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The site gets cash, but the user loses value and doesn't get anything in return.

If you're a teacher, and you're at a site looking for how to teach a lesson on subtraction, and I tell you bingo cards do that, and you pay me money for bingo cards, you're saying in the most explicit way that people know how that bingo cards were exactly what you were looking for.

Why not submit your site to that community for review (assuming it's as relevant as you say) and get a real star rating in the process? Your listing would look the same as your current ad and you presumably wouldn't be paying to advertise (unless the site accepts only paid submissions).

Because BCC's landing page / free trial is superior to the experience of the organic site, for both teachers who want bingo cards and for me. If it were one of the organic listings, I'd have to manually create 8 cards or whatever and then upload them. They'd go behind a signup wall. People would then be asked to signup to the site to download the eight cards. Very few of them would buy BCC. Instead, they should sign up for my site, where a) they can create more cards and b) the ones who experience a lot of value from classroom bingo will actually pay me money.

If you're getting 100% conversion then I guess you can do no wrong. But anyone who saw your ad and didn't buy was looking for something else. No matter what you put in your ad, it's not going to be more valuable than the content it displaces, save for strange and rare accidents.

anyone who saw your ad and didn't buy was looking for something else

What an astonishing statement.

Let's disregard the fact that some of the most popular entertainment in history first appeared as advertisements (everything from the annual, ephemeral crop of Super Bowl ads, to the 72-years-old-and-counting "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", to arguably every music video ever). Let's disregard the clear evidence that people deliberately search for popular TV commercials in YouTube. Let's ignore the philosophical debate about whether every one of 37Signals's blog posts is also an "ad" for 37Signals products, or whether every one of my HN comments is also an "ad" for YCombinator. [1]

It's still obvious that an ad can be valuable without leading to a purchase. If I go out to buy an electric guitar, I don't do so by clicking on the first guitar ad I see and then pressing the green BUY button. Instead, I do some kind of research. At the very least, I go to a store with a bunch of different kinds of guitar and stare at their packaging and styling. More likely, I visit the sites of a bunch of guitar makers and then choose one. But just because I chose to buy a Strat rather than a Gibson Les Paul doesn't mean that I didn't derive value from viewing Gibson's website, or reading their blurb about Les Paul.

Similarly, just because I'm ultimately not going to buy bingo card creation software doesn't mean I don't benefit from knowing that such stuff exists.


[1] Yeah, but we're discussing a cheap little low-class interstitial ad on a website, right? Should I even try to compare it to a whole fancy thirty-second spot, or a music video?

Maybe, because a 140-character ad is better for many purposes than these bigger ads. It certainly takes less than thirty seconds to read.

The problem with all of these common justifications for advertising is that they are all despite itself. Yes, the occasional ad is more entertaining than the content, and occasionally an ad will give you exactly the information that you need.

But fundamentally, ads do not exist in order to entertain or inform you. They exist to distract you from what you want to see, towards something someone else wants you to see. In general, content is always more valuable than advertising.

If looking at ads is the cost of looking at content, so be it. The point is that it is a cost, not a gift.

The user gets to use the site for free. How is that nothing?

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