The Same With More Ads

In 2012, I was in New York City with two friends. One night, we were beat from all the exploring. We decided to get two massive pizzas, stay in bed, and watch TV. We landed on the Syfy channel, where Troy was on. At first, we were excited. Then, the ad breaks started rolling. One. And another. And another. “Dude, I swear, this thing has more ads than movie scenes!”

At one point, we began to time it. I think there was a five-minute commercial break for every eight minutes of film footage. We did the math and concluded that what was already a three-hour movie would turn into a five-hour torture experience — and so, less than one hour in, we decided to turn the whole thing off.

In the decade since, a lot has happened. Streaming has entered the mass market. Youtube has more content than any TV channel ever could. Cable is slowly dying. And yet…

Youtube is free, but it’s full of ads. What used to be Netflix’ affordable standard tier is now a version with ads. The lowest tier on Disney+? Hello ads! My favorite, however, are Freevee movies on Amazon Prime Video. A few months ago, I scrolled through my options, when I saw the following button on an Ip Man movie: “Free with ads.”

But wait, am I not already paying for Amazon Prime? I sure am. So nothing about this is free — yet I still get the ads. Some 20 sets of them in a two-hour movie, in fact. I sat through the whole thing, and I concluded: This is worse than the Syfy channel from ten years ago — because now, not only do I get more ads per movie time and can see them coming via the scroll bar, I’m even paying for the damn service to throw them in my face.

Corporations one, humans zero. By and large, the internet has turned out to be the same merry-go-round we’ve been on for 40 years — except with more ads.

There’s no perfect solution that I can offer on a silver platter. In fact, I’m part of the problem. I’ve tried everything, and guess what? People really don’t want to pay for stuff. Not even the good kind. But especially not writing. For every item I try to sell directly, I lose 80% of people at each of the seven interactions it takes me to convince them. That means not a lot of buyers are left. But hey, I put ads on Four Minute Books, and voilà, every visitor contributes to the bottom line.

The saddest part is not that we haven’t changed, it’s that ads are a universal remedy mostly because we refuse to do so. Then again, even if everyone paid their five favorite creators directly, chances are, a lot of folks would still go hungry. Like the odds in the Hunger Games, the math is not in our favor, and this is not an easy problem. But ads? Really? Is that still the best thing we can come up with?

Sometimes, I wonder: What would happen if all I did was make the art I care about, ship it, and kindly ask for payment in return? Would I end up poor and on the street? Or would my business blossom? I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but man, as the creative, stardust-blessed beings we are, we have to think of something better than the same with more ads.