Why Ad Blocking Can Hurt Ad Blockers


adtrap-logoAd blocking has been a hot-button issues for webmasters and content creators for years. Back in 2010, for example, the site Ars Technica conducted an experiment and blocked the site’s content to those running ad blocking plugins.

However, in the years since, ad blocking has not gone away and, if anything, has become an even more divisive issue as ad blocking has become more and more mainstream. Not only are more and more users installing plugins like Adblock Plus, but new tools such as readability plugins, have more users removing ads from web pages than ever before.

But it isn’t just limited to the Internet. Last year, Dish Network launched its “Hopper” DVR, a system that automatically skips ads in previously recorded programs. That product has attracted multiple lawsuits from the various TV networks, but, so far, they have been unsuccessful at stopping sale of the system.

And there are even hardware solutions, such as Ad Trap, a device that managed to raise over $200,000 on Kickstarter to remove all ads on one’s network, regardless of device software.

But while the argument about the ethics of ad blocking will continue to rage on, there’s another problem with ad blocking: It’s trading a short term gain, the ability to not see ads today, in exchange for what could be a much worse future for content consumers.

This doesn’t require a lot of fortune telling, in fact, many of the possibilities are already being tested, but could be put into full use if ad blocking starts to seriously harm the bottom line of larger content creators.

The Ad Blocker as a Consumer

logo-adblock-plusIf you consume professionally-created content, online or off, that content was created and distributed at a cost. If the person or company behind it wants to stay in business, they have to recoup those costs plus earn a profit.

There are many ways that the creator can do this, including selling the work directly, using it as a loss leader for a for-profit business or by using it to display advertising. However, in all of the systems, the consumers pay for the work, either through attention or direct dollars.

As a professor of mine once said, “If you’re not paying for the beef, then you’re the cow.” or, more succinctly, if you aren’t paying for it, then you are the product.

However, ad blockers short circuit that. People who block ads simply don’t pay into the creation of the content. Though they might support the site and community in other ways, there is no direct financial benefit.

Currently though, for most creators, the level of ad blocking is still at a “nuisance” level. Though most would prefer you didn’t block ads, the percentage of people who do is still limited on most types of sites and not a huge threat to the bottom line.

However, if that changes and more companies have their business models threatened by ad blocking, the reaction may not be what those blocking ads want.

Ads That Can’t Be Blocked

When content creators are faced with this threat, they have several options. The two big choices being whether to simply close up shop or they can try and tweak their business model to recoup lost revenue, which most will try to do.

On the latter, the choices are fairly wide open. Some can, and will, put their content behind paywalls like many newspapers and cable TV stations are doing now. Though there may still be some limited advertising, there will be less dependance on it as a source of income.

Another possibility, however, is to simply find new ways to advertise to ad blockers.

Ad blockers work because, in most cases, there’s a fairly strong separation between advertising and creative/editorial content. A newspaper, for example clearly separates ads from news content, TV shows have dedicated commercial breaks and websites have advertising sections that are, usually, not mingled with the content.

This is done partly for ethical reasons. It’s considered poor form to mingle your advertisements and your content too much. Another is practicality. It’s easier to sell and produce ads if you have consistent sizes and time slots, which require content creators to set aside portions of their work dedicated to advertising.

However, the easiest way to defeat ad blockers is to blur the lines between ads and content and, if lucrative or necessary enough, some content creators may do just that.

To a large degree, it’s already happening. Networks are already digitally inserting product placements into the content of TV shows, such as “How I Met Your Mother” reruns. Many blogs and newspapers are already accepting sponsored posts and other sites are accepting sponsorship deals that embed promotional content directly into the site itself.

These ads, at the very least, will be much more difficult to filter out or block. But where once advertising and content had a, mostly, healthy distance from one another. Advertising will start increasingly using content as a shield, to prevent people from either blocking or ignoring it.

In short, content creators, as long as they depend on advertising for much of their survival, will find ways to ensure that the ads get through, even if the solutions aren’t ones consumers will like.

Bottom Line

To be fair, many of the problems that have pushed content creators to implementing these tools have nothing to do with advertising. Increased competition, shrinking audiences and shortening attention spans have hurt the ad market even before ad blockers enter the fray. While this is true, losing a percentage of your viewers doesn’t help things and it creates a technical challenge that blurring the lines between advertisement is the easiest solution.

The end result though is that ad blocking doesn’t push the Internet toward a future free of advertising, rather, it pushes us toward a future of ads tougher to separate from the content and harder to remove.

We’re likely nudging toward this future regardless of ad blocking, but ad blocking is certainly a factor and could become a much bigger one. The only way to ensure better business models and a better future for content is to support the content creators that you feel are finding the right chords.

If a large people simply try to get everything for free, then creators will try to find ways to sabotage those efforts. But if they start laying a trail of dollars down to creators they support, others will chase that money.

It’s that simple.

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  1. I think this article misses one vitaly important factor: there is *negative* commercial value in advertising to people who are highly resistant to adverts. Adblock has benefits for advertisers, as it targets their advertising at people who are more susceptible to adverts, and filters out people like me who avoid companies who annoy us with intrusive advertising.

    Advertisers *do not* lose clicks because I adblock, because I *never* click ads. This means that if you defeat my adblock, your clicks per impression will go down, and because I boycott agressive advertisers, you are more likely to lose a sale than gain one.

  2. What we want is an adblocker that targets an ad-network. IE disable all ads that are from Google adsense or any of its stable mates and allow others through.

    Personally I add all the exceptions that allowed google to poke through adblocker plus, and I disable ad-blocker on sites I support. But I’d be quite happy to just bozo-bin everything from the quasi-criminal google org.

  3. I have no problem with some ads, I visit a spanish news site from my country (Honduras) and I see their advertisements there, haven’t blocked them…why? Because they not obstructing my view, they don’t jump every 30 seconds to block what I’m reading, nor thei spam me everywhere with pop-ups…

    That’s the type of Ads I’m willing to bear. However, I WILL not tolerate ads that invade my privacy, that pop-up to block an article I am reading. No way.

    And if you want to put your content under paywall…well, try it, and see how long that works. There will always be high quality content on the internet without us having to pay anything…of course there will be stupid people who’ll most likely pay for suscriptions, but the vast majority will reject it.

    And whether they like or not people will come with a workaround to bypass any ‘Anti-Adblock’ mechanism. No system they can come up with will work 100%.

  4. You are disgusting. You only tackle one side of the problem without having any concern for us, users. All you care about is your master’s revenue and yours, forgetting all the crap we, the users, have to endorse. Why would I want to have 20 to 50 pop-ups spamming my screen?! Why would I want my computer to be spammed with PORNOGRAPHY content all because YOU and the ones you serve wants me to?

    Do you have any idea how many times my PC have been infected with viruses forcing me to re-install my O.S? Who the hell helps me get rid of those adwares, spywares, viruses, etc off of my PC? Nobody. Do you have any concern for people who are being infected with the FBI Virus?! Do you? Do you care for those who are being cheated and robbed of their hard-earned money? I think not. You’re a hypocrite.

    Ah, but no….Mr. Jonathan Bailey, here demand us to turn off our ad-block so we can see his ads.

    My response? Sod off.

    Maybe you should read a little more to find out how people gets infected with the FBI virus.