Anyone who has ever watched a street performer has some experience with what happens after the show. Typically, after delivering a performance, the artist delivers a short speech about how he or she is more than happy to entertain the masses free of charge, but that in the interest of fairness, anyone who enjoyed the show should voluntarily elect to make a small cash donation in exchange for services. This kind of voluntary transaction has, in fact, sustained the performance-art communities for millenia, and provides a small but reliable income for street performers all over the world.
In today's world, wherein we have access to a wide variety of technologies that enable us to enjoy music anywhere, at the touch of a button, live music performance is somewhat of a dying art form. (Whether it will ever really die is, in my opinion, unlikely, but also outside the scope of this particular blog post.)
What we have instead is a variety of internet websites that provide a medium to the artist, through which he or she can reach an audience. This technology has been (so far) funded by pay-per-click advertising schemes. The artist provides the performance, the website provides the medium, the firms provide the advertising. From the sales generated, everyone takes a cut in proportion to his or her contribution to total profit. Simple microeconomics.
The question I have is: As in the case of a street performance, is there a moral (i.e., not an economic) responsibility to click on the advertisments of those who provide entertainment you enjoy? I don't mean this in a hard-and-fast sort of way. I mean only to pose the question: What do you think? Do you think you "owe it" to those who entertain us to click on their AdSense content?
I see this as potentially going both ways. First, it is a simple and harmless way to contribute to content you enjoy. In other words, why not?
But second, mindlessly clicking on any advertisment attached to the content you enjoy may send the wrong market signal. If it does not reflect a genuine curiosity about the product being advertised, it may reduce the value of an individual click, which may reward artists in the short run, but diminish their potential incomes in the long run.
Or, should such content merely be free - and free of advertising - in all cases?
I refrain from voicing further opinion on this, including my direct take on the matter at hand, in hopes of generating a robust discussion on the matter.