• Salt

    Old News

    Perhaps for some readers it's happened semi-invisibly under the cloak of increased convenience, but it's nonetheless significant and true that as the news media have transitioned to online models of distribution the idea of a deadline — the hour or the minute at which the newspaper has to go to print if it's going to land on the news-stands of tomorrow — has been largely supplanted by an infinitely granular system of diminishing returns: the longer you wait the more of your audience, the total audience, gets hoovered up by other websites with quicker hacks or lower standards. You have to be first, or close to first, if you want the lion's share of the traffic, and whether or not you believe that social media have really been eating the trad media's lunch, there's no doubt that they've monstrously accelerated the life-cycle of big stories by significantly reducing the newspapers' power to decide when to 'break' news.

    For the big players in news, who still mostly fund their websites through advertising, this all becomes life or death, because what matters in advertising is volume. You could say it matters to the advertiser and to some extent that's true, but the move from flat or band rates to CPM and PPC advertising1 and the reduced cost of distribution has left the media under pressure to deliver more eyeballs for less money, forcing them to find ways to cut back on the cost of creating content relative to the size of its eventual audience. Basically: the economy of scale rule draws a very slow, unforgiving curve on the profit graph and you have to pull a large audience to cover the cost of generating material. What we often see as a result, in news, is a two- or three-stage process where the first scrap of information is posted to jostle among the search rankings and bid for the initial surges of traffic, followed by a sort of compensatory rear-guard action — over time seeming to become more and more desultory, more and more lax — where one or two slightly longer articles might seek to capture the long-tail of those looking for further information, catering as well to a core readership who visit a site out of loyalty or affinity.

    In the world of breaking news the trend toward responsiveness and speed, with journalists following rather than leading, is very obvious, and it's easy to picture a news story as like a rugby ball that burly journalists pile in on (taking the opportunity of confusion to covertly gouge one another). Arguably it was always so and the game's just gotten tougher and bloodier, but a similar culture is emerging in blogs and features, where online journalists use topic sites likes Quora and Reddit not just to get ideas for articles by hitting up the debates that might survive the transition from the technocratic core to the Internet mainstream, but also with the intention of settling the push-and-pull of an op-ed blog on the frame of whatever arguments are playing out in the thread of an online conversation. This happens more in some areas than others, but in tech journalism it's flimsily transparent: you can watch a story spiral up from a topic site to blogs, spread recursively, then grow again and get picked up (in simplified form) by the Telegraph or the Guardian. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes a day. But it's happening.

    So? That big media reflects our opinions back to us — giving us vain affirmatory pleasures or else angering us like a cat at its own hissing image — is, of course, old news, and there's a certain line of thinking that while the Internet has done a bloody little number on the big media conglomerates it's nonetheless been a boon for plucky independents, 'citizen journalists', striking out on their own, and that any loss of coverage or service from the fall of the giants has only opened up space for the entry of a multiplicity of new voices who, free of institutional entanglement, do a better job of it anyway. This argument, which has enough surface-truth to pass most cursory checks and intellectual frisks, relates closely to the simple and patently true observation that the Internet facilitates the creation of interest groups, providing a connected space where niche cultures can coalesce around forums that encourage discourse more detailed/specific than a newspaper could ever sustain. Of course this is happening everywhere, unstoppably, and yet the smaller sites that cater to these micro-communities, which we can picture as bright pinprick lights on the fringe of a nexus of attention and engagement, are by no means beyond the influence of the advertising model, and do not, in most cases, at present, have it in them to solve the problems of independence, service and sustainability that have brought journalism to its ragged knees and left us to forget what a journalist is actually for. At a first glance it may seem we're removed from the heart of the matter, but it's here at the outer edges, I think, that we have the perspective to perceive some of the subtleties of what's gone dreadfully wrong, and it's here that we might, in time, find our solution.

    The General Internet Shitstream (GIS)

    I run a website within a pretty tiny cupboard of a niche, contemporary circus, and have done since May 2009, and more broadly for the last five years or so I've worked in the subgenre of theatre which falls, with quite a lot of hamfisted over-the-lines colouring, within the territory of 'physical and visual performance'. Consequently what I want to talk about is the health of journalism and criticism within this small, small world.

