Finally a blog post about Mobile Ad Blocking

18 September 2015 #Thoughts

The easiest way to make money from web content is also the easiest to block. The current hot-button topic of the internet is ad-blocking, thanks to the addition of Safari Content Blockers in iOS 9.

A lot of pixels have already been spilled on the topic. In the tradition of ‘me too’ blogging, here’s my take. Particularly given this dare from renowned Apple-blogger and heel John Gruber:

I don’t need ads, you do.

That’s the crux of my defence.

In the case of Gruber’s Daring Fireball I consume that site’s content via RSS (on mobile, more on that later). Where I never see his ads provided by The Deck anyway. I do however see his sponsored posts which arrive in the RSS feed like any other article.

The ads that took more work to put in front of my eyes are the ones I can’t cut out. It’s not that I never want to see an ad online again, I just don’t want the most privacy-intrusive, script-based, battery depleting advertising if I can avoid it. And it’s simpler to put all script-based advertising into the same bucket, than make exceptions.

As a recent user of Ghostery on desktop I immediately purchased Marco Arment’s Peace for iOS on release. It uses Ghostery to block content on my mobile device and works great.

The irony of paying for one person’s application to remove another’s revenue stream isn’t lost on me. But there’s no comparison that can be made to any other form of advertising. If I could pay $3 to remove all advertising from Billboards, Newspapers, Magazines or Television of course I’d do it.

(Especially if that same purchase protected my security and increased my phone’s battery life.)

The problem (for content creators) with ads on the web is how easy they are to remove. Obviously removing those ads removes that content creator’s revenue stream. But only the revenue that required the least amount of effort to obtain. Online advertising is ‘set and forget’.

The future of content will be paid for by content creators who will have to work harder for revenue. If you’ve come to depend on revenue from a source that has always been this simple to remove; you’ve done a poor job of planning for the future. Especially if you’ve continued to depend on this revenue as it morphed from displaying advertising to much, much more.

Very few people get to do work they love, even less can do it being financially supported by a line of code they may have pasted into their website years ago.

Revenue models change. I hope none of the writers complaining about ad blocking wrote articles against the music industry when they faced a shift in revenue moving into the digital delivery era.

Responsible advertising

I don’t rely on online advertising for any personal revenue. However I do manage an online community that requires advertising to pay for hosting and bandwidth. At present the ads generate enough income to pay for that hosting. But in times past we have also taken donations and sold merchandise to help where advertising has fallen short and to keep as a reserve should advertising drop off.

As for mobile advertisements – which are intrusive to the mobile experience and underwhelming in terms of income – we’ve just never run them.

Those who have made donations are also rewarded by never having to see any advertising again. Our advertising targets our least loyal users, on the platform where advertising is the least distracting to the experience of using the site. It’s enough to break even.

It’s also common sense.

If the only way you can maintain your website is by an advertising script you pasted into the header or sidebar of your website; you’re just going to have to try a little harder.

Welcome to the present.

A side note…

Interesting that Gruber made the following comment in regards to Content Blocking, prior to the tweet displayed at the top of this page:

Perhaps I am being smug. But I see the fact that Daring Fireball’s revenue streams should remain unaffected by Safari content-blocking as affirmation that my choices over the last decade have been correct: that I should put my readers’ interests first, and only publish the sort of ads and sponsorships that I myself would want to be served, even if that means leaving (significant) amounts of money on the table along the way.

Daring Fireball on MobileGiven that Daring Fireball looks like this on mobile devices, I’d like to see Gruber’s choices relating to his readers interests extend to the presentation of the site on mobile, not just the advertising.

11px Verdana in a fixed layout looked rad on CRT displays but we’re well past that era on desktop and on mobile it’s an insult to readers. Blocked ads on mobile devices are the least of Daring Fireball’s problems.

Final comment

How is there not a ‘Netflix for content’ already? The word is that online subscriptions for content won’t make up the difference of lost revenue from blocked advertising, but the problem is in the subscription model. As of this post I pay for one online subscription – The New Yorker – and much as I’d like to pay for others they add up too quickly.

If I could pay for one ‘buffet of online content’ I’d be there in a pinch, but paying for individual publications shares the same problem as paying for individual TV shows, the value isn’t there for consumers.