The only answer, as I see it, is to cut back on the junk and start writing good content again, and to charge in full for it. In a world full of Buzzfeeds, Wireds, and Voxes, there are only a handful of Aeons, Economists, [New Yorkers] whose strategy is not reliant on ad networks, but on a reputation.
It's becoming really hard to read things on the web. Vicki Boykis does a great job walking us through the pain of finding – and actually reading – quality content. Yikes...
Publishers and ad networks are becoming increasingly aggressive and intrusive. This trend is making the web harder to use every day. For many of us, this represents a frustrating regression in what originally made the web so great. But in that frustration good ideas are beginning to emerge.
The Information is one of the more progressive publications taking a stand for both content and presentational integrity. At $400 per year, it's not a cheap subscription. But Hunter Walk makes a great point about what makes this lofty price tag worth it:
For me the value in The Information is not solely in what they’re providing but what they’re leaving out. The ~two articles a day are both interesting. Because they’re not playing a page views game, they don’t need to overload me with 25+ posts every 24 hrs. The site is spartan because they don’t need to worry about IAB units. A small number of writers building their beats give me the chance to see each journalist’s style distinctly, not settle into some random byline slot machine of varying quality.
For what it's worth: I gave The Information a try. Despite not becoming a long-term subscriber, I have to admit that it felt good paying for the content I was consuming – buying the signal without the noise. By subscribing, the articles became a priority in my daily reading routine: after all, I was paying for it.
I don't know if The Information is profitable, or what their numbers look like. But from the outside I'm rooting for this model to succeed. If it does, I'll be eagerly counting the days until a couple bucks per day can buy me high-signal, meaningful content in all of the verticals I care about.