You’re not readers to them. You’re “eyeballs”. You’re not customers. You’re the product. They really hate when you actually read their content. That’s what they’re communicating by distraction-oriented design: “We don’t respect you, and we’re trying to aggravate you as much as possible, but not quite enough that you’ll stop coming.”

I have a lot of time for the writing of Marco Arment, ( who seems to be a thoughtful guy who cares a great deal about ideas, information, and the right way to convey them. He even gave me a t-shirt at sxsw, listened to my odd comments about why I hate RSS, and didn’t make fun of my accent.

What I notice in the quote above (which is from a longer piece so the excerpting may be cruel) is that it seems at least to me to suggest that this is a new phenomenon. That when things were in print, there was more respect for the reader and that there was insertion of money at the right point of the value chain.

That’s not the case. Certainly in the American magazine and newspaper design tradition, there’s always been a kind of hostility to the reader. The practice of breaking stories up and sending you through a magazine chasing the rest of the article (continued on page 162! continued on 212!) is done at least in part to drag you through the broken-space advertisements. Placing the contents page somewhere random after 20 full-page advertisments? That’s disdain for the reader, and the publication itself.

Beyond that, you’ve always been of more value as a set of eyeballs than you have as a reader. The business model of magazine subscriptions shows this. When you commit to buying a year’s worth of editions, you’ll get a discount off the cover price of up to 70%. The fact is that the production of magazines does not scale that way.

The reason magazine subscriptions are so much cheaper is that once they have you like that, they can sell you to advertisers as one unit of their guaranteed circulation. You are of value because they can sell your attention. For some time I worked as an art director at Australia’s largest business magazine publisher. It was an open secret that tens of thousands of subscriptions were given away solely to inflate the circulation numbers of the advertising rate card. Eyeballs (hopefully attached to wallets and credit cards and pens that sign hire-purchase agreements) is all you’ve ever been to them.

The reason that things have become so bad on the web, that advertising methods are so damned intrusive, is because media buyers no longer have the old excuse that they’re wasting half their spend but they just don’t know which half.

Now they know the entire spend is wasted. And they are terrified. So they’re doing what frightened people do – trying anything at all to stay alive just one more day.

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