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The Rise and Fall of The Deck Epitomizes the Last Decade of Web Publishing

I have on occasion blogged about how it is now harder to make a living as an indie blogger than it used to be.  Ads aren’t paying what they used to, and web traffic has changed as more people spend their time in social networks.

Now it seems ad networks are just as badly affected. The Deck, one of the few ethical ad networks, announced this week that it was shutting down:

We started The Deck in 2006 and for the first couple years it struggled. By 2008, it was an OK business and by 2009, it was a pretty good business. From then through 2013, The Deck was going along just fine.


Things change. In 2014, display advertisers started concentrating on large, walled, social networks. The indie “blogosphere” was disappearing. Mobile impressions, which produce significantly fewer clicks and engagements, began to really dominate the market. Invasive user tracking (which we refused to do) and all that came with that became pervasive, and once again The Deck was back to being a pretty good business. By 2015, it was an OK business and, by the second half of 2016, the network was beginning to struggle again.

Over the past few months I had reached this exact same conclusion, that advertisers were chasing page views in social networks. I could not put my finger on that trend in 2014 and 2015, but in retrospect that is exactly what happened.

It explains why so many sites like Techcrunch are asking you to turn off your ad blocker, why sites like the LA Times areblocking ad block users, and why sites are stuffing in more and more ads.

Online ads are increasingly becoming a failed business model, and it is only going to get worse as advertisers cut back on the number of sites they work with.

image by Steve Snodgrass

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Paul March 31, 2017 um 3:49 pm

For that reason, I think you need to push your donate/subscription option to the top right of the page.

I think it might help if you did a survey of who visits your blog so you can use it to attract sponsorship (which usually requires work and personal relationships).

Alexander Inglis March 31, 2017 um 8:53 pm

I have wondered about the efficacy of the online ad model all along (and I have had a career in high end advertising). On a personal note, I click through on virtually no ads ever and most of the time the ads I notice have no relevance for me. With the exception of the occasional Facebook "sponsored ad" in my feed, it’s an ultra-rare time that the advertiser breaks through — let alone getting me to buy something.

hayden March 31, 2017 um 9:28 pm

Fully agree, most ads I have seen are of no use to me. I use an adblocker not because of any malware threat but because I do not want to see useless content on the article that I am reading.

Therefore, I also could not see how ads would bring in sufficient revenues to blogs, newspapers, etc.

The better publications have tried a subscription service or a number of limited free articles per month before the reader has to sign up.

Nate, I do read many of your articles, and the fact that they are free is a bonus. Many of them are interesting and I appreciate the research you do in finding all the news. I could sign up for a monthly subscription service which included some extra benefits, such as exclusive content.

I do hope that quality blogs can always find a way to be funded

Will Entrekin March 31, 2017 um 10:29 pm

I think if you’re relying on advertising you’re going to be destined to fail to bring in enough revenue, anyway. Over the past year, I’ve noticed sites like Forbes, the Atlantic, and several others who’ve hit me with Ad Block pop-ups. I’ve simply paused Ad Block and reloaded the sites.

On the other hand, there have been several sites I’ve seen offering great writing/coverage that have either limited content viewing or simply done great work I’ve wanted to support. I’ve subscribed to WaPo, Vanity Fair, NY Times, and a few others.

I think there’s a fundamental difference in execution, though. Web publishing isn’t going to go away; it’s just being basically being supplanted by Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, and lots of websites are kind of becoming curated (maybe) social media; look at the "Forbes Contributor Network" (or any article the Macalope finds from said over on MacWorld). And all those things are basically drivers/complements of the other content.

A lot of sites nowadays are basically glorified, creator-owned versions of Tumblr, anyway.

For what it’s worth, I think you’re on the right track offering your expertise/advice/guidance building web presences. There are a lot of readers becoming authors who could legit benefit from consultation with you.

Will Entrekin March 31, 2017 um 10:38 pm

Kotaku was my next story after this story, where I saw

TL;dr — a bunch of people you’ve probably never heard of can’t make enough money on their YouTube videos anymore because big companies like AT&T and Walmart (?!) don’t want to be associated with hate speech (see: Pewdie Pie; cross ref: lack of talent).

Lemondrop April 1, 2017 um 5:57 am

I turn off ads because they make my fan whir. Grrr. Some freeze my computer. Maybe its the fault of firefox. And some contain malware.

BDR April 2, 2017 um 12:52 pm

There IS, however, a place on the internet where ads are alive and well; viewed by virtually 100% of visitors and converted into sales a startling amount of the time.

Where? Amazon. Why? Because that’s why people visit that site … when they’re not viewing content, that is. Advertising on the internet works; that’s why over 1 out of every 2 dollars spent online goes to Amazon.

It’s not that people don’t want to buy stuff on the internet or that ads don’t work — they do and they do — and I don’t think that it’s (even) that ads *can’t* be effective throughout the net if they are done well and the content is relevant. It’s that internet advertising has been a massive failure AND they aren’t fixing it.

Those who hitch their wagons to this failed advertising and expect to benefit from being, in effect, distributors of that failed advertising? They’re gonna fail, too.

Don’t blame folks for blocking the crap, give them a reason to view it.

BDR April 2, 2017 um 1:08 pm

One example of interesting advertising that people (at least me) *want* to view? There’s a Capitol One series on ESPN with Charles Barkley, Spike Lee & Samuel Jackson. 30 seconds or less for each — one "Steaks On a Plane" the other "Clap On, Clap Off" — that are *hilarious* and not only do I enjoy watching them, I want to see *more*. Not only that, I’ve found it makes me more tolerant of different ads that come after those. IMHO, that series could’ve done more with promoting the sponsor; at least making the name more prominent but *that’s* the direction advertising should be going.

You put *that* on your site, people will click and people will watch and people will visit your site some more.

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