One of the biggest selling points of The Athletic after its launch was the lack of ads. The ad-free experience was a welcome change, given the amount of sites (sports, news, and everything else you can think of) that are flooded with obtrusive advertising.
Well, that’s gone now. On Sunday, The Athletic announced the launch of ads across its website and app. Publisher David Perpich announced the news, calling the new advertising “seamless” and also describing it as “a premium and relevant advertising experience.”
As a quick experiment, I went to a recent Zach Berman article to check out the ads in the story. There are two Bleu de Chanel graphics, one of which is a small banner and the other a larger block-type ad. They weren’t entirely intrusive. The second one was probably similar to the block of legal sports betting links that we put in all of our stories.
But the problem is more of a philosophical one. I’m already paying for this content, which now has ads. That was the whole point of the paywall in the first place, to cut out the ads and just get straight content instead. You were paying so that you didn’t have to see that shit, which you now have to. It’s the same with Inquirer.com and other paywall sites, where you have to subscribe to begin with, then you see ads and banners and all sorts of stuff on their pages.
Bottom line: large-scale subscription model journalism is anything but smooth sailing right now, and I’m not sure whether that says more about the state of journalism or digital monetization. If you’re big enough and good enough, it seems like Patreon is the way to go instead of throwing your work behind a corporate paywall that also contains ads, but that’s for each individual to decide.
Of course, The Athletic was sold to The New York Times recently, so the approach has changed with new ownership. The business model wasn’t sustainable on its own, so they go to ads as a solution. The content is still top notch, but the site in my mind has lost some of its edge, some of its luster with the sale, the departure of some original writers (Sheil and Derek, for example), and now the installation of ads.
It wasn’t long ago that Alex Mather said “we will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing.” Obviously what he meant to say was “we will sell to a ‘newspaper’ and the new owner will put ads in the stories.”