Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


HOW DO YOU feel about programmic advertising? At this point I am of two minds, though I’m occasionally creeped-out when my computer or cellphone seems to know what I really, really want. Or it thinks it does.

The London Review of Books, December 6, 2018, has a far-reaching article by James Meek, “The Club and the Mob,” a review of Alan Rusbridger’s Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.

Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now, by Alan Rusbridger, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2018.

Rusbridger’s book and Meek’s review discuss various aspects, including print versus online, op-ed versus neutral reporting, the reader’s role, and, of course, the matter of funding: Who pays for journalistic endeavors and how is this wealth exchanged? Here are several tidbits on this last point.

Paywalls have become increasingly common among online media. Meek notes, “Even as early as 1997 some of the big players were making clear they’d have no truck with free news. The Wall Street Journal began making readers pay a subscription for online access—a paywall, as it came to be called. Others were slow to follow, but in the late 2000s and early 2010s, a series of big papers made the leap.”

Here I apologize to SimanaitisSays readers if they encounter a paywall in something I’ve recommended. Some walls have gates, permitting a certain degree of free access per month. Others use the wall as a subscription come-on.

Though I’m hardly a paradigm in this regard, I tend to eschew these come-ons. My own subscriptions evolved before paywall inducements. Do you share my feelings about this?

Advertising is another option for online businesses. We’ve all got used to pitches in the webpage margin, just as we accept printed ads. I confess, online or print, I tend to look past them in the quest for what I’m searching. Perhaps you do likewise?

Programmic Advertising can be beneficial or a bane. Meek quotes Carl Miller, author of The Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab, “You do not buy space in a particular publication, you buy space in front of a particular kind of person, wherever they happen to go on the Internet.”

By the way, my book links here to Amazon save me citing details; they give SimanaitisSays readers a means of learning more about the book. Also, if a reader actually buys one, I receive a modest kickback. How modest? It’s totaling a few dollars for the year 2018.

Meek offers fascinating details about programmic advertising: “We also understand that Google and Facebook know more than anyone, perhaps even ourselves, about the particular kind of person we are, in the sense that they know what we look for, what we like and dislike.”

“The actual process by which we get served ads on the Internet is less familiar,” Meek writes. “Broadly speaking, each time you visit a website, more often than not these days on a mobile phone, your signature—or as much of your personal profile as the website can glean—is broadcast to robot ad exchanges around the world, which robotically solicit bids from robot advertisers to put an ad, tailored for you, into a slot on the page you’re looking at.”

“The robot advertisers,” Meek continues, “bid according to how much their algorithms value you as a potential customer of their client’s product. The winning robot bidder’s advert is sent to the exchange, which sends it to the website, which displays it on the page you’re reading. The whole process takes about two hundred milliseconds—quicker, literally, than the blink of an eye.”

This wonderful cartoon from The Wall Street Journal has been in my files for awhile. It’s only peripherally related here, but its robot theme is amusing.

I don’t do programmic ads at SimanaitisSays. But the next time a website thinks you really, really want those sunglasses, that vintage wine, or that river cruise, you’ll recognize a deft robotic hand in it all. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Mark W
    December 28, 2018

    The robots have a way to go, I think. I recently looked at a few wristwatches (seeing if there was one that had the info I need in easily readable format). Didn’t find anything but for the next week or I saw watches on the side of many websites – come on, droids, be more creative and give me some ideas I like!

    • simanaitissays
      December 28, 2018

      Your robotic advisors have been similar to mine. I’m pleased, though, that they think I deserve a Rhine river cruise, a vintage wine, and a pair of comfy desert boots.

      • Mark W
        December 28, 2018

        If they could deliver those items to me by drone (except for the cruise of course), that would be nice, too….

  2. Michael Rubin
    December 28, 2018

    There was much complaining when the paywalls went up but reporting, editing and presenting news or features costs time and $$$$$. The more intensive the reporting, the more time required. I admit I’m annoyed by some paywalls sine I may only visit a newspaper or magazine site infrequently, but I understand they can’t stay in business giving it away. Some blogs, on the other hand, exist for the enjoyment of the writer and reader (bless you Mr. Simanaitis) but eschew clickbait (bless you again) to help pay for it. I subscribe to two paper newspapers plus two more online and would add a few magazines except for my desire to hold a paper in my hands.

    • simanaitissays
      December 28, 2018

      As a grizzly old magazine person, I too understand the economies of journalistic endeavors. Like you, I subscribe to several newspapers and several magazines.
      Thanks sincerely for your kind remarks concerning the website. In a way, I think of it as the best retirement present I could give myself and, perhaps, an offering to kind readers I’ve known during my own journalistic career.

      • Mark W
        December 28, 2018

        The absolute key to it is to have something that you enjoy doing, that engages your mind and gives you something to look forward to. Otherwise, retirement can be an utter bore!

  3. jlalbrecht64
    December 29, 2018

    As a European resident, we have much more control over the content of ads coming our way than you folks in the US. I don’t care if ads are automated, I just want the right to opt-out of the collection of my data. It is mine, and it pisses me off that the fortunes of many silicon valley moguls are based on stealing our information from us and then selling it to advertisers. I have no problem with people getting really rich. I have a big problem with theft.

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