    Theatre is, always, let's face it, quite a way behind the expanding wave of technology's cultural impact, and so it was perhaps only about five or six years ago, when I was taking my first steps into the sector via an internship with a mime advocacy group (yes, really), that the mainstream arts press was getting its first glimpses of an emergent movement of theatre bloggers, and viewing it, in most cases, with disdain. Up until that time most readers got their editorial arts coverage from big newspapers and cultural magazines, in which case it was relatively homogenised, weighted toward music, literature, film, visual arts, and other exciting artforms that aren't theatre; or else it came from low-circulation print magazines that focused in on a narrow audience (I worked for one of these, Total Theatre Magazine, which was all about mime and devised theatre and puppetry and circus and so on before those specialist skill trees had been part-absorbed into the main branch of theatre practice). But by 2006 Google's Blogger service had asserted its short-lived supremacy and gone some way toward cleaning up blogging's image, popularising an idea of something more open and outward-facing than the old LJ style posts signed with a mood emoticon and currently-listened-to song, and the assumption that if an adult kept a blog they were doing it out of a self-regarding impulse was, meanwhile, gradually weakening (though that one's never quite gone away).

    It was also around this time, in autumn 2006, that the Guardian launched its own blog, the Guardian Stage Blog, which would soon become chiefly a vehicle for contracted newspaper bloggers to complain about the great unwashed masses indulging in their unprofessional and self-aggrandising bloggery. These sorts of attacks have become much more infrequent as the quality of many self-run blogs has at the very least matched the Guardian's own output, as certain theatre bloggers have made the transition to writing for the mainstream press (while choosing, in most cases, to maintain their own independent online presence), and as the decade-long precipitous fall in newspaper circulation has shaken the faith of the trad critics in the continued stability of the edifice from which their proclamations have been made (driving home the realisation that if criticism is going to hell then they will soon enough have to make their way through that land). So these days everyone is a bit more friendly and urbane and groovy and respectful, but every now and then a particularly entrenched, senior newspaper critic will — probably on a slow news day — suit up and write something nostalgically trenchant about how bloggers fall short of the standards of contracted critics, offering the two principal arguments that you hear again and again, in barely changing permutations, through the giant cycling discourse of the bloggers vs professional critics debate.

    The first of these arguments is that the quality across the great untended Internet is so variable that it's an impossible task to separate the writing that's interesting and thoughtful and worth our time from the vast swathes of pitifully underpowered and poorly written, chaff-like and deceit-laden uncontent — in other words that, as readers, all we can do is hold our bowls at the Internet's hoary arse end and accept whatever hoses out. I've never been able to understand how a person can make this argument (w/ or w/o the remarkable analogy); it's true in my experience circa 1999, when a young John Ellingsworth was essaying his first Google searches to try and patch together a piece of junk history coursework — a time when every request for information on the First Crusades was stubbornly met with a new Templar conspiracy theory (in white type on a black background, all on one page, lines of holy crosses as breaks, maybe a flaming .gif as the colophon). But right now, here in the present, even if I don't want to trust an algorithm networks of recommendation and interconnection are pervasive to the extent that if all I do is find one blog with a talented writer and follow its recommendations then I can easily get the best of what's on offer and steer clear of the general Internet shitstream. Calling for the centralisation of content within a single website or under a single brand for the sake of the reader's convenience misapprehends the fundamental difference between print and digital media, and is, in one sense, a miniaturised reflection of big media's seeming inability to grasp the long-term implications of the change in browsing behaviour that's effected when a reader is navigating a hypertextual network (teh Internets!!) rather than a linear or packaged or paginated product (the Sunday Times).

