An article crossed my desk this week that blew me away. It was about another Web site which publishes fiction: Mind’s Eye Fiction, at <http://www.tale.com/>.
Unlike DargonZine, which is very strictly noncommercial and doesn’t accept advertising of any kind, Mind’s Eye’s goal is to make money by selling advertising. To that end, they have installed a program which detects whether a user is running software which blocks banner ads from appearing, and refuses to display the ends of their stories unless the user either turns off their ad-blocking software or pays them a small fee for each story!
Now, that in and of itself is pretty compelling evidence of the goals and motivations of the site’s owner, Ken Jenks. But I find it even more damning that he has taken these unprecedented steps when a mere 3 percent of Mind’s Eye visitors run ad-blocking software! In the article, Jenks’ justification for such blatantly mercenary behavior was limited to whining that it’s just not fair that Web surfers have the option of avoiding the advertisements which seem to be the most important part of his site.
Fortunately, that’s not the way DargonZine works. DargonZine has always been free of charge and free of advertising. For more than fifteen years, we’ve viewed the Internet as a tool for bringing people (in our case, readers and writers) together, not for exercising greed.
But beyond serving as an example of what we consider worst about the Internet, what Mind’s Eye has done also raises some intriguing questions about this so-called “new medium” we’ve lived in for a decade and a half.
One of these questions is to what extent advertising revenue will become the dominant model of defraying the cost of producing a site, much like the other mass media of television and radio. As Internet advertising revenues have grown, sophisticated blocking software has appeared which allows people to filter out ads. Will we see an escalating software battle break out between large, commercial Web sites who want their ads to be seen, and companies which make and market ad-blocking software? And what does this say about the contempt and lack of respect that commercial companies and Web site owners have for their consumer’s rights? Mind’s Eye, by attempting to circumvent the ad-blocking software that a mere 1/35th of their readership uses, appears to have taken the lead in disrespecting their readership.
Another question raised by this action is the degree to which Internet users should expect to pay for content: the stories, images, and information that companies and individuals provide. Jenks is in good company here, since television and radio customers are used to the idea of “paying” for content by “paying” attention to commercial advertising. However, many knowledgeable people don’t think this model will work for the Web. Rich LeFurgy, chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau, was quoted as follows, “Ultimately, a pay-for-content model is not sustainable on the Web.”
We wholeheartedly agree with this statement. The power of the Web is that the ability to produce and market content has suddenly been made available and feasible to hundreds of millions of people. In the world of fiction, this means that amateur writers can publish their stories online, either themselves or through Internet-based publications like DargonZine and Mind’s Eye. This blurs the line between “professional” and “amateur” writers, and dramatically increases the supply of fiction which is available to readers. And anyone who has taken a microeconomics course can tell you that if the supply of a commodity increases while demand stays constant, prices fall. And given a choice between sites with comparable content, we believe that readers will prefer sites which don’t charge for content or ask them to (or, in Mind’s Eye’s case, force them to) endure commercial advertising.
A quick recap of what’s in this issue: Dafydd’s “Talisman” epic continues with the first installment of a new storyline, Mark Murray returns from an eight-month hiatus with a quick prelude to a new series, and we welcome Bryan Read, whose first Dargon story, “Surfacing”, rounds out the issue.
Those of you who browse the issue via the Web will note that the Online Glossary, which contains descriptions of everything in Dargon, appears to have changed layout. This is part of a test of our back-end database. If things go well, all Glossary links will soon be converted to using the new database; if things go amiss, please let us know by sending email to <email@example.com> telling us the error you received.
That’s it for now! Thanks for reading the ‘zine, and please help us spread the word!