Miscellaneous Ramblings

How Ad Blocking Hurts Your Favorite Websites

Charles Moore - 2010.03.18 - Tip Jar

I like advertising.

No, really. Whenever I read a magazine or newspaper that doesn't publish ads - Consumer Reports, for example - it always seems like something important is missing.

I even like TV commercials and actually prefer watching shows and movies on TV that have been recorded off broadcast rather than commercial-less DVD or VHS versions. The commercial breaks provide opportunity to grab a snack, pour a cup of tea or grab a beer, attend to the inevitable effects of the tea or beer, stoke the wood stove, stretch one's legs, etc. And, of course, you can just fast-forward through the commercials if you want to stay put on the couch - not a major hardship.

The often emotional disdain some folks express for advertising bemuses me. Yes, ads can be irritating, but on the balance they are an important element of recording and contributing to the evolution of culture, as a peruse of any old magazine or newspaper makes obvious. It's not surprising that Mad Men is a perennial hit TV show.

I'm not in the least offended by "commercialism" - and, in fact, value it as the engine that keeps our economy functioning and prosperous.

Ads and the Internet

Recently Ars Technica's Ken Fisher set the proverbial cat among the pigeons with an essay entitled Why Ad Blocking Is Devastating to the Sites You Love, debunking the frequently-cited misconception that if you're a site user who never clicks on ads, then blocking them doesn't bite the publisher financially.

In fact, most websites that are businesses (rather than someone's hobby) depend on ad revenue that is calculated and paid on a per view basis. Consequently, if you have an ad blocker enabled in your browser and you load 10 pages on a site, you're consuming server and bandwidth resources but disabling revenue compensation for the site's publisher - and, by extension, its journalistic or blogger contributors.

"Imagine running a restaurant where 40% of the people who came and ate didn't pay," says Fisher. "In a way, that's what ad blocking is doing to us." This applies equally to Low End Mac and the other free content Mac websites that I write for, although I can't cite precise figures, as my involvement in these enterprises is purely journalistic and not on the business side.

Ad Blocking Hurts Websites

However, I do know that since the recession set in 18 months ago or so, several of my publishers - both online and in print media - have been hurting badly (or worse - the daily newspaper in which I had a regular column that had been my main livelihood gig for seven years completely folded in 2008), and the increasing use of ad blocking in browsers has to be contributing to the pain for the Web-based publishers.*

I don't dispute that some advertising on websites can be intrusive and obnoxious. I particularly dislike popup ads that obscure what you're reading, clog bandwidth, and can be maddeningly persistent when you try to dismiss them. I would suggest to advertisers that in terms of effectiveness, less is often more. The admirably low-key and completely inoffensive (at least IMHO) ad content on Google's search engine is an excellent example, although there is also plenty of display advertising with graphics content that I find perfectly tolerable - and often usefully informative.

For exemplars of how advertising can be classy, intelligent, tasteful, thoughtful, and entertaining, scanning through a copy of The Atlantic Monthly magazine (I'm a longtime subscriber) is a great place to look.

Ads Keep Content Free

Somebody has to pay for providing the content that makes visiting these websites worthwhile, and in my estimation ads are an excellent way of keeping content free. As Fisher observes, you may find ads annoying, but imagine how annoying and frustrating it is for site publishers to be obliged to reduce staff and slash benefits because a greater proportion of readers is blocking the ads that are the site's life blood.

I used to be quite satisfied using the ad-supported versions of Qualcomm's classic Eudora email app and the Opera browser before the development of Eudora was terminated (and the name handed off to Mozilla.org for an Open Source "Eudora" clone of its Thunderbird email client) and Opera went freeware.

I join Ken Fisher in appealing to readers: If you enjoy and value what you derive from visiting our sites, please consider not blocking the ads, because if this trend continues, a lot of these sites may not be around anymore, - or at best content quality will suffer.

Not everyone agrees, of course, and for a contrarian perspective, check out Is Ad Blocking the Problem? by Canonical COO Matt Asay. I'm not convinced by Asay's argument, but he's welcome to his point of view.

But then, as I said, I like advertising anyway.

* Publisher's note: We are working on an article explaining how to whitelist Low End Mac while continuing to use ad blocking on sites where you don't want to see ads. Until then, see Safely Whitelist Your Favorite Sites and Opt Out of Tracking on Ars Technica. dk

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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