    The second argument we commonly hear is over experience/authority and how in writing each review the professional critic brings to bear the full weight and knowledge of their decades of theatre-going, whereas your typical citizen journalist / blogger is new on the scene and hasn't got the experience or the chops to undertake the important work of contextualising art within art history (even if they, the amateurs, have a certain iconoclasm and ferocity and willingness to put their foot in it). This one is actually harder to dismiss, but it's still got the wrong message. Because while it's broadly true — and while we can probably all agree that it's desirable to cultivate perspectives from both ends of the experience-spectrum for the sake of the critical equivalent of a deadly pincer attack — the manner in which the point is usually formulated and discussed has the basic goal of discrediting bloggers rather than examining what systemic changes might be necessary for a sufficient number of Type I online critics (enthusiastic, barking newbies) to survive long enough to evolve into Type IIs (jaded, unimpressed, backward-looking context masters), and to do so in a way that frees them from the corrosive influence of a failed business model.

    Life cycle of the blogger

    As any jaded, unimpressed, backward-looking newspaper critic can tell you, the barrier to entry for blogging is now so low as to be no barrier at all. It used to entail some minimum investment if you didn't want every visitor carpet-bombed by dancing Angelfire pop-up ads, but with Blogger and WordPress and other services well-known and virtually frictionless in their accessibility all a prospective blogger really needs these days, at the launch stage, is the bare will and patience to make it through a simple ten-minute set-up and they can have something that's functional at the back-end and professional at the front. So it's easy to start something, but if you're going to put much time into your new blog project then chances are you're already looking forward to some sort of possibility of future success — whether that means drawing a large audience, making money, or winning the respect of people you would like to call peers — and this is what sustains you through the gnawing sense of pointless obscurity that will doubtless characterise your early efforts.

    All these yardsticks of success are fundamentally just types of recognition, and the way you measure recognition in the early days, when writing a blog is going to feel many times like shouting into a pillow, is you watch your analytics. You probably know what this is; it's the usage data collected by a script that runs on a site's pages — number of visits, number of pageviews, time on site, percentage of new visitors vs returning, location, browser type, OS type, visitor flow, keywords, referral source, outbound clicks, landing and exit pages, real time activity, etcetera, etcetera, web analytics having moved on considerably from the days of slightly shonky services like StatCounter, Site Meter, et al to the present day minute surveillance of Google Analytics, the best-in-show outside the enterprise sector and a service which comes either ready-integrated or a short plug-in away on all the major blogging platforms. Mostly, it's what people use.

    It's pretty compelling as a source of feedback, especially when it might be your only source of feedback, and even though it's a tool that measures activity/consumption rather than engagement/relation it's easy enough to create a symlink between the hard target of bumping your numbers and the soft idea of making progress or engaging in a worthwhile and not despairing pursuit. If you're studious and serious like I am, you might also do some research that sends you traipsing through the poisonous fields of Expert Blog Advice and may relate some of its teachings concerning posting frequency and keyword research with the insidious feeling that you need to pull an audience by whatever necessary means — but regardless whether you go the short route or the long one, sooner or later you'll see that a big chunk of your traffic pie chart is organic/search traffic and looking through the keywords you'll start to pick up an idea of what brings people to your writing, noting, probably, that reviews bring traffic, and that when you write about a show early in its run you get more traffic because there's naturally more search activity from people wondering whether to buy a ticket or from those who've already seen the show but might like to dwell on it and draw out its afterglow.

    Well, good, because if you've just opened your wordpress.com blog and you're new to the whole theatre blogosphere, what you mostly write is reviews anyway. Reviewing is an easy place to start: it's less time-intensive than feature writing at the research end because seeing a show takes less time than going and doing a bunch of interviews (some works from the Lepage opus excepted), and at the writing end because you're operating your intelligence in a controlled environment rather than over a scattered field. Also it's potentially less intimidating, when you're starting out, because the IM(H)O defence works better with writing that isn't predicated on factual observations. You can get noticed with reviews, as well. Even if you're writing about a relatively small company you have a few guaranteed readers right there, and if they like it then maybe they'll pass it to their audience and you'll pick up a few more pageviews that way. Practically speaking as well you're probably not going to get an interview with that artist you've always admired if you say that it's for your blog that you created last Thursday, and doing reviews isn't so bad a way to make first contact with the people you think are making good and interesting work.

