Around the end of last month, Fur Affinity updated its advertising policy to include “mature” ads on pages that included adult art and writing. The backlash came immediately, which is par for the course whenever FA rolls out something new. Some users and artists distanced themselves from the site—if they didn’t leave outright—and more than a few furs tweeted their displeasure. The Fur Affinity staff responded by rolling back the ads to retool the mechanism that serves ads, and eventually dropping the program entirely. I think this is a good thing; it’s very unlikely they would ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.
It’s fascinating to me that after all this time, most websites still haven’t found a better way to make money with their content than ad revenue. I have a ton of sympathy for websites struggling to be profitable, but I also have absolutely no interest in being forced to see a bunch of advertisements for stuff I have no intention of buying. This goes double for ads that include flashing bright colors, sound that can’t be turned off, motion or any other mechanism they can think of to force me to pay attention to them instead of the content I’m trying to view in the first place.
Fur Affinity (and IMVU, its parent company) is going to be in trouble if their decision is to be more aggressive with their ads in the future. It does nothing to dispel the notions that many furs had about FA being acquired in the first place—that the site has been taken out of community hands and put into the control of outside interests that see its users more as commodities. Of course IMVU needs to find a way to at least make FA cost-neutral; they’re in the business of making money, and I doubt they’d tolerate any venture that couldn’t at least pay for its own operation. I totally get that.
However, it’s my opinion that a website that relies on advertising revenue to make its profits compromises the value of its content by making it increasingly painful to view it through a thicket of revenue-generating distractions. This might be a slippery slope argument, but I could see Fur Affinity quickly becoming more trouble than it’s worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) and virus-laden (at worst) banner that make it almost impossible to have a good experience viewing community-generated adult material. Forcing users to tolerate ads they find distasteful and irrelevant is no way to make a living.
Here’s the thing, though. We browsers tend to forget that we live in a capitalist society where nothing is really free. If we’re not paying for sites and services on the web with money, we’re paying for it in some other way. Our payment could be the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads. It could be the attention banner ads draw from us. It could be the personal information we give those sites, where the owners turn right around and sell it to third parties who use that data to target ads much more efficiently.
It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we pay for the sites we visit. Every website has to make its money somehow—through charity donations, or a paywall, or ads, or our information. Once we figure out how a website charges for its services, we can then make an informed decision on if we think that payment is fair.
Like most Internet-savvy people, I fortify my browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware apps. I’ve been burned before by Flash ads that automatically download viruses to my computer and I’m not interested in taking chances with that anymore. If a site shows me unobtrusive and potentially interesting ads, I consider it fair payment for the content. The Ad Blocker comes down. In some cases where I feel like I get enough value from a site and I’m given the chance, I’ll just pay for access.
That’s what I did with writing.com, a site that had plagued me with viruses a few time. I can’t direct people there in good conscience, even though there’s a small community of good writers and fun stories in their choose-your-own-adventure section. That part of the site is the dirty sewer though, and the operators can only get fairly disreputable businesses to run ads for those pages. Because the content is so fetishy (really, SO fetishy), only porn sites and questionable businesses will pay to advertise there. It’s either put up with those awful ads or pay for access; since I love the interactive stories and I’ve been going there for years now, it’s a better choice for me to pay with my pocketbook.
I believe FA is in much the same position here. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult section, from hard vore, watersports, scat-play and Sonic fan art (just kidding, please don’t hate me Sonic fans). I’m fairly sure that they would have a lot of trouble getting companies outside of the community to advertise on those pages, and home-grown services probably can’t match the ad rates they would get from “professional” places.
So they’re stuck. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry company with the aim of making at least enough money to break even, it’s either going to have to roll out a formal payment plan, step up an aggressive advertising policy or trade our personal information. There might be other options, but those are the three I see being the most viable.
Instead of reflexively shouting down any attempt FA makes to raise revenue, maybe we should sit back and think about what we would be willing to pay for our porn-browsing experience. A small monthly fee? Ads that aren’t so terrible? Our sensitive data? Once we have an answer, it might be a good idea to let the FA staff know so they can make better decisions. We actually have the chance to barter with the site operator for what we think the service is worth; that’s not something a lot of audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better would be the best thing to do.
I know that Dragoneer has his detractors, and I’m sure they have good reasons. His handling of the site has not been perfect. But I have a lot of sympathy for him; it can’t be easy to answer the mandates of IMVU and deal with a base of users who are vocally hostile. He’s suddenly found himself in between the demands of capitalism and a user-base that could care less about them. It’s going to be very difficult to navigate a way through it.