On the surface, ad-blockers seem harmless; why wouldn’t we disable all those annoying ads, especially when we can do it for free?
It seems easy to think that the losing party in this scenario is the advertisers—the party that most people couldn’t care less about. The truth is, however, that it is actually the publishers who bear the brunt of the burden. Advertisers are only charged when their ads are shown, meaning, when an ad-blocker prevents those pesky ads from appearing on a page, it is the publisher who receives, in essence, nothing. With many publishers estimating that somewhere between 15-40 percent of their audiences are currently using ad-blockers, all of that lost advertising revenue for digital publishers could be fatal.
So, how can publishers fight this trend? Many potential solutions have been proposed, but one particularly interesting proposal is to, instead of block the ads, replace the ads. That is the idea behind Adieu, a program that allows us to replace display ads with pictures from our own image libraries or Instagram feeds. According to its official website, Adieu allows us to avoid the “intrusive, ugly, distracting” ads that “slow your computer down, track your browsing habits, and sell your information to third parties,” all while supporting the publishers that provide us with the content we love. Of course, the service is not free; it costs $5 to block roughly 500 ads. But, by opting to pay that small fee, it ensures that the publishers recoups some of the revenue they lose when the ad is blocked. We don’t have those unsightly display ads, and the publisher gets to profit off the content. Seems like a win-win, right?
Whether or not audiences are willing to pay anything at all to help publishers remains to be seen, especially with the tendency for people to believe that everything on the internet should be free. Ad-blockers are still the easiest and cheapest solution to ridding our browsers of unwanted advertisements. An article by Medium’s Dave Carroll suggests, however, that ad-blockers may not be as fool-proof as previously thought.
Carroll says that popular ad-blocker Adblock Plus has an “acceptable ad” program that allows advertisers to pay to be on its “whitelist.” Being on this “whitelist” means that their ads would still appear even when the ad-blocker is running. According to Carroll, “the whitelist is growing rather quickly and with limited transparency.” This raises his question “at what point will it become pointless to install their blocker?”
Ad-blockers have grown in popularity quite substantially over the past few years, but if programs like Adblock Plus lose the trust of its users, it could send those users running for a new, better solution. Perhaps programs like Adieu could become the preferred method of ad-blocking if audiences were to decide that they would rather pay a small fee than deal with traditional ad-blockers. Surely publishers would prefer this, but unless there is a large shift in audience preferences, publishers will have to continue searching for new ways to fight against the problems that ad-blockers create.