    So you're tossing out reviews, and seeing a bunch of shows, and you're getting rewarded for your work with the thin jittery thrill of the odd traffic spike. Probably you'll do this for a year or two, your audience will grow, marketing departments will begin to invite you to opening nights, and you'll get very adept at writing reviews. But what you might start to find is that reviewing picks at the same part of the brain that's captivated by puzzles: you're handed this packet of data to work with and the process of writing the review is trying to find a resolution (or self-conscious irresolution) for the collection of feelings, moods, thoughts and psychic blips that in the moment of performance are felt disparately. It's satisfying when you feel like you've solved it, but it's also perhaps true that the better you get at it the more you close off of yourself in pursuit of an internal revelation.2

    Whether you feel that way or not, though, this is the point where you start to want to expand your writing or make an attempt at clearing a higher bar — after all you're a context novitiate now, with enough of an idea of the breadth of your chosen speciality that you can start to conceive of writing outside of the circumscribed ring of a single review. It's likely the point as well where you can no longer ignore the fact that your success, as measured by analytics anyway, isn't translating into significant financial remuneration because, in the small world at least, the advertising model is capable of generating very little paid work. The majority of arts websites are not profitable, and if they are then they profit by not paying their contributors. What work there is lies primarily within the commercial sphere of large publications, and will surely not give you an arena of sufficient breadth to accommodate ambitious work.

    By this point chances are you're getting frustrated and starting to play the equivalent exchange game where you total up the number of hours you've spent on your blog, or check the aggregate word count, and imagine what else those quantities of effort and concentration might have been spent on. Likely a fluttery ambivalent feeling is starting to emerge that triangulates somewhere between viewing the body of your work as i. a source of a weird and edgy sort of defiant pride, ii. an insipid manifestation of the essence of human pointlessness, and iii. an increasingly albatrossal burden whose maintenance and upkeep swallows the time that might be spent on the kind of truly progressive and world-changing endeavours for which you privately suspect but have yet to publicly confirm you were born.

    Enthusiasm has a lifespan. If it's not supported by income then it will eventually be sandblasted away by tiredness and self-doubt, or else just become incompatible with the growing busyness and responsibilities of a person's life. In the blogosphere it seems like the life cycle is usually 3-5 years, running from obscurity to recognition to burnout, and it's this high turnover, alongside the dominance of analytics as a measurement of impact, that skews the writing that's produced and overweights it toward reviewing and the kind of short-form writing (/posting) that identifies and counts aesthetic trends (what's with all the adaptations of Woyzeck?) or that takes a stab at already extremely well-stabbed subjects like critical objectivity/subjectivity. I've been watching the theatre blogosphere pretty much as long as it's been there in a significant and integrated way, and it seems that the majority of bloggers are very young. They're currently students or they're just out of university and working a job that doesn't consume them, or they're not working at all — so they have the time, and with it they have this sort of young hunger to be seen and to prove themselves and to get somewhere. Not all of them, but most. And when they realise there's nowhere to get to — meaning no career, no job, no sustainable future — they drop out at the moment they're starting to attain some measure of real understanding and usefulness beyond the limited and anyway abundant function of the first-time perspective. The responsive/reactionary mode in which new voices are locked partly suits reviewing, which is itself a responsive and reflexive exercise, and it seems to me that the needs of reviewing are currently fairly well met;3 what it does not suit is journalism, which is investigative/catalytic, and which has fallen almost entirely out of sight.


    Somewhere toward the end of 2009 I was given the opportunity to write a couple of pieces for the Guardian blog under the mentorship of Lyn Gardner (who, btw, is one of the good 'uns). I wrote three pieces total, two about circus (natch) and one about Twitter and recommendation engines, and was paid £85 a go. This would have been a perfectly reasonable rate if writing them hadn't knotted me up so terribly, but as it was the 600-800 word limit and the restriction of writing about a single subject from a single angle (Lyn: 'A blog is one thought. One thing.') left me stressing and wringing my hands that I hadn't balanced or fully realised my arguments and that I would therefore trip from the end of my glib blog straight into a bloody uprising in the comment section.

