Whatsapp, Louis C.K. And The Problem Of Advertising

I think it was through searching for an ostatus Android app (more on that later), but I stumbled across WhatsApp’s ‘Why We Don’t Sell Ads‘ page. This could easily be subtitled ‘what’s wrong with the rest of the internet?’ – a beautifully written personalised rebuttal of the consensus that ad-revenue and it’s even more pernicious big brother, data-mining are the ways to fund the internet.

Those two things – advertising and the harvesting and selling of data – if left unchecked, will eventually, as far as I can see, make the web largely unusable for meaningful things. Particularly small-scale meaningful things.

What’s scary to me is considering what the ad-funding ideologues will do when the value of ads effectively reaches zero for everyone except Google. What will they turn to next, when it’s a bit late to say ‘oh, we got the ads-pay-for-everything-bit-wrong, so how about paying something for the services you love, so clever people can make them work and make them beautiful without you needing to buy new shoes or shitty soft-drinks to make it worth their while’?

And it’s the same for music services that rely on ad-revenue. I REALLY don’t want you to have to buy shit you don’t need in order for me to get paid to make music. I hate that on pretty much every ad-driven service, I don’t even have any control over what ads appear next to my music. So there are more than likely going to be numerous services and products being advertised that I’m actively opposed to.

I also came across this incredible interview with Louis C.K. in which he addresses the bogusness of meaningless ‘sponsorship’ – in his case, local radio sponsorship for comedy shows in the US.

“[my managed asked] “What is your radio tolerance?” That’s what he asked me. He said, “What presence are you willing to let radio people have at your shows?” and I said, “Give me an example.” And he goes, “Well, here’s all the things they will ask for in every city: Thing one is that the radio personality gets to come onstage and introduce the show. And the second thing they’re going to want is a van outside, broadcasting from the show. Then they’re going to want a banner onstage, with the name of the radio on it. Then they’re going to want a table out in the lobby with bumper stickers.”

“And I said, “Let’s say no to all of this.” One hundred percent of it […] I want people to come to the theater and feel like they’re just coming to see this; they’re not being promoted to. I don’t think there’s anything more obnoxious than when someone has paid to be somewhere, to be promoting to them. That they’re paying to be advertised to is really annoying to me. “

Please do read the whole interview, it’s outstanding. I can take or leave his comedy for the most part, but Louis C.K’s work ethic is a huge inspiration.

So, what does this mean for you and me? It’s pretty simple – if you like the music, and want to help make the time I spend doing it easier to justify (and make it easier to cover the shortfall when gigs get canceled, like the one I blogged about this weekend), then you’re welcome to pay for it, to express your sense of the value in it, your gratitude for its existence, by paying for it. You don’t *have* to, but there’s no trickle of ad-money coming in from people hearing my shit on Spotify then signing up to a dating service to pay for it instead. There’s no radio show setting up camp in my studio waiting to big me up to their adoring public in exchange for some promo space at my shows. It’s you and me.

As I’ve said before, you are plan A. I have no plan B.

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