Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

Ad Blocking Isn’t Evil, Just Misguided

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher, editor of Ars Technica, explained why ad blocking doesn't make sense. (Photo by Roo Reynolds)

Ars Technica kicked off a hullabaloo by blocking content for those who use ad blockers. The “experiment” lasted only about 12 hours over the weekend, according to editor Ken Fisher. In a blog post, Fisher argues that “ad blocking is devastating to the sites you love.”

He has a point. Here’s the guts of it:

If you have an ad blocker running, and you load 10 pages on the site, you consume resources from us (bandwidth being only one of them), but provide us with no revenue.

This all goes back to the “content wants to be free” argument that I rail against regularly. While there’s nothing inherently evil about ad blockers, it does strike a chord of arrogance with me. Taken on its own, ad blocking isn’t a problem. But likely many of the same people who don’t want to see ads also won’t pony up for a subscription fee.

Compelling content costs money to create and distribute. Those costs must be recouped somehow — with enough margin to allow a strong profit. Otherwise, good content will dry up.

I’m not foolish enough to argue that I like online advertising. Some of it is downright annoying and pathetic. But blocking ads isn’t the answer.

Ultimately, to avoid subscription fees and annoying ads, we need to be willing to make sacrifices in another hot button area: privacy. The more we are willing to share with publishers and advertisers about our interests, the better targeted ads will become and the more useful they will be for us as consumers. That translates into more clicks and sales and less annoying distractions because they would actually have value for us.

In the meantime, I say kudos to Ars Technica for raising the issue. And I’d encourage them to put their experiment into production for a longer period of time to demonstrate clearly the value of good content and the need for publishers to receive some form of payment.

Photo credit: Roo Reynolds via Flickr

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  1. The reason people are using AdBlock (and other plugins) is not that they categorically hate ads and don’t want content providers to earn money. They use it because even the average Flash ads have become epilepsy-inducing, CPU-hogging, eye cancer-inducing abominations that nobody should be required to display on their screens. It’s not advertisement, it’s abuse. It’s an appalling shouting match between companies vying for attention that does nothing but turn customers away. It’s visual spam.

    If you want to give me text-based, content-appropriate ads, go ahead. If you publish a sponsored review article once in a while, sure I’ll have a look at that product. But no way do site owners get to call AdBlock users thieves with any justification. Billboard advertising is over, I won’t let them put its braindead carcass on life support for a few more years courtesy of my computing resources.

    And by the way, my life would continue to be perfectly fine without visiting Ars Technica ever again.

  2. The issue is not whether to block or not to block it is more fundamental.

    There is an implicit assumption that advertising in its current format will continue as it has always done. In other words an industrial-age concept of billboards can be successfully grafted onto the information superhighway.

    This is working at the moment only because an information age alternative has not yet emerged where vendors can meet with consumers in a more efficient, less intrusive and more cost-effective environment.

    Information age advertising mediums are inevitable and are starting to appear right now. One example is the Customer Satisfaction Monitor which has recently been launched.

    This Customer Satisfaction Monitor ( answers the three most important pre-purchase questions and introduces a new step into the sales process. Advertisers can now target prospects at a very crucial point in the sales process much more cost-effectively and less intrusively because the consumer is in control.

    As an advertiser it will be increasingly uneconomical to advertise elsewhere because potential customers will be ambushed at services like the Customer Satisfaction Monitor. Industrial-age advertising will, as a result, wither on the vine.

    For those services relying on advertising it is time to rethink your revenue model.

  3. Motion has an overpowering effect on human peripheral vision. I don’t know what marketing genius decided to exploit this fact, but I can tell you that no only does it work in getting my attention, it’s so annoying as to get me to make a mental note of which products never to buy for as long as I live.

    OTOH I’ve never blocked a text-only ad that keeps to itself far away from the content.

    If you show me respect, by remaining discrete and unobtrusive, I may just read what it is you’re saying instead of instantly adding a filter so it never bothers me again.

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