Thousands of years ago, a goat herder approached a villager and said, "I will give you one of my goats if you will touch my penis." This was the invention of trading goods for services. Later, it became impractical to carry an entire herd of goats when heading out for a night on the town, so instead villagers would just carry a few slips of paper that said "Good for one goat." Thus, currency was born. Not long after, that same man announced to the village that he had written a poem about the time a stranger touched his penis, and would read it aloud for one hundred goat dollars. The man was immediately arrested and burned at the stake. Thus was born the debate over what, exactly, created content is worth.
That brings us to last year, when a shitstorm hit the web publishing industry. Sites that lost money and/or made cuts included HuffPo, The Guardian, Fusion, Mashable, Salon, Medium, and lots of others. Just this summer, we saw the same happen at The New York Times, MTV News, and Fox Sports. Then Vice Sports shut down completely.
What's the deal? First, there's always been a problem with trying to make money by giving away internet content for free. When the dot-com bubble popped in the early 2000s, I watched ad rates on my old site drop 97 percent over the course of just a couple of years. But those are old complaints. What is new is that A) most of you are reading this on a phone (less screen space for ads, so publishers get paid less) and B) ad-blocking has hit a tipping point (more than half of users now do it).
So publishers automatically make less on the articles they had to spend money to create. For example, Mother Jones published this important piece on private prisons which took half a year and several staff members to put together. It cost them $350,000 to produce. It became a huge viral hit, and as a result, the banner ads earned them ... $5,000.