Ads can be annoying but adblockers can also adversely affect good quality content. Jump ahead to my suggestions or scroll down to read my full opinion and validation.
I've used the internet for a long time. Like, a REALLY long time. As long as I can remember there have been adverts. I don't mind them, if I'm honest; sometimes I'll even click them if they look interesting. TV has adverts too; sometimes I watch them if they look interesting. Newspapers and radio have adverts too. They use this revenue to pay for the service that's being provided and to keep costs down for the customer, the end user.
As a rule of thumb: if it's free it'll have a lot of adverts. As the price increases, the number of adverts is reduced. The BBC has no adverts, but it has a fee in the form of the TV Licence. Netflix has no adverts, but you have to pay for it.
Admittedly my analogy falls down when you remind me that Sky not only costs a lot but also has more adverts than you can shake a stick at… But I digress. The point is, services need funding.
But why is the internet different? Why is it expected that media outlets and service providers should put out the same amount of work but for free? Do you remember the outcry in the late 90's when newspapers started putting up paywalls?
Anyway, I'm digressing again. I'm pretty good at that. Over the years advertising has changed. Just search on YouTube for old TV adverts and you'll see very straight forward adverts that tell you what a product does and that you should buy it. Watch any advert nowadays and I challenge you to tell me afterwards exactly what the product is and what it does. OK, so about that digression thing… I'm suddenly reminded about a clip from the film "Crazy People" where they come up with the slogan for a car company: "Buy Volvo! They're boxy, but good!". See, succinct and to the point.
Internet adverts have changed too. They've got bigger and they've got fancier. Oh, and really, REALLY annoying at times! Let me rattle through a few examples: adverts that cover the entire screen (particularly on mobile devices), ads with a countdown before allowing you to enter a site, ads with a timer before you can hide it, ads that are slow to load so when you start scrolling the page the content jumps around as the advert finally loads, ads with sound, ads that autoplay videos (with sound)... I'm sure you've come across a number of these. The most annoying is a mixture of the above especially on a mobile device. Here's a common scenario: an ad in the footer that you can't hide (that's 10% of your screen now unusable), an ad mid-text (that takes up around 25% of the screen) which makes it hard to scroll the content without clicking on it and then there's another ad that suddenly pops up covering the entire screen just as you start to touch the screen to scroll… and now you find yourself on an advertiser's page when all you wanted to do was read about the latest Marvel film news...
This comic from the amazing The Oatmeal sums it up perfectly:
Is it any wonder why people use ad-blockers?!
Now this is the part where, as a "content provider" (I make stuff that people want to read online - in this post I'm referring mostly to New On Netflix UK), I hit a dilemma. I put a lot of work into my New On Netflix services - an awful lot! I'm self-employed and have to be able to justify any hours that I put into a project of my own vs projects for clients that will pay me money. New On Netflix has multiple servers around the globe that need paying for, I have bills to pay and I have two amazing children to house and feed. When a personal project takes up so much time then it needs monetising to make it worthwhile otherwise the project comes to an end. New On Netflix is something I've built up since the start of 2013 (it 'launched' on April 23rd 2013) and has since grown and expanded way more than I ever imagined. To be honest, I never imagined it to grow at all - it was a little service to tell me what was added to Netflix UK and I then shared a Twitter feed with my online friends… Anyway, enough of my history - in a nutshell it's taken up a LOT of time, money and resources over the years and those are things that need to be recouped in order for me to be able to continue.
News sites are similar - they have reporters to pay, they have hosting and maintenance costs to cover and, at the end of the day, as a business they need to make a profit. Printed newspapers have adverts and they don't seem to bother anyone. Games magazines have lots of adverts - again, generally they don't bother anyone. It's a source of income, they pay wages and they keep the media going. However, I'm not talking about them, I'm being utterly selfish and talking about myself.
People online seemingly don't like adverts and want to block them. Although I do wonder: why do ad-blockers only exist online and not in other day-to-day media like newspapers, TV and radio? Basically because that would be impossible to do! Which begs the question: just because something can be done, should it be done?
