1. Stop calling your customers “thieves.” This one really pushes me over the edge. It’s as if someone tossing candy from a float at a parade started yelling at the kids for stealing candy. Did I miss the global meeting in which consumers collectively agreed to be inundated by excessive advertising in order to be allowed to read free content? The most ironic part is that if you are a publisher, chances are that in spite of the ad blockers your paycheck is still essentially provided to you by the people you are calling thieves.
2. Acknowledge that you are the source of the problem. I am old enough to remember the original Internet of 20 to 25 years ago, where most people put free content online because they wanted to share it. When the first digital ads appeared, people painted a doomsday scenario in which companies would lure readers with content and then pummel them with ads and ruin the experience for everyone. Well, that’s exactly what’s happened, to a degree that has become nearly unbearable. If publishers are incapable of self-control, expect consumers to take matters into their own hands.
3. Do not expect legal solutions to protect you. Some of the recent calls for legal intervention remind me of the outcries of the music industry when they sued Napster. The difference? Napster was in fact stealing music that artists had given to distributors specifically with the intent of making money. But the outcome was the same: Companies like Apple saw the opportunity and gave the people what they wanted. Yes, some ad-blocking companies are driven by capitalistic motives, but ultimately they are not doing anything illegal, and trying to create laws will simply fatten some lawyers’ pockets.
4. Do not try to block the ad blockers. History has shown that these kinds of arms races are not good for anybody other than the weapons manufacturers. So if we build ad-blocker-blockers, rather than having one set of companies making money by offering a service for capitalistic reasons, we will have two. Then there is a more practical issue of user experience: Do you seriously expect that someone will disable their ad blocker just to come read your stuff, and then re-enable it after they leave? Or that they will just happily say “Oh, sure, let me disable my ad blocker so you can slap me with unwanted ads”?
5. Actively explore novel solutions. How about using our collective creative juices to come up with novel solutions that address the clear needs of consumers, while giving good publishers the ability to stay in business?
For instance, there are companies offering micro-payment options that can make it as easy as a click to pay for specific pieces of content ad-free.
Or give consumers an option, whereby instead of (or in addition to) paying money, they can read content in exchange for sharing it on social media.
Or ask consumers to look at a page that is all advertising (remember the old advertising directories in the back of print magazines?), and reward them with free content if they click any sponsored links.
Or dramatically reduce the number of ads on your site, and use analytics to guide your selection of ads that perform really well, so that you can charge more money for less inventory.
There are already companies offering ways to implement all these ideas. And there are many more ideas that could lead to a win-win situation. Please, let’s all stop whining and roll up our sleeves to figure out some reasonable solutions.