    In the end this didn't happen to me, but if you read the G. Blog, or newspaper blogs generally, you'll know all popular comment sections have their resident awful harpies, poised to swoop in. Understand as well that that's actually what's supposed to happen; you want those comments and the activity and the pageviews they generate, and if you're playing quick and dirty then you soon find that something that's full of holes and broad assumptions gets more comments than something that's cohesive and rounded-out. A comment section is not itself a damaging mechanism — it's a mirror that will reflect the strength of the posted material, and if the article or blog is thin and sensationalist, a deliberate firebomb, then the comments will form a litany of ill-felt sniping from people who've only skimmed the post, shitty and aggressive anonymous sarcasm, high-ground moralisitic squawking, and minimally concealed bids for coat-tail traffic that invite readers to 'check out' the commenter's own take on the subject, whatever it may be.

    The cynical willingness of bloggers, journalists and editors to toss throwaway writing to the comments has, it seems to me, insidiously and gradually come to replace the well-developed functions of research and peer review, and, over time, has changed our understanding of 'disruptive' writing to be a tonally extreme mode that riles and baits its readership rather than a line of practical thinking that takes a measured approach to challenging deep beliefs or those boundaries so familiar they have become invisible. Now when a blog isn't posting entirely disposable thoughts about the quality of wine in theatre bars, or the differences in comfort of seating between fringe and mainstream venues, the dominant form is the 'one idea' blog, phrased usually as an extended question or a relatively bald statement with the justification that the original post is just the kick-off for a game that plays out in the public space below, and that all the points will, eventually, from a multitude of sources, get made. Well, perhaps the comments can fill in the gaps and provide the counterarguments and extra perspectives, but what you end up with, assuming the reader reads everything, is usually just a shouting match between two irreconcilable sides — a collection of flatly stated opinions to which the reader can have an undemanding binary reaction: agree/disagree. What's lost is journalism's power to change rather than simply confirm or ephemerally provoke — the power to work some alchemical magic on common information. We have all experienced this: reading something that doesn't tell us anything factually new, but that illuminates the existing facts so brightly that it changes the contours of our experience and our world. This is the work of journalism for me, distinct from the provision of news or entertainment distractions, and expecting it to be done by a comment section is like responding to a commission to write an article by just dumping all your thoughts down on the page in bullet points with a note inviting the reader to join the dots and come to their own conclusion.

    Journalists are in that same class of profession as politicians where the people who gravitate to the work are often the ones you least want to be undertaking it, but journalism itself, as a pure ideal, is predicated on the civic uses of disruption, oversight and motivated scepticism — ultimately, on service. Under the unforgiving pressures of the advertising system and the whispery vizier-like influence of analytics, we have come to talk about online writing as 'content' — as a quantified product rather than a service — and in doing so have turned journalists into peddlers of fatuous remarks rather than committed individuals who spend more time thinking about a subject than a person without their job could ever want to, or who conduct more research and do more homework than curiosity alone could ever sustain — undertaking this work, unlike the academic or the intellectual, with the goal of presenting what they find directly back to general society. We've fallen a long way from this ideal, and if standards used to be higher then it's not because journalists of old were ethically more rigorous or better constituted, it's because they had a business model that was built, to greater and lesser degrees, around a direct financial connection with their readership. To some extent the steady erosion of this connection has affected newspapers — who, as their businesses have begun to move online, have substituted 'monetisation' for flagging sales — yet it's a shift that's been felt most acutely by those on the fringes.

    Circulation, Dissemination

    It used to be that if you produced an arts magazine, something infrequent and focused like say a visual arts quarterly, then the lion's share of your revenue would come from subscriptions and sales; now it costs more to print your magazine, and fewer people want to buy it, and so if you want to start something new without a great deal of capital, or if you don't have a great appetite for risk, then you go online and the bulk of what you can earn comes from advertising and affiliate schemes.4 In a way you still owe your living to your readers, but now it's indirect, and between them and you is the relationship with the advertiser. When you're in the small world this can understandably get very difficult — if you run a website about opera then probably the only people who'll want to advertise are big opera venues and well-known conservatories that offer courses and training: the people, the same people, that you're writing about editorially.

