Giving Scroll a Shot

Trying out Scroll—an attempt at an alternative revenue model for journalism sites.

Scroll is the latest attempt to monetize news sites without advertising. It’s another variation on a theme, as there is demand for a better model and there is some amount of reader money sitting idle, and there are very annoying ads to not be served.

Their model is $5 monthly and they say they give a cut to the sites based on how much you read. So their model is really about like cable television: if they can match enough readers with enough sites, it works. You won’t read every site, and so it’s a numbers game of hitting the right mixtures to attract enough readers.

My preferred model would still include a per-article split, plus some way to influence the split if you really enjoyed a particular article on a particular site. But it’s worth a shot.

There are a few things I hope will eventually happen, regardless of this iteration of pay-news’ success. First, some kind of standards for advertising is obviously needed. Readers should be able to set what kind of ads they find acceptable, whether that’s text-only, no-animation, no-video, no-sound.

Sites should be prohibited from replacing ads after the page has loaded. The Washington Post has been bad about that for some time, and Ars Technica does it, too.

Sites should not shift text while loading ads or while you scroll. It is a mortal sin to pull text out from under the reader’s eyes. Anyone in the business of putting words in front of readers should know better.

The other thing would be a better relationship between readers and news sites. There’s a kind of hostility by the sites (I don’t interact with the readers, so maybe there’s hostility there, too), where using an ad-blocker or trying to read a one-off article is met with a kind of creepy store clerk hovering on you as you browse. “What, you don’t want to see our obnoxious (potentially malicious) ads?” “You know, you can’t come in the store again if you don’t buy something.”

Probably the big problem will be—for now—lack of selection and lack of easily knowing which sites are which. I tend to read articles on sites I’m more familiar with, because I know what to expect ad-wise. Will a random site be a clusterfuck? Happens often enough. So I’ll actually search for an alternative site with a similar article, if I think it’s less trouble than clicking through to a mess of a site.

Which is the other thing I eventually hope to see: standards of content display that go beyond advertising standards. Most dead-tree newspapers had pretty similar formats. They were built for reading, and they did it with minimal nonsense and minimal stylization. But the web, every site has to be overdesigned. That’s one of the reasons I’ve mostly given up on customizing styles on this site—hopefully it makes things a bit more standard, a bit less of a bother to whoever the heck reads this.

Anyway, for now I’m giving it a try. I don’t actually read most of the sites in Scroll’s list, but some of them were excluded because of their paywalls. So maybe now I’ll read them some more and see what’s what.