The monetization war and Enter Stage Right
By Steven Martinovich
You might not have noticed but there is a change with the return of Enter Stage Right from our annual end-of-summer break. There’s no advertising.
To be accurate, at this point there is no advertising in this week’s issue. Over the coming weeks I will be removing all advertising – provided by Google’s AdSense program – from the web site. I will also be closing my AdSense account. I am doing this for a number of reasons.
The first is more personal: Advertising revenue for the web site has been more theory than reality for some time. Back in the early days of this web site a single month of revenue paid several months of costs associated in producing and hosting it. These days a cheque is deposited on an irregular basis. So, in reality, I am paying for the web site out of my own pocket. Also, given the low rate of return, removing advertising will make the web site more pleasant for visitors.
The second reason, however, is ideological. You may not have been aware but this year has seen an unprecedented war on content producers – primarily involving gun content and political commentary – on YouTube. Many content creators with enormous audiences, dependent on advertising dollars to pay their expenses, have seen the tap shut off. For many, their videos have been blanket demonetized by YouTube (owned by Google along with the AdSense program) which means that even videos that generate hundreds of thousands of views bring in only a few dollars at best. A few, like the respected Hickock45, even saw their accounts suspended briefly on Facebook before an outcry brought him back.
If AdSense isn’t outright demonetizing them, a mysterious algorithm they employ flags the content as controversial which results on the removal of ad revenue. That means that the creator has to file an appeal, something that often takes days, leading to a loss of revenue before the advertising can be reinstated – if its reinstated.
So far Enter Stage Right has escaped AdSense’s more active clutches but in recent months I’ve received a number of cryptic emails which refer to violation reports. Here’s the latest:
Want to know what those violations were? So would I. A visit to my AdSense manager page reveals no details other than a “helpful” section which details what Google considers to be violations, but no specific note as to what they are finding objectionable on ESR itself. One such violation notice earlier this year did have a specific URL for me to investigate and it appears that a photograph from a warzone tripped their flags. I removed that picture in an effort to prevent the trickle of revenue from ending.
No longer. ESR was started by me back in the early 1990s to provide a forum for differing conservative and libertarian viewpoints. I value, now as much as I did then, going to places which may be controversial but needing an exploration with what I hope are thoughtful attempts at investigation and debate. Google’s attempt to determine what is allowed to be explored and debated by leveraging its monetary power may work on others, but it will not impact our mission.
So that I am clear; it is Google’s right to determine where it will place advertising. I fully support Google’s ability to leverage their power to advance what agenda they wish. If I had their power I would likely do the same. It is also my right to decide that I won’t play ball with their agenda. So, with that in mind I will be ending my association with AdSense and gradually removing all of their code from the web site. Please keep in mind this web site has over 15,000 web pages – it’ll take a bit of work.
This does not mean that all advertising is barred from the web site. I am certainly happy to work with partners that value what ESR does. I have done so in the past and may choose to do so in the future. That monetization will only take place under the condition that they have no voice in editorial policy or what is presented on this web site.
Some will argue that it’s easy for me to make this decision given that our costs are relatively low and I was hardly dependent on the ad revenue to begin with. That is a fair point to make. Unlike others who dearly need every ad dollar possible to cover their enormous costs, ESR is relatively lucky. This decision was made not with money in mind, but rather to make a principled point. Companies like Google will not dictate with money what someone is allowed to produce and others to consume.
So, enjoy the “new” ESR. We’ll be around for a long time to come.
Steve Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.