    As you build the sorts of business relationships that support the publication and the work it starts to erode those virtues of the critic and the journalist and the writer which depend on at least a measure, a balancing measure, of outsideness and separation and independence. This erosion is an extremely depressing, creeping process, and it's felt more strongly the longer you stay in your sector — because you form more and more personal connections and relationships, but also because the more experience and knowledge you accrue the more you want to write about the world itself rather than just its public-facing outputs. Inevitably, you start to have opinions, or pick up other people's, and the largest organisations and institutions — the ones who through the scope of their influence most need to be critically addressed — are also likely the only ones, in the small world, with an advertising budget worth going after.

    If you've worked editorially and sold advertising you've seen that most venues and festivals (or their press departments) don't have an interest in what you're doing. They have an interest, professionally, in what you write about their show/event/festival, but that's a different thing, a transaction disguised as a relationship. In this pseudo-relationship it actually makes very little difference whether the article previewing the dept.'s show/event/festival is from a writer who has taken the time to research and consider and think or whether it's just a rehashed press release posted on a travel site as part of an overall strategy to make affiliate fees on hotel sales. I think just about every venue would object to this, but I also really, really think it's true, and it seems to me that there are only a few who consider journalists/critics as vital to the process of making art rather than simply expedient to the work of disseminating it.

    This is where you would like a newspaper to come in. One of the theoretical benefits for a journalist working under an organisation of that size is separation of interests — editorial and marketing are different departments — plus in pursuing a bad coverage grudge a venue would probably have more to lose than whatever paper it was pissed off with.5 But in practice of course the catch is that the size of the media company, the characteristic which gives them some measure of freedom, also constrains their output to such as might appeal to the glommed together interests of the Average Reader. To some extent, the more niche stuff comes online, but comes thereby into the in-between digital business models that still count pageviews above usefulness, resulting in the sort of pallid un-nourishing gruel they ladle out at e.g. Guardian blog HQ, which, with a couple of exceptions, is firmly in medias shitstream. What those strenuous complaints from mainstream critics concerned about the unprofessional practice of their understudies can never quite conceal is that they, in the big media, are operating under a set of pressures and limitations that differ only in detail, not in outcome, and that if they have greater knowledge, greater experience, broader horizons, then they are operating in an environment antithetical to the meaningful exercise of those skills. Mainstream critics, independent bloggers, citizen journalists, big newspapers, tiny websites — we are all in the same hole.


    And how do we get out? In specific terms, in detail, I don't know. Maintaining a niche arts website with the ambition of turning it into something resembling a business I'd describe as like one of those It's a Knockout style courses where you have to run along a bridge through successive and ever more closely spaced walls of destructible polystyrene, except that every wall in this case is some sort of fantasy or dream or delusion of success. Stepping back from my own experience, however, and taking a wider view, I'd consider that if you want journalism to exist and to flourish then you have to see journalists as, if not artists themselves, then like artists in that if you leave them to the market then either their actions will be dictated by the market or sooner or later they'll drop out of the scene. If there's no subsidy for theatre-makers then what you will mostly get is Cats and Phantom of the Opera and Cirque du Soleil, and if you leave journalists to chase pageviews then what you'll mostly get is 600 word slush articles about West End celebrity nudity.

    Short of enlightened support from major bodies and organisations who seem more interested in running training schemes for young critics than in addressing the lack of sustainable careers to train them for, the only solution that makes any sense to me is reconnection of the relationship between writer and reader as a mutually supportive system of service and patronage. The slow, slow death of mass consumption is playing out in every other industry, and while the newspaper giants scramble to transform their business models — whether their chosen strategy is to put content behind the paywall and lure readers in with some rickety system of limited first-use, to scale up their current operations thinking that they can grab the share of other newspapers as they leave the market, or to go for a freemium model where the present stress of maintaining an enormous all-fronts digital presence is set against the gamble that the e-reader market will grow quickly enough that they can sell an aesthetically superior, with-knobs-on edition in enough time to cover the shortfall — it is up to the independents to do more than just watch and wait. A solution will not arise without experimentation, iteration, patience and risk, but if parties on both sides need to act to close the gap between the writing and its readers, then I think it will be up to us, the writers and journalists and critics, to prepare the ground by excising from our output the worst characteristics of the old world.

