We’ve tamed the wild west and traveled to space. What’s left to conquer? The Internet.

Websites, publishers and organizations are fighting mightily to maintain net neutrality and a level playing field. Ideologically, the Internet is the Library of Alexandria to the modern world: providing the same information to anyone with an Internet connection.

If it’s free to users, who’s paying for all of this? Ads. Every time you click on a clever t-shirt or click bait (sensationalist or provocative content that draws visitors to a particular web page) someone makes a few cents, be it a large company or a lone blogger.

This is great for individuals and companies who want to turn a profit, but not so great for the Internet at large. These ads make the Internet worse. Pop-ups and large blinking banners make visitors to a website feel as if they are hacking through a rain forest just to get to the content they came to find.

In retaliation, some users install ad blockers and enjoy a pristine content landscape. They’re getting free content created by people who are not working for free (or shouldn’t be). It’s like walking into a movie without paying for a ticket. So how will the person handing you your popcorn get paid?

This is where the waters get murky. Smaller content publishers (regional newspapers, small magazines) receive less traffic on their websites and therefore less ad revenue. From this perspective, their product is not as economically viable; fewer ads are placed and the space goes for a lower price.

Unfortunately, websites that should be valued for their quality are erased by sites featuring content that appeals to the masses and is supported by extensive ad revenue. Some argue smaller sites and publications will disappear, not unlike your favorite small bookstores in the wake of big box stores and Amazon. The global library will capitulate to the highest bidder.

Some websites simply choose not to acquiesce to ads at all, preferring to maintain an uncluttered experience and remain true to their values of providing quality content.  Many of these resources are adopting a pay wall as a means of survival. The subscription to view content keeps the business running without using invasive ads. Figuring out how to make a pay wall work came with a learning curve: The New Yorker allows for six free articles before you pay so as not to lose readership. Similarly, the IndyStar requires visitors to answer one or two research questions.  Their advertisers will pay for the data collected given visitors free access to the information.

What about users who don’t use ad blockers but are still required to pay for content? Shouldn’t there be a trade off?

None of these issues, which largely affect publishing and journalism, will be resolved quickly, much less in this blog post. Next time you’re presented with a call to action that asks for information or payment, consider how much you value the website you’re visiting and the content it provides before making a decision. Also, keep your increasingly savvy viewer in mind when designing your website.

Not sure where to put your ads or other calls to action so they provide optimum value? I’ve written up some of the basics here.