Ad Blocking Is Destroying The Internet -- And That Might Be Just What It Needs

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 25, 2015
Psst. Over here. Yes, you. I have a secret. Promise you won’t tell? OK, here goes:

You know how you can get all this amazing free stuff on the Internet? You can read anything you want, learn anything you want, watch anything you want? Well, that’s the secret: It isn’t actually free.

It’s been said that if you’re not the customer, you’re the product -- and this is exactly what’s happening online. The free content is used to lure in the bait (that’s you, the reader), and the bait is used to catch the big fish (that’s the advertisers).

You, dear reader, know this already, of course; anyone reading this column is almost certainly part of the ecosystem. And you’ll almost certainly be well aware of the two-pronged threat this ecosystem is facing: First, that almost nobody can generate enough eyeballs to really make it financially worthwhile to produce anything of quality, and second, that people will happily consume your content while avoiding your ads if this is at all possible.



Let’s tackle the second threat first. One of my favorite MediaPost columnists, Bob Garfield, recently wrote that “ad blockers are the 21st century’s version of DDT,...doing grave harm to useful ad species and the publishing ecosystem as a whole.”

Thing is, you can only use ad blockers to consume ad-free content if there are enough people looking at the ads to make it worthwhile for somebody. Ad blocking is like queue-jumping: if you’re the only one doing it, you win, but if everybody does it, the whole thing falls apart.

At the same time, it’s apparently incredibly tempting to try to jump this particular queue. Consuming content while avoiding the ads that allow that content to be free is “like stealing cable or sharing all-you-can-eat-salad-bar items or watching a second movie at the multiplex,” says Garfield. “It’s easy, and it feels like a righteous repudiation of The Man.”

This is why Marco Arment’s “Peace” became the number-one paid app in the U.S. App Store for about 36 hours -- before he pulled it because he realized he was destroying the foundation underpinning the entire house of cards.

But let’s conduct a wee thought experiment. Let’s imagine Arment hadn’t pulled his app. Let’s imagine Peace, and hundreds of others like it, become installed on computers and mobiles around the world, that suddenly there is no option of running an ad-supported model, that eyeballs become worthless without an accompanied willingness to fork out actual cash. What would that world look like?

Yes, some very worthwhile publishers would go under. But what would also go under is the disproportionate financial incentive to appeal to the lowest common denominator in all of us. When content is free, I’m as likely to click on a “Celeb Plastic Surgery Gone Wrong” post as the next gal. But I would never pay for it, and I suspect the friction threshold to knock a significant number of us out of the audience is pretty low.

And who would thrive, if every publisher had to earn their way? Those publishing informative content. Unique content. Investigative content. Genuine content.

In other words, we’d be taking care of the first threat the publishing industry faces: that it’s not worthwhile to spend time creating the really good stuff.

But there is appetite for this content. It’s why I paid to subscribe to Pando. It’s why, according to a BuzzSumo analysis of over 100 million articles, we’re much more likely to share long-form content of between 3,000 and 10,000 words than any LOLcat tidbit. It’s why there is, possibly, hope for the future of Internet publishing: because if we’re forced to pay for it, we may actually insist on quality.

Thanks to ad-blockers, Internet publishing is dead. But -- in large part also thanks to them -- long may it live.

9 comments about "Ad Blocking Is Destroying The Internet -- And That Might Be Just What It Needs ".
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  1. Michael Atkin from Michael Atkin Communications, September 25, 2015 at 12:59 p.m.

    This is the first intelligent article I've seen on this topic. 

  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, September 25, 2015 at 1:22 p.m.

    Nice take on this, Kaila. I'm amazed at how many people think that content is going to dry up without advertising. There are many ways to monetize (God, how I hate that word) one's intellectual property. Out of the smoking programmatic ruins we'll build a new world!

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, September 25, 2015 at 2:29 p.m.

    I have been vocal not just about ad blocking but the ideas about how to advertise on the net. The ad media industry has become addicted to the fact that ad have to have banners to be successful.  Simply, banners themselves are not needed.  What we do is to embed the link behind the banner into our sweepstakes publishing program.  This cannot be blocked by any software program or app currently. By embedding the client’s ad link, we insure a build-in quality control program that does not exist.  We also produce that most reliable click and entry numbers possible.

    The whole point on what I am saying is our ideas came from old school ideas in advertising and what made the ad media industry great over 50 years ago before the digital age.  Guess what? Old ideas still work.  What we have now is one side figures out how to block ads then the other side figures out how to counter the move.  This move and counter move will only hurt many for the wrong reasons.  What we are doing is getting ahead of this game for the best interest of the advertisers.  


  4. Adam Tuttle from _, September 25, 2015 at 2:33 p.m.

    Right on. Let's be honest, Ad Tech has destroyed the internet. We've rewarded the hucksters, the scammers, the inarticulate in our race to build more, faster better. In the meantime the real artists, the real writers, the real producers have been forced into the ever decreasing pile of left over ad dollars to earn their keep.

    So no. The ad blockers have not destroyed the internet. The ad tech ecosystem and its unfettered greed and untenable growth has... It's time to kill off the parasites and the opportunists and let content rise to the top. Like every other aspect of human creation, 95% of all creators never make a dime. But the 5% who rise through the noise, rise to the top and make infinite riches. In other words: Produce something great, something that people enjoy and want and you will be rewarded.

    The currency of trade was wrong. Volume was never going to work in a market where there is infinite supply. But now the pendulum is swinging back and we’ll shake lose the parasites and the junk. It will be painful for some, but I will argue that those who cannot survive, should not.

  5. Jim Pothier from Hero Digital Network, September 25, 2015 at 4:59 p.m.

    Great response by Adam. I agree wholeheartedly with him.

    I've been in media for quite awhile and recently feel like it's more Wall Street than Madison Ave. I say bring on any technologies that help to nuke the putrid oceans of ad tech crap. 

  6. larry towers from nyu, September 25, 2015 at 6:21 p.m.

    Here's the problem with the publishing industry, in fact all industries. They are top heavy and bloated with profit center employees and consultants who need to generate ever increasing profits, because they need to increase profits to satisfy shareholders this leads of course to more bloat etc.

    Instead they should jettison most of this profit center superstucture and concentrate on providing a LOW COST quality product that people will be willing to buy. ( One should be able to get a bundle of publications for the same cost as a netflix subsciption.) The cost center employees, the ones that actually create and deliver content should be almost the only ones left. Management should be slimmed down as much as possible. Why does a publisher need to be inordinately profitable if it can sustain itself and pay the content creators?


  7. William Cosgrove from Devcode Services, September 27, 2015 at 4:09 a.m.

    Thank goodness there is a medium, call the internet, where the masses actually getting the final word and are empowered by technology not enslaved by it. This is also giving agile small and medium sized businesses who are employee as well as consumer focused the ability to compete head on with the self-serving legacy business model of “Big B”.

  8. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, September 28, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    Some people need to realize that consumers do not have a problem with advertising within and surrounding the content they are seeking. They are, however, clearly irked by pop-up advertising, which requires them to take at least one extra step and/or be delayed in reaching their desired content. The solution is simple. Instead of pop-up advertising, go for other forms within the same context. Just because one aspect is being fought off does not mean impending doom.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 13, 2015 at 2:32 p.m.

    Ad in fraud - see MediaPost articles - and it is a perfect vortex. Wall Street controls Madison Avenue, too, just in case you missed it. Kaila, you and Adam nail it, but this topic will be chewed and spit out millions of times from every angle except from the real one and the problem won't be solved by any of them. The demise of profit centers will be tied up and blamed on other melt downs and 

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