    If we do the work then it will speak for the model. Working with ambition and intensity, pushing for the inflection point where the curve of a reader's thinking changes sign, we have a hope of articulating the unquantifiable benefits of our intangible skills, and of convincing readers that you can pay with more things than money, and that money may in fact be the least dear. Doing this work it's easier to get it wrong, and to overreach, but then again it's the kind of challenge I think we could help each other with and tackle collectively rather than pooling our resources and experience to generate in-comment lists of theatres with uncomfortable seating.

    A cooperative environment where artists, audiences and journalists hold one another up does not by necessity create entangled or detrimental relationships, and in thinking about what service is and what its most valuable expressions might be beyond the bland previewing and stultified trend-spotting that has arisen within current commercial strictures, dissidence and criticism can be key facets — qualities contradictory to a mission of utility and careful support only when seen in the simplest and meanest terms. Speaking to you as someone who might want to undertake this work, and speaking ideally, you could do worse in fact than think of yourself as the salt — a sharp, ablative, complimentary bitterness, an essential yet argumentative component for whom relation is a condition of meaning. Put another way: you're nothing without them, they're less without you. Get to work.


    1 Cost Per Mille, where the advertiser pays a set rate per thousand impressions; and Pay Per Click, where the advertiser shells out for each clickthrough. There are other models, but these two dominate, with PPC a way ahead of CPM. The basic idea is you only pay for what you're getting.

    You'd maybe think that PPC would stop authors from going for junk traffic on the basis that loyal readers with higher engagement are more likely to be interested in contextually relevant ads. In practice though regular readers generally become ad-blind, and the biggest share of PPC revenue comes instead from new-visitor search traffic — people who are disorientated and ready to bounce right out if they don't find what they think they want.

    2 I think that it's over-satisfaction with this feeling that leads to the critical illness where reviewers seek out contextual puns with which to sign-off their writing — like when it's a play about the Great Fire of London and the review ends by telling you the piece 'doesn't quite catch light' or some shit like that I can hardly believe anyone can write without vomiting through their fingers.

    3 Actually in circus they're not, but looking at the wider fringe theatre sector things seem to be relatively healthy.

    4 Affiliate schemes actually tend to work better for sites that want to monetise their loyal readership. One of the biggest affiliate programmes is Amazon Associates, which allows you to link to Amazon with a tracking code, and then if anyone lands on the Amazon site with the code and goes on to buy something within 24 hours then the affiliate gets a kickback, which generally speaking is somewhere in the 4 - 5.5% range depending on the total number of items sold in a month (you sell more, the percentage goes up; a couple of higher-margin things like MP3 downloads get a bigger cut). Its big advantage over PPC or CPM advertising is that ultimately the highest rewards will be for well-thought-out and honest content produced for highly engaged readers (influence is based on trust; you build trust by being useful and ethical); plus with affiliate schemes, unlike with PPC, you're usually allowed to urge readers to click your links because, from the advertisers POV, they only have to pay out if there's a sale — and a sale's a sale, who gives a fuck what language was deployed to clinch it. Still, while the self-checking mechanisms make affiliate schemes more wholesome and less damaging to editorial voice, you still need a website on an enormous scale if you want to draw significant revenue, and naturally a percentage payout pays out more on expensive products like sit-on mowers (yes, you can buy sit-on mowers through Amazon) and full ceramic bathroom suites (ditto) rather than say books, which mostly sell second-hand and net you like 9p a time.*

    * Incidentally the fact that it generally doesn't work as well with shit or semi-useless or clone websites doesn't stop anyone trying, which is why you get a lot of spammy travel sites — plane tickets and hotel rooms and package holidays can net you a not unreasonable return from a small number of sales.

    5 Of course mainstream journalism has sponsored features and all sorts of under-the-table deals concerning early access and embargoes, but those are probably strategies for bigger and higher stake industries than fringe theatre and other small world concerns, and the everything-in nature of a newspaper – sports, news, film, books, lifestyle, etcetera – means less dependence on a single sector.

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