Should I sell your attention?

Take Back Your Brain! wrestled with an interesting ethical dilemna recently. For the first time, someone approached me with an offer to advertise on the site. It was a pretty decent offer, too – more than two hundred dollars for doing very little work.

Thinking about that offer provided an opportunity for me to analyze advertising from a different perspective than I usually do. What I realized about it was:

  • It was good for me. Money would be deposited directly into my PayPal account.
  • It was good for the companies doing the advertising. They would receive incoming links and perhaps new customers.
  • It was good for her. She would obviously get some kind of cut or wouldn’t be doing this.

The problem is that the offer didn’t provide any value for YOU!

From your point of view the products you saw advertised would be very random. That’s because the ads would not really be intended for you, but for search engines. For example, they wanted to insert an ad for a company that does background checks on this page because it mentions the work “background” in the title.

Another sample ad I reviewed contained a total of five links. Those links went to three different businesses in two countries, and included two offers to sell very specific printer cartridges. If you clicked on one of those links the destination would be very unlikely to be relevant to you, or even to be what you expected.

Basically she wanted me to sell a piece of your attention, and perhaps waste a few moments of your time, to benefit someone else.

It could be argued that’s a fair exchange, since you’re receiving this material for free that I’ve put a lot of work into researching and writing. I certainly deserve to get paid for my effort. If a company that sells background checks or printer cartridges wants to pick up the tab for my time, what’s wrong with that?

I really thought about that. What is wrong with it? After all, accepting text ads is a very common way for bloggers to monetize their websites. I’ve always assumed I would do it at some point. But I’ve been aware that implementing such a model is going to be a little tricky for TBYB!, since I’m very critical of the way advertising fractures our attention.

I thought about her offer long and hard. While I’m very pleased that TBYB! has reached a critical mass where it’s attractive to advertisers, the conclusion I came to, for now, is that it just doesn’t feel right to insert third and fourth parties into the mix who don’t bring any intrinsic value to what we’re doing here (except for paying me money, which would be nice!). I decided it bothers me too much to invite someone else to just skim a piece of your attention off the top, without contributing value to the process in any other way. So I said no.

It was tempting, though.

So what do you think? Is my stance too “pure”? What do you think a business model would look like that’s good for you too?

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3 Comments

  1. molly
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I read your posts in RSS, so it’s unlikely that I’d see such ads anyway (unless you put them in the RSS feed).

    While I am sometimes annoyed by stupid ad placement, usually on sites that I don’t think warrant payment, I wouldn’t have a problem with ads on your site. You provide a lot of well-written, intensively researched content, and I think it would be great for you to get money for what you do.

  2. Posted May 1, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I’d love to see you get something back for all your work. And while I don’t think advertising would bother me personally, I can definitely see your dilemma.

    Have you considered business models besides advertising…? What if you got more involved in people’s advertising campaigns — i.e., creating & selling a desktop application (using Adobe Air or similar) to help people with their campaigns? Or maybe have a set of ad campaigns for folks to choose from — i.e., for $2.95/month, you’ll send them x number of text messages to remind them of their goals. Almost moving into a life coach/partner role in helping folks meet their goals?

    I’m sure there are other ways you could do this. Seems like the trick is finding ways to help us reach our goals — ways that are also enjoyable & worthwhile for you…

    Thanks for a wonderful blog, and all the best regardless of what you decide to do!

  3. Beth
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I agree with Angela about finding advertisers/applications whose products are relevant to applying your principles to our brains. Also, wouldn’t social marketers pay at least a little for ad space? I wouldn’t mind social marketing ads. Also I’m happy with the ads that you do have up. Moreover, what about putting your personal ads here? Or allowing us subscribers to place our personal ads. I would love to see the ads my fellow takebackers are coming up with.

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