The truth is, as an industry, publishers in search of fast dollars have broken their side of a contract that’s been in place since 1994, when the first banner ad appeared on the Internet. They’ve interrupted the conversation, rather than becoming a part of it.
Ad-blocking technology temporarily helps to alleviate the frustration users have with poorly targeted, irrelevant ads. But publishers must take a long-term view and address the thorny issues surrounding their rise in popularity.
The public discourse on ad blocking is simply the latest example of the economics of Internet content following a familiar arc. When Napster first made all music available for download for free, artists, producers and distributors feared their value would plummet.
Quality journalism isn’t free.
Anyone reading this article is likely nodding their head about that statement, but it’s the job of publishers and advertisers to create experiences that fundamentally meets a reader’s need, so that imagining its absence would be seen as a loss.
Premium content in all forms costs money to create, publish and maintain and advertising is an integral part of delivering content. Just as in the music industry the advent of iTunes and Spotify-like solutions have helped create a system that compensates artists and labels, one that consumers are happy to support through a fair exchange of value.
Similarly, we believe that consumers and publishers will reach a mutually agreeable arrangement to support premium content.
When quality content and advertising work in concert -- when we uphold our end of the contract -- user engagement and direct and indirect revenue increases. When a CIO is researching a virtualization solution, relevant ads are seen as part of the purchasing process. But when the same CIO is bombarded with ads for the hottest electronic gadget or the latest weight loss solution, the conversation is interrupted.
When users feel betrayed -- by the equivalent of having to wade through a Web page that looks like Times Square, or a slideshow designed to drive page views without regard to user experience, they take action -- as 200 million users worldwide who have installed ad blocking software have shown
The problem with this approach is that ad blocking software blocks access to content and advertising that is relevant to their interests. Publishers that place a premium on user experience in all forms: design, load time, relevant targeting, and building relationships with users rather than monetizing a page view are penalized by the ad blockers’ machete, when a scalpel would do.
What should be done by publishers? There are a variety of options.
1) Most importantly, maintain a relentless focus on user experience. If we don’t uphold our end of the deal, we can’t expect users to do the same.
2) Give options to users for accessing content. Publishers can ask people to disable their ad blocker if they wish to access their sites, or can offer them payment options. There’s even metered options that can unlock ad-free content via sharing or payment, and offering data in exchange for access.
3) Block users who block ads.
The industry saw a variety of successful models emerge from the early Napster days. Today, Spotify has an ad-supported offering for users with an ad-free option available only to their paid, premium subscribers. Today, more than 20 million users pay for service each month. An additional 75 million accept ads as a fair exchange for access.
When presented with an easy-to-adopt option, most users want to honor their end of the implicit contract – fair value for valuable information.