Deconstructing “ad-free”

What happens when you remove reporters and editors completely and hand the controls over to the companies and people you cover?

What happens when you label that content as “free from advertising!” or “ad-free” because, indeed, an arguably more deceptive practice, best known as “sponsored content” or “advertorials,” has gained popularity over traditional online advertising.

[TCR, the sole ad-free trade publication in the animal health space without allegiances to any single group, interest, policy, industry, or agenda other than strong, independent journalism, gets approached frequently by marketing firms that are eager to discuss such arrangements.]

Before the Internet, there were clear physical boundaries between the editorial and business sides of news businesses as well as within the product itself.  Viewers knew if they were watching a commercial as opposed to news. Radio listeners knew whether the content was coming from a newsroom or an advertisement. There were no guessing games. Now, businesses have figured out that blurring those lines and creating as much of an illusion as possible that the messaging is coming not from the advertiser, but from a seemingly dispassionate source — such as a journalist or news outlet — always delivers a more powerful message.

Much like the industry itself, journalism about the pet industry and animal health is one of the more unaccountable and free-wheeling in the media space.

Here is a “partnership proposal” someone sent TCR this morning. We are publishing the email in full with redactions to protect the identity of the sender because the intent here is not to humiliate.

We hope you take the time to read this “Partnership Proposal” and to appreciate the fact that the vast majority of online editorial content is produced according to exactly the same model as what this email is proposing.

Simply put, the company is proposing that if TCR writes something positive about the company’s product, the company will then pay TCR an undisclosed commission on whatever the company sells as a result of TCR telling you how wonderful the product is.

To be clear, when we link to something, it’s an editorial decision. We never get paid when you click, whether you click once, twice, 1,000 times or if you buy a million products. TCR is subscription-based, which means that our only obligation is to our readers.

The next time you read something online, take a minute — take two minutes — to evaluate the business model of the entity that published it.

Ask the people behind the information about their business model.

Chances are, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Email to TCR: “Partnership Proposal”

Partnership proposal