Mozilla offers $100M to fix online ads

How do people that create things for the web monetize their work? That’s a question that’s acutely on my mind all the time, as someone who runs this newsletter, but even I don’t really have the answer.

You have essentially two choices, in terms of modern monetization: advertising or direct payments from your readers. Ads are increasingly unpopular and invasive, with less money than ever, so you need serious traffic before it’s actual income.

Subscriptions, obviously are the alternative. They have mixed success, and it can be hard to set up a paid business while providing enough value. Mozilla has a third idea: micropayments, backed by $100M in funding.

The idea is simple: a reader might pay for a monthly subscription from a service like Coil, which distributes that money between the websites they read based on the time they spend on them automatically. Some projects, like the micropayments built into the Brave browser, operate in a similar fashion.

Mozilla’s money, under a program called ‘Grant for the Web’ will be paid out to help fund projects that work to create economies like this one, to try and revive the market for smaller publishers. 

Micropayments aren’t new, however, and I’ve heard this story before. In the last few years I’ve seen a series of startups come and go with similar, noble ideas, allowing visitors to pay a few cents to read a story instantly if they hit a paywall. The problem? It’s just not worth it for the publisher. 

Blendle, a Dutch startup, tried this a few years ago with the ‘Blendle Button’ that allowed readers to pay à la carte to read news. It enlisted large companies, from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, but ultimately pivoted away from micropayments earlier this year.

Why? Well, because “quarters weren’t going to make a difference.” 

And they’re right–micropayments are a great idea in theory, but the reality is pretty different: you need a lot of people to pay $0.09 to make it worth it. 

Worse still, your business model is now very unreliable; you get a bunch of random cents in bursts, then nothing, until the next big hit. That leaves a huge rift until the next story, which you better hope is a million-paid-reader hit. 

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why The New York Times and everyone else have drifted toward subscriptions. It’s predictable revenue, and they can plan for the future. It sucks as a reader, and I occasionally wish for a better way around it, but I just can’t see micropayments fixing this.

All of this said, online advertising is really broken, and something has to change. Will every blog have a subscription service? It seems unlikely. Perhaps micropayments is incentive enough to revive interest blogs again... but I remain skeptical. 

Tab Dump

The iPhone reviews are in
After Apple’s blockbuster event last week, the iPhone reviews are already in, kicking off phone review season. Here’s the collection I think are worth reading: 

WeWork delays its IPO until later this year
Amid fears that Softbank’s $100B vision fund might be dragged through the mud if WeWork went public for billions less than it raised, the company has postponed its IPO for.... later in the year. Not sure what will change by then, but good luck, I guess.

It’s phone event season (again) with the Pixel 4 event scheduled for October 15th
I have not received an invite, dear reader, but I hope to.

Real-time facial recognition surveillance cameras are rolling out across the UK

WiFi 6 is here to make your home internet even faster (but only if you have a really fast internet connection anyway)
Here’s the thing, however: I recently got connected to a 1.5gbps synchronous fiber connection in Toronto, but even wired infrastructure can barely keep up with that speed right now. Running enough bandwidth between access points is nigh impossible!