Five Suggestions For Publishers Struggling With Ad Blockers

The rhetoric about ad blockers is reaching such a fever pitch that I am loath to add my voice to the current cacophony. Rather than simply lodging public complaints, I am going to try to offer some specific advice (with a heavy dose of complaints mixed in) for online publishers struggling with ad blockers.

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.

4 comments about "Five Suggestions For Publishers Struggling With Ad Blockers".
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  1. Joseph Galarneau from Mezzobit, October 8, 2015 at 3:04 p.m.

    Consumers are voting with their browsers by using ad blocking, and publishers shouldn't engage in a race to the bottom to subvert them. This is only going to result in a tit-for-tat.


    Instead, publishers should first understand the extent of how their audiences are using ad blocking (which visitors, from where, on what platforms), and then develop a strategy using above-board methods to recover the lost ad revenue. These include serving ad-blocking-accepted ad units and creating different user experiences for ad-blocking visitors (withholding premium content, showing messages, etc.).


    Mezzobit has created a free tool ( to permit website operators to use Google Analytics to understand the magnitude of the problem. Just knowing that the sitewide ad blocking is X% isn't enough; publishers need to better understand how ad blocking correlates with high-value audience segments.


  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 8, 2015 at 3:42 p.m.

    Ad-blockers are not selective. Once installed, they cannot discern. the white hats from the black hats. As for paywalls, there is always a nascent provider who will give away content until they build an audience, at which point another competitor will arise to do the same.

  3. Chris Kitze from Before It's News, October 8, 2015 at 5:58 p.m.

    The customers aren't theives, but they aren't following the site's Terms of Service.  I'm going to say a few things here that might not be popular, but here goes.

    We pay our contributors to our site based on the ad revenue.  If 20-30% of the ad revenue is gone, that's revenue that could help our freelance writers.  These people aren't rich, we have single moms who support their families, etc.  They make their livlihood from this revenue and their money is being stolen by the ad blockers, who now want to hold up our site to get "white listed", so they can get in the middle of the advertising revenue model.  Is that virtuous?

    In fact, there is a huge class action lawsuit just looking for a place to happen.  It's call contributory copyright infringement and our copyright attorney mentioned this to me, I wasn't even thinking about it.  The damages are real and we aren't litigious, but I'm just mentioning that a lot of people are starting to think about this.

    Yes, we can find different revenue models, but the reality is those take time to develop and require a lot more from the viewers than sitting back and watching an ad.  The fact is the viewers need to contribute to the site in some way, such as sharing a story.  A form of for free, but invite your friends, it would need to be something like that.

  4. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., October 9, 2015 at 8:42 a.m.

    @chris, I see some flaws in your arguments. (1) If publishers ASKED readers to pay, or even placed mechanisms to prevent free reading, and the readers circumvented these systems then it would be theft. (2) The ad blockers are NOT taking away 20-30% of the ad revenue. If ad blockers were prohibited or readers were forced to pay, the publishers would most likely see a dip in traffic equal to or greater than the "loss" resulting from ad blockers.

    Let's not forget why publishing exists. Allegedly it is to provide information for readers. In reality, it has become primarily a place where brands can go hunting for customers. Look at your own statement: "We pay our contributors to our site based on the ad revenue." That's your business model, and it's bad because it creates a gross misalignment of incentives.

    Fix the business model and let people vote with their wallets. Try any of the suggestions I made. Yes, a lot of publishers would disappear. But I would welcome in internet in which 30, 60, 80% of current publishers disappear, and the overall quality of the content skyrockets as does the user experience.

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