Ad blocking software is now installed on an estimated 20 percent of smartphones worldwide.
By preventing ads from being displayed, the blockers deny websites the revenue needed to provide free content and services. By blocking ads, the software with names like AdBlock Plus, Purify and Crystal are threatening the free Internet most users love.
From the advertiser’s viewpoint, blockers prevent ads from ever being seen, which makes customers even more difficult and expensive to reach.
As advertisers themselves, most businesses have reason to fight ad blocking at the workplace and to educate employees about how ad blocking hurts businesses of all sizes.
For some users, the thrill of seeing the Internet without ads is almost intoxicating. Not unlike the lure of “free music” back when Napster was the rage. Or enjoying free movies from a torrent download.
Many people I know admit to doing these things, at least once. If you are annoyed with Internet advertising, using an ad blocker makes perfect sense. Or does it?
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Is Ad Blocking a Good Thing?
Ad blocking is stealing. Many people do not consider it as such, but it breaks the longstanding, if informal, deal that consumers and advertisers have had since the first radio commercial was broadcast in 1922. Advertising underwrites the cost of content and distribution. It hides the cost of watching the Super Bowl on television in the cost of the beer, chips and other items consumers purchase. The Internet is no different, with advertisers paying costs readers would otherwise have to pay for themselves.
Already, some major news sites, including The New York Times, are using some form of anti-ad blocking technology, with other major news sites heading in the same direction. Anti-ad blockers are available for publishers including solutions from PageFair, Sourcepoint, Secret Media and more. Our company, MGID, is a native performance advertising network and we have created our own anti-ad blocker to protect our clients. Native advertising, by the way, is one name for the “sponsored by” links that now appear at the bottom on many web pages.
Why Are Ad Blockers So Popular?
There are good reasons why ad blockers are popular, reasons that advertisers and publishers should work together and fix. These include overly intrusive ads and placements obstructing navigation and basic user experience. Some ads are misleading, some appear too often, others are of no interest to the reader. Pages are sometimes so full of ads that they become hard to read. Excessive amounts of ads slow down site performance and increase page load time.
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There are lots of reasons to not like Internet advertising. But it does pay the bills. And if advertising does not pay, it leaves readers on the hook to pay for the content they enjoy.
Many users are shocked by the number of paywalls that have popped up, where they get to see a certain amount of content for free and are then shut out until they start paying for access. Newspapers, in particular, have followed The Wall Street Journal’s lead and some now want hundreds of dollars a year for access to their content. Back before Craigslist killed newspaper classified advertising, most of this content was free. Today, even with paywalls, newspapers are struggling to survive in the digital age.
Websites that cannot make a paywall or paid access work are in trouble when the advertising revenue model breaks down. Ad blocking makes it harder for smaller sites to monetize their readers and, thus, stay in business.
Will all this doom and gloom come to pass? It's hard to tell. Ad blockers will not be totally successful and sites than can support themselves with a paywall will probably do so. Internet users who run into anti-ad blockers will have a choice. Turn off ad blocking and view free content or leave the block up and miss out.
Some statistics report up to 40 percent of users turn off ad-blocking software when asked to do so. Education will also help. Internet users need to understand that advertising pays many of the bills, creating jobs and providing content readers want to see.
As a businessperson who advertises, or as a consumer of free content you have a stake in this battle. “Getting away with something” is a big deal to some people, at least until they understand what these thefts, which ad blockers really enable, mean to everyone.