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Editor’s Letter: Dancing on a Burning Platform

March 13, 2013Written by Sebastian Moss

Editor’s Letter is a series of ongoing articles on the state of PSLS, its future and the future of the industry as a whole.

In my first Editor’s Letter, I enthusiastically talked about the huge changes going on behind the scenes at PSLS, boiling down to the fact that you should expect new writers and more content soon. But expansion, or even continued existence, relies on an uncomfortable factor – money. As, sadly, we don’t accept bribes, that money comes from ads. But more and more people don’t actually see the ads, so the amount of potential revenue is ever shrinking.

Last Friday, Destructoid published an article titled ‘Half of Destructoid’s readers block our ads. Now what?’, with the main body of the post explaining that 42-46% of readers used an adblocker software. Dtoid founder Niero Gonzalez explained:

This means that we’re working twice as hard as other sites to sustain our company, as if keeping a group of game writers fed isn’t difficult enough. We see gaming sites shut down or selling out so often these days. Feeling my pain yet?

Of course, the math here is a bit off – they don’t have to work twice as hard as other sites, as this is an industry wide (and internet news wide) plague. We suffer similar rates, run half as many ads per page and receive far less traffic (from both adblocker and non-adblocker users). So we’re faced with the same question – what is going to happen next?

Adblockers are becoming increasingly popular, especially among tech-focused audiences, and I know that, unfortunately, this article will serve to educate even more people about it and lead to them using it. I get why people use them – ads are annoying, mildly computer intensive and distracting. But they are also necessary.

Running a games news site, a how-to:

First, half your number of visitors as that’s the number of adblockers, then split the ad money (fractions of a cent per visitor) with the ad company, the parent company and the tax man. Then put tens of thousands aside for plane tickets, hotel rooms and general expenses for events, more still for site designers and a bevy of tech people who will help you out when something inevitably breaks. Then, pay for your servers, your podcast servers and stuff for giveaways. By this stage, you probably haven’t got too much left in your pot, but you’ll want some writers. Make sure to hire some editors, some news writers, some feature writers, some reviewers and some trophy guide writers, as well as have budget for freelancers and guest positions. Don’t forget that you’ll have to buy most of the games if you’re the kind of site that doesn’t cozy up to publishers. Every now and then, you may have to hire lawyers to protect you, so try to set something aside for that. Oh, and you never know how many visitors you’ll get (you can’t even safely bet), so every month may be your last.

I never minded the fact that we need traffic to be sustainable, it gives us drive to continue publishing content, to continue pushing further. But the rate of adblocker usage is spiraling out of control, meaning that a site has to grow faster and faster just to remain in the same financial state.

The general argument from adblock users is “well don’t run such sucky ads”, but as the software pretty much blocks all ads on almost all sites, they often haven’t actually seen any ads on the particular site they’re talking on. We don’t run spammy ads, or dangerous ones, or anything like that. Very occasionally an ad that plays a noise gets through, but if you let me know, we’ll squash it. Another argument is “Be like Reddit, their ads don’t even get blocked”. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same resources as the 125th largest website in the world, we don’t have a huge ad team or ads specifically designed for our website, so that simply isn’t feasible (especially if we can never grow because no one looks at our ads). If a site has terrible ads, the argument for blocking them makes some sense, but at least give a site a chance.

If you use adblock on PSLS, I’d love to know why – we won’t ban you, or attack you. If it’s something wrong with our site, we want to be able to change. If it’s just because you’ve always used it on all websites, I’d also love to know what you would suggest for PSLS, so that we can continue to provide you the coverage that you (hopefully) love, for free.