Over the years I have watched time and time again publishing sites descend into total click-bait madness. This is especially true of sites that try to cater to religion.
You can see the original good intentions of providing channels for different religious groups and even the irreligious. Originally I think of BeliefNet which set these channels up and then worked to attract writers who were blogging on their own. Part of the draw was promising a share in advertising. Was never much of a fan of BeliefNet which I always thought of as “UnbeliefNet”. Still they did draw some solid talent for a small period of time. Now BeliefNet is pretty much all ads and click-bait articles.
Then I saw the rise of Patheos which is pretty much BeliefNet under another name. Again an attempt to create various channels for churches, denominations, and atheists. Sharing advertising dollars to try to draw talent. This model is appealing for writers that they don’t have to mess with working with advertisers and are given a ad-sharing publishing platform. Patheos also had channel managers. This was generally a good idea as these managers could deal with drawing good writers for the specific channel and provide a more consistent and higher quality experience as far as writers go. I think specifically of Elizabeth Scalia who ran the Catholic channel for Patheos for a period of time. During her time there was a good stable of Catholic writers with a variety of viewpoints.
Patheos always had a problem with their intrusive ads which were often quite inappropriate. So many ads that it was almost like looking through a periscope to read actual content. So I pretty much always turned on some version of a Reader View, services that strip out ads and concentrate on text.
This of course is a major problem with finding a way to pay writers through ad revenue without overwhelming the reader with ads. Ad revenue and click-throughs are so low that it pretty much means that the number of ads have to be increased. A case of diminishing returns as the balance is always towards more intrusive ads.
Aleteia is a Catholic attempt to provide news, articles, and essays. It was created by the “Founder Foundation for Evangelization through the Media (FEM)” in France and has some approval by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. It operates in six different languages. It was fairly promising at the start and once again we had Elizabeth Scalia involved, this time for their English version. At first it was a pretty good balance of quality writing, good layout, and non-intrusive ads.
After Elizabeth Scalia left, so did some of that quality. So much is now click-bait, listicles,and top ten lists. These top ten lists are created just to multiply page clicks and so often were factually incorrect. Click-bait headlines drive me crazy and a recent one set off me writing this post.
Really! Now the article itself is not as bad as the headline and the writer of the article probably did not write the headline itself. It is hard for me to understand how somebody thought this was a good headline. Maybe I am too sensitive about this since I am so drawn to Carmelite spirituality. But that headline was hate-bait for me.
To be fair though, Aleteia has not descended to the levels of BeliefNet and Patheos. I still use Aleteia as a source in my RSS aggregator since I can still find good pieces there. Plus sometimes click-bait headlines amuse me or the train-wreckedness of top ten slide shows.
Still sometimes you can embrace click-bait and the worst of Buzzfeed and somehow not be awful.ChurchPop is such an attempt and one I find mostly successful. They have fun with these headlines and short informative articles. Plus the headlines are actually indicative of the article.
There are obviously problems with the revenue generation model for publishing sites on the internet. Nobody wants to pay for content for the most part. The idea that information should be free and that we want unlimited access to the fruit of other’s work. So can we really complain that “we get what we pay for?”
It would seem that Catholic publishing just will never be able to go the Wall Street Journal route of paying for access to content. Yet maybe this is not totally true. I have seen a interesting movement towards a patronage model, especially regarding Catholic podcasting. My Patreon bill has only been going up over time as I have been willing to provide monthly contributions to my favorite Catholic podcasters. This is certainly an area that is growing.
One of the podcasts I donate to is Matt Fradd’s Pint’s with Aquinas. He has totally moved to supporting his family via Patreon for the most part. So this is a rather interesting development. This model is rather interesting is that often the content available is available free to everyone. Sometimes some content is made available to paying subscribers, but mostly the content is available for everyone. There are some perks for subscribers such as behind the scenes information and ways to participate. I see this as a pretty positive step forward in avoiding the problems with ad revenue while being able to support content you want to have available to others.
So while this has caught on with Catholic podcasters to some extent. The same has not been for writers. There are probably other examples, but I can only think of Fr. Dwight Longenecker who has a subscription model to support his podcasts and his writings. Most of the podcasts and his writings are available to everyone.
I have also seen some mixes such as Patrick Coffin’s Coffin Nation where most content is for subscribers along with some YouTube video’s for everyone.
It will be interesting to see how these models develop and if similar models become more common for Catholic writers. There are certainly some caveats such as where Patreon is involved. Jordan B Peterson left Patreon since they are more and more stepping into determining who is allowed to use their service. I only see true Catholic content as getting more and more seen as controversial. Everything is so politicized as we have seen multiple media companies weighing in on Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill.”