This week, news and opinion website Salon introduced a beta alternative to advertising: mining Monero.
In a blog post, the company explained that advertising revenue for journalism has diminished over the last twenty years.
"Newspaper ad revenue fell from $60 billion in 1999 to $20 billion in 2010," they wrote. "This is in part because the value of an online ad is far less than a print ad; the maxim, 'print dollars become digital dimes become mobile pennies' articulates the approximate 100:10:1 ratio of print to digital to mobile ad revenues."
The company noted that ad blockers have further diminished revenue streams and created a "more one-sided relationship between reader and publisher."
But instead of capturing value through readers' eyeballs alone, Salon determined that it can harness the computing power of its audience to monetize its platform. "The demand for computing power across many different industries and applications is potentially very high," they wrote.
"For our beta program, we'll start by applying your processing power to mine cryptocurrencies to recoup lost ad revenue when you use an ad blocker."
The miner employed by Salon is developed by software firm Coinhive and it's directed to mine Monero for the media company. At the time of publication, Monero is trading for approximately $234 per token, according to CoinMarketCap.
The profitability of Monero mining obviously depends on the hardware at one's disposal, the cost of electricity, and the price of Monero itself. Essentially, Salon is moving the cost of readership from advertising revenue to cryptocurrency mining, an idea that was floated by MIT students in November 2013.
Salon is not the first website to incorporate a cryptocurrency miner. In September 2017, The Pirate Bay did the same thing (but without notifying users or asking for permission). To their credit, Salon asks permission. However, the Salon Monero miner appears to eat up as much of your CPU as possible. Indeed, when I opted into the Monero mining option, my CPU usage spiked to 100 percent!
Although the miner stops running when I navigate away from salon.com, my permission for the site to run the miner persists as long as I have my browser open. That is to say, if I return to salon.com during the same session, my computer will continue mining Monero. If you live in a household where multiple people use the same computer, this could be problematic.
Ultimately, readers have the option. They can always disable their ad blockers and continue living in the status quo. Cryptocurrency mining for media is a possibility, but it's not yet a proven model. I guess that's why the outlet's Monero miner remains in "beta."