So, instead, we rely on advertisers to subsidize our costs so we can offer the publication for cheap or free. Essentially, we have two masters; the readers, who demand quality (and can take their eyeballs elsewhere if they’re not getting it), and the advertisers, who demand reader eyeballs (so they can increase awareness of their product so that you will buy it). These are two separate but parallel transactions: The editors tell the readers, “Hey, you should come here and read all the awesome news reporting/in-depth features we have, for free” and the ad salespeople tell the advertisers, “Hey, you can get a picture of your product right next to an article that someone is reading!” For one transaction, the product is the publication; for the other transaction, the product is your eyeballs.
Sounds a lot like what we what we hear about most other kinds of journalism nowadays. Online publishing is going to have to find a workable business model over the next few years or we’re going to keep going through this same pattern of shrinking and consolidation – and SEO bullshit and link-baiting.