I've already mentioned that ads are a useful way to monetise a website - without them I simply couldn't afford the time to keep New On Netflix up and running. A lot of people use my service and would likely be disappointed if it ended; I don't want to disappoint tens of thousands of people... Hey, maybe I'm not utterly selfish after all!
So, back to ad-blockers - remember those, you know the whole point of this post...?! Surely as a content provider I should hate them with a passion because they essentially remove funding from my site but still allow the user to benefit from it's content, yes? No, actually. I don't hate ad-blockers and I can fully understand why they get used - especially when you add in potential malware from dubious adverts ("malvertising") into the mix along with ridiculous numbers of ads on some sites. But, and there's always a 'but', I do have a few issues...
Ad-blockers generally tar all websites with the same brush. That brush being dipped in a colour of paint not found in any DIY shops called "All Online Advertising Is Devil-Spawned". It's a murky shade of red, if you're interested. Actually, that's a terrible analogy - if they were tarring something with a brush it would be with tar and not paint. Sometimes I excel in my stupidity. The default on all ad-blockers that I've used/tested has been to block the ads on every website. I hate obtrusive, over the top ads on websites and I won't use them - yet my site is treated the same as the most annoying site (with regards to adverts) on the whole Internet: no ads allowed. Personally I feel that's a little unfair.
Oh, of course users could whitelist certain websites but let's be honest here: this is 2016 (when the article was written - I'm fully aware that it is now 2019) and people are lazy. If you have to do something in order to change something then who can really be bothered to do that? Also, they are marketed as "ad-blockers" and not "ad-controllers" or "ad-managers" so how many users even know they can whitelist sites when, after all, it's blocked the ads and therefore done it's job.
Without wanting to sound like a greedy arse, adblockers lose me money. Having run tests from Nov-Dec 2016 I've detected that more than 1 in 6 visitors (17.5%) to New On Netflix UK were using ad-blockers at that time. That means for every £5 I earn in ad-revenue there's another £1.05 that I'll never see. Thankfully for me that's slightly lower than the 2015 analysis that showed 20% of UK users use ad-blockers - and also that I have a bunch of other clients and work that earn me a living. However, 17.5% is quite a loss especially when those visitors are still accessing the content that has cost time, money and effort to create.
In an ironic twist, Adblock now monetise their ad-blocking service by offering 'Adblock Plus' - a service that allows 'acceptable ads' to be shown but they take a cut of that advertising revenue. To me that sounds rather a lot like extortion… Basically, they're creating their own ad network while blocking competing ad networks from being shown.
Some websites simply block access to users that run ad-blockers. Personally I think this is a little extreme and it's not something I plan on doing (and even if I did then the information is still available on Twitter, Facebook and Google+). I could start a subscription service where users pay a fee to view an ad-free version of the site - again though, why would they when they could just use my social media accounts? I could ask for donations from users that I detect are using ad-blockers - but I fear that would come across as being greedy and cause a negative impact. I could ask ad-block users to donate to a charity in lieu of 'giving' me the money through adverts. Or...
...I could also simply try and educate people. I could link to this page in which I hope I have explained my understanding of, and my issues with, adverts and ad-blockers. Costs need covering, content needs creating, bills need paying. Without funding, good content will disappear. To paraphrase Adblock themselves when asked why they need money: Good quality content "is not something a single person can do as a hobby."
So before you block all adverts on websites please do think about the possible effects of doing so and how you can help. Here are few ideas that could help to create a happy compromise:
Set the default to allow all ads and only block them on the sites with the most pervasive ads
Send the website some feedback explaining that you can't read their content because of the way they use ads on their site - you never know, they might actually listen
Contact the site and ask about making a donation - I'm talking a few quid. "Hi, I use your site a lot with an ad-blocker and wanted to thank you by buying you a pint - can I send you a donation through PayPal?"
Make a habit of whitelisting sites you visit more than once (i.e. 'allow ads' on these sites) - treat the initial visit as a 'free trial'
I have, in my opinion, a sensible number of adverts on my New On Netflix sites. You're welcome to block them, I won't stop you from visiting the site but I might ask you to read this post or donate to charity.