Monday, 20 April 2015

Will we pay for stories if native ads arrive?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a person in California inviting me to participate in a new venture writing native advertising for companies willing to pay me. Native ads have become more and more common in the US and there the debate about the various pros and cons is going on now but in Australia we haven't really seen native ads on news websites yet.

For those who are struggling with the term "native ad" it probably helps to think of them as sponsored advertorial. So you get a company that pays a news organisation to write an ad in such a way that it looks like a regular news story. We have had "advertorials" in the past in many places but they were always flagged as sponsored content, usually at the top of the page but anyway in a prominent location on the page, according to company policy and broader industry standards that aim to protect consumers from unethical operators. But native ads are not flagged at all. You have to be awake to the deception. You will not be told if the content you are reading has been paid for or not. It will take special media skills among readers in order for them to reliably decide what is what.

Which brings me to the point of this article: will people be more willing to pay for quality stories if the use of native ads increases in Australia? If bloggers here are already being approached by intermediaries looking to recruit writers to produce sponsored content that masquerades as something it is not, then it is only a matter of time - the news business being so badly remunerated because of falling ad rates for banners (which nobody even really pays any attention to anyway) - before we are flooded with native ads. Our news experience will be poorer for it. But there is another alternative: we actually pay a subscription for stories that we value. In fact, the antidote to native ads is in the hands of consumers. They have to be willing to fulfill their role in the news production process and pay for what they consume. Otherwise they will need to learn a new set of skills as the quantity of native ads on media websites increases.

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