What that could mean:
- An ad free experience for everyone. I know subscribers already enjoy an ad-free Daily Kos, so it does nothing new for them. But this would give everyone a much faster, cleaner, readable site. And if we are to grow as a movement, anything that makes it easier for outsiders to consume our message is a good thing. It would also be a boon for those unable to afford a subscription, but stuck on dial up or in rural areas where high-speed internet remains unavailable.
- There's no pressure to junk up the site with more ads. There is one way virtually every single publisher has responded to declining ad rates: by adding more ad units on each page. We all hate it. But as long as we're dependent on ad revenue, it's inevitable.
- We won't have to focus on pageviews. Another way to drive up ad revenues is to force people to make additional clicks to get to content. We've mostly resisted that trend at Daily Kos—we don't require clicks to read most diaries on the front page, just the longest pieces. But as we build the next version of the site, it would be nice to eliminate pageviews entirely as a point of consideration. As long as advertising pays the bills, we can't entirely do that.
- A website designed, from the ground-up, to be ad free. Even subscribers with their ad-free Daily Kos are seeing a compromised site, ultimately built with advertising as a major consideration. It pays the bills, after all. But we're currently working on the next generation Daily Kos, and we could build an even more kick-ass site if we could strip out advertising as a point of consideration. For example, if we can build things in a way that requires less clicks, that's good for everyone.
- The customers would be YOU, and only you. To be honest, talking in business terms (as opposed to movement-building terms), you guys are already our top consideration. Not only do you provide the traffic that generates the pageviews that generate revenue, but community support has already been a growing percentage of our total revenue picture. So it's not as if much would change. But right now, advertisers get a fair amount of (business) attention. Again, they're helping pay the bills. But if we strip them out of the picture, we as an organization will need to be responsive to our community and only our community. That would be a dream come true.
- A truly independent site. Let me be clear—our advertisers have zero influence on our editorial. They never have. They never will. It's never even come up as an issue. There has never been conflict. Part of it is because the vast majority of our advertisers are political allies—labor unions, advocacy orgs, etc. So an ad-free Daily Kos wouldn't materially impact the editorial direction of the site. However, it would eliminate the perception that Daily Kos could be bought, or the perception of the possibility of a temptation ... you get the point. I don't worry about these sorts of things, but really, if you want a site that is unambiguously beholden to its community and no other outside entity, this would do the trick.
- More efficient use of our employees. Currently, our business manager has to manage the ad networks and deal with advertisers and potential advertisers. Our tech team has to accommodate new advertising products, taking them away from focusing on site improvements. Our support staff has to deal with running ad campaigns instead of other site-related tasks. Take ads out of the equation, they can focus more on other tasks. That might not mean much to you, but a more focused staff is a better performing staff. And eventually, that would mean a better Daily Kos.
Currently, Daily Kos employs two admin staff (me and our business manager), eight writers, two (and expanding soon) campaign specialists, five developers, an executive assistant/social media maven/copyeditor and a special projects person. There's not a shred of fat in our staffing. We run a lean operation. And for those who care about shit like this: I'm not the highest paid person in the company. Not even second-highest.
So, there are two questions I guess I'm asking of you: 1) do you think an ad-free Daily Kos would kick ass, and if so, 2) would you be willing to pay $5/month to make it happen? Easy math suggests that it would take 12,500 people at $60/year to hit the magical $750,000 number. Our subscription drives have netted a couple of thousand of subscribers at most, so this would be a considerably bigger lift. And given that many community members already have lifetime subscriptions, it makes that lift even harder.
And yes, I understand times are tough, many of you are in rough financial shape, there are thousands of other worthy causes and campaigns vying for your money. We're sensitive to that. Worst case scenario, we keep on dealing with advertising as a necessary evil. But I at least want to explore the possibility of what would be a dramatic and bold step toward full and total independence from anyone except you.