How Not to Sell Out

Ampersand, the founder of the left-wing but otherwise excellent Alas (a blog), is taking some heat from some of his fellow travelers for selling his domain to a search-engine optimization company whose clients include some pornographic web sites. Not for selling or giving up any editorial control of the blog, mind you---just for allowing the company to put links to pornographic sites on other pages on his domain in order to boost their search rankings.

Left-wing in-fighting always makes for good theater, and this is no exception. The sense of entitlement I'm seeing in some of the reactions, such as this one from Heart:

You asked for no input, no feedback, no suggestions. As though your blog is what it is because of you and you alone, or because you paid for server space. Your blog was what it was because of all the people who commented to it, read it, guest blogged there. They made it what it was, too. Their words, on your site, are what caused it to be widely read– not just your words.

Reminds me of nothing so much as that "Worst Episode Ever" bit from an old episode of The Simpsons:

Comic Book Guy: Last night’s Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured I was on the internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.
Bart: Hey, I know it wasn’t great, but what right do you have to complain?
CBG: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
Bart: What? They’re giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.
CBG: Worst episode ever.

But what I find most interesting about this is that none of Ampersand's critics have realized what the net effect of his "selling out" will be. Search-engine optimization is a negative-sum game. By increasing his search engine rankings, one pornographer can take business away from other pornographers, but total revenues for the pornography industry as a whole remain the same. The net effect on the pornography industry is negative---their costs go up due to rent-seeking, but their revenues stay the same---so even though Ampersand is helping some pornographers, that benefit is more than offset by the harm he's doing to others. In effect, he's taking money out of the pockets of pornographers and using it to publish feminist propaganda!

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