Alex Jones, the creator and owner of the popular fake news organization Infowars, has been spreading his rambunctiously-delivered style of fake news in some form or another for over 20 years. Starting in public access television and radio in the late 1990s, evidence of Jones’ trademark outbursts and publicity stunts are available online in a variety of different forms. Jones has somehow managed to keep people talking about him for decades, and is one of the biggest names in conspiracy theorist circles even after all these years. More impressive than his longevity, however, is how Jones has managed to keep his platform afloat and financially secure in a time when long-standing media organizations are struggling with methods of raising revenue in the age of the Internet.
Currently, the effects the internet has had on the news industry cannot be overlooked. Time Inc. recently cut down on the amount of issues they print due to a lack of revenue. The hits that magazines in particular have taken recently, with many prominent publications deciding that certain editors are simply outside of their effective cost range, are showing a shift away from physical copies of news and longer forms of journalism in general towards shorter, easily digestible and shareable forms of online content. When surrounded by evidence of legitimate news organizations facing challenges in an ongoing effort to make the internet as profitable as possible, it seems odd that an outlandish fringe figure like Alex Jones is making his way through this new territory and managing to turn a profit.
A Slate article from 2013 suggests that Jones was making north of seven figures in 2013, underneath an older business model that factored in conditions like YouTube’s old monetization guidelines that still allowed fake news sources to turn a profit through the inclusion of ads.The regular release of documentary films concerning conspiratorial subjects produced or directed by Jones himself was also mentioned. How much Jones makes today is uncertain, but he is doing so in a rather journalistically unethical way: selling alternative medicine to the niche Infowars fanbase that continuously supports whatever he has to say. This fanbase, of course, is made up of people who believe that they need a product sold to them by a man telling them that all institutions exist to profit off of their own existence. The irony is almost tangible.
Alex Jones airs his syndicated show through terrestrial radio via the Genesis Communications Network, but Infowars has expanded into the realms of satellite radio and online streaming through XM Radio and a streaming function on the Infowars website. If a legacy news organization is defined as a surviving news association rooted in traditional forms of sharing news and information that predate the Internet, such as through printed copies of issues, television and radio, applicable to big media names like The New York Times and The Washington Post, then Jones’ product certainly qualifies as some perverse distortion of that title.
The most common form of revenue made by news organizations online comes from advertisements, and the amount of money being made depends on how much an ad is worth, how many ads are displayed on a page and how much traffic a particular web page gets. According to this article in New York Magazine Alex Jones supposedly makes little of his money from placing advertisements in his web space. Rather, you will find that a great many of the advertisements seen on Infowars.com and heard on his show are for his own products. Alex Jones seems to have forgone the tactic of selling his space to interested advertisers in lieu of using that advertisement space for himself instead.
Utilizing this tactic has helped Alex Jones adapt to the internet in order to make the most out of his own self-advertising methods . His presence on YouTube is an interesting place to view this adaptation because of all of the ways Jones has used the platform to his own advantage. YouTube’s modern monetization guidelines forbid Jones from making money off of ads YouTube places in his videos because, like many fake news sources, he simply uses clips and screenshots from other news organizations and talks over them himself, which does not fit YouTube’s description of original content. But Jones’ methods of monetizing the platform come through several less obvious means.
One look at the Infowars website will show you a quantity of videos hosted on YouTube. Jones posts multiple videos a day, some of them several hours in length, but his status as a verified YouTuber lets him upload a large amounts of content in the span of a single day. These videos are posted on YouTube and embedded into the code of the Infowars website. In short, YouTube essentially hosts Infowars’ videos for free. Infowars has no need for its revenue to go towards its own source of video hosting like larger organizations such as The New York Times do.
In addition to free video sharing, YouTube also plays into Jones’ marketing strategy for the Infowars online store. Jones’ videos usually have a short advertisement contained in them for his said store, an advertising strategy that most news organizations would find unethical. The New York Times, for example, might sell their own t-shirts, tote bags and special content made by associates of the organization such as books and photo prints, but the store is tucked away in the subsection of the dropdown menu on their website and ads to the store aren’t necessarily intertwined with video content. Jones, contrastingly, not only sells his audience the products he is implying they need in a world that, he says, is run by hidden conspiracies, but also advertises within the videos themselves, in the top bar on the Infowars website.in A link to the store placed in the description of every one of his YouTube videos.
In addition, YouTube grants Jones a measure of audience-assisted publicity. The easy, shareable nature of YouTube content means that it’s just as easy for fans of Jones to take his videos and share them through other forms of social media like Facebook and Twitter like he does on his own website. Fans of Jones who see his content of their own volition, or go to websites like YouTube to view his content, have an easier time pushing it through to another pool of people, another audience that wouldn’t have been reached beforehand if you had to seek out his content in order to be exposed to it. That kind of publicity, where Jones doesn’t even have to do anything but use the website, is priceless.
It may be hard to take Alex Jones very seriously with his reputation and the way he presents himself, but the fact is that Jones has managed to not only adapt to a changing world of sharing information, but thrive in it as well. In a time when it is easier than ever to reach a wide audience, Infowars’ methods have found a way to stay afloat while other legitimate organizations are still struggling to breathe.