Don’t blame Apple for ad blocking; blame advertisers
I have a confession to make: I use an ad blocker – which is rather hypocritical given that a high proportion of my pay as a journalist is indirectly funded by online advertising. Yet a recent experience reveals why I’m embarrassed to run ads, not ashamed to block them.
I was doing a shift on the news desk over at our sister title IT Pro, using a laptop that wasn’t my own. This meant Adblock Plus wasn’t installed in Chrome, and ads were on display. Being lazy, I didn’t bother to reinstall Adblock, even though I was logged in to Chrome.
Laziness was also the reason behind my having shopped online for underwear a few days before said shift instead of wandering down the high street to browse in the shops. It’s probably already apparent where all this is heading: yes, you’ve got it – half of the business websites I had open in the office were mortifyingly covered in behavioural ads for knickers.
“Advertising isn’t inherently evil, of course.”
Advertising isn’t inherently evil, of course. The print ads surrounding the reviews, features and columns in PC Pro magazine aren’t going to suddenly expand and cover the text, begin playing jingles, or randomly start displaying images of embarrassing products you’ve searched for in past few days. This isn’t the case online, however, where ads slow down page-load times to a crawl with their annoying (and, in my case, face-flushing) marketing, and are especially problematic for metered mobile connections.
No wonder, then, that ad blockers are increasing in popularity. The makers of Adblock Plus claim it has been downloaded more than 300 million times, and a 2014 report from Adobe and PageFair showed use of such extensions was up almost 70% year on year. Now, their use looks set to skyrocket as Apple has officially supported the creation of ad-blocking tools for the mobile version of Safari, making it possible for iPhone and iPad users to avoid online ads and wreak further havoc on websites’ bottom lines (no knickers pun intended).
How will sites – such as the ones that pay my rent – continue to earn money if the majority of visitors are blocking out their sole source of income? Sites could encourage users to turn off ad blockers: I already flip mine off for a few sites as a show of support for their content and their saner advertising. Others don’t give me a choice; Channel 4 refuses to show on-demand TV shows until you’ve switched off the ad blockers. But it’s my computer or mobile, and if I don’t want to wait ten seconds for a page to load, that’s my business – you can’t force me to see something I didn’t ask to see.
“There have to be other ways to make money online.”
There have to be other ways to make money online. Whenever I visit the Guardian website, it pops up a banner along the bottom of the page saying: “We notice you’ve got an ad blocker switched on. Perhaps you’d like to support The Guardian another way?” It links to the newspaper’s membership page, where you can sign up for £50 per year and receive benefits such as advanced tickets and live streams of its events. As weak as the supporters’ club may sound, it’s clever, since displaying a polite request triggers the guilt reflex that’s naturally strong among Guardian readers.
Here’s my idea. The use of online micropayments to fund websites and services has never convinced me nor anyone else, but how about an ad blocker run by a non-profit organisation that charges a subscription, and then doles out micropayments to the sites its users visit? Would that work? I think it’s worth a shot.
Even without ad blocking, revenue at many news sites is already suffering. Overly intrusive ads are popping up everywhere because they’re worth more to publishers – they’re a symptom of a web economy that doesn’t work, not a solution that we need to protect. Let’s all sign up to ad blockers to kill off that model faster – but while it’s dying, let’s come up with something else. And please work quickly – those knickers don’t pay for themselves, you know.