I was in a shop recently, a real bricks-and-mortar high street shop. I bought a magazine and the shopkeeper said “no, it’s free.” Free? He pointed to the walls of his shop, floor to ceiling advertisements.

“Everything in the shop is free. My income comes from the adverts.”

“Good for you,” I said before realising the doors were locked. “I can’t get out.”

“No,” said the shopkeeper. “You can only go when you’ve looked at all the adverts.”

Now you’re thinking, hang on, Harrison, you just made all that up. And I’ll confess I sort of made it up, but the free shop scenario is a high street version of the moral morass we find ourselves with so-called free content on the web.

There has been an ongoing debate for some time now regarding the use of adblockers, and it amazes me that there are people who still don’t use them. I have Adblock which combined with No Script and Ghostery pretty much filters out everything from Youtube video ads to beacon cookies. I haven’t seen an advert on Youtube since 1487.

Some will say good on yer, where can I get these browser plug-ins? Others will shout thief. But let’s for a moment address some of the objections to using adblockers.

1 – they deny content providers an income.

Answer: tough. A high street shop giving stuff away and relying on adverts wouldn’t last a week, but online businesses seem to think they have some god-given entitlement to this unsustainable business model. It’s called the free market, sunshine. If you can’t make money from what you sell you don’t have a viable business.

2 – you don’t object to adverts on television (or magazines).

Answer: I don’t get called a thief if I change channels when the adverts come on, and no one cares if I turn the page of a magazine ignoring the advert for Tag Heuer watches I can’t afford.

3 – you’re taking advantage of a free service eg WordPress, but not paying for it.

Answer: altruism is a beautiful thing. In the old days I paid for web hosting and didn’t complain about it. If some mug offers me free web hosting knowing that adblockers exist to undermine their income that’s their problem, not mine.

Part of the problem here is that the internet was never designed to be a commercial sales channel. Back in the day the content was free. A lot of it was ugly shite, but it was free. Then big business saw the potential and expected us to start paying for stuff we previously got for nothing. They lured us in with free web hosting, discreetly supported by ads, and then the whole lot went up in smoke. Enter the multi-headed hydra of animated gifs, Flash, pop-ups, pop-unders, tracking cookies and scripts; anything to grab our attention and sell us stuff.

Today we have multi-billion dollar companies whose income model is entirely dependent on ad revenue. But before Facebook there were BB forums and we were happy enough with that. The owner of the forum might occasionally ask for a donation to pay for the hosting and we chucked in £5 or $5.

Internet advertisers are trying to change habits and people resist change. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Last year I watched a series of documentaries on Youtube. They were about finance and the world economy. What wasn’t apparent is that they were elaborate advertisements. I didn’t mind, they were fascinating to watch and the sell was discreet.

There are ways to improve online advertising if it’s essential. Make them interesting, cut down the bandwidth, stop tracking users (lets face it, it’s simply malware by any other name). There’s a big difference between making us look at an advert and forcing us to look at one. If you don’t understand that difference you shouldn’t be working in the industry. It might also help if the ads bore some relation to the content. I hate to think one of my carefully crafted posts about Malandanti mayhem and black magic is finished off by an advert for car hire in Clevelend.

And by the way, if you do see an advert at the end of this post it has nothing to do with me.

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22 thoughts on “Ads and Adblockers

  1. This is the amazing contradiction and versatile hydra that is the Internet; particularly given how most countries commitment to a free and open Web, both individuals and soulless corporations can compete on largely even playing fields. Businesses will always attempt some way to get us to pay them more than we bargained for, and savvy consumers will figure out ways to undercut or circumvent these attempts. Do governments really believe ThePirateBay can be conquered? It’s sort of like a digital-evolutionary arms race in that sense… it never ends, really.

    That being said, if the .com’s of the world figure out how to sell appealing products in honest, non-intrusive ways (Amazon and iTunes come to mind with most products), most folks will gladly pay for legal, convenient content that doesn’t assume them to be thieves, children, or gullible, easily swindled walking ATM’s. I will gladly pay Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead money for an album even if they didn’t ask for it. Just offer me a decent product that makes my purchase feel worthwhile, and don’t lie to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As soon as I saw your comment something came to mind. DVDs. On some DVDs there are extras you can click on and watch trailers for other releases. I always click on them. Then there are other DVDs that force you to sit through trailers before the main feature; I’ll go to any length to circumvent that process.

      It illustrates my point about making us watch an advert – something so compelling, funny or interesting we want to check it out – and forcing us; telling us we have no choice but to do something their way. Some corporations don’t understand the difference and then wonder why consumers go to great lengths to avoid them. And the other bit of stupidity is not knowing that honesty and respect is good for business: repeat custom.

      I was only thinking yesterday, when did corporations turn into these rapacious monsters? I’m sure it hasn’t always been like this; what caused this demented pursuit of every last cent and penny and their willingness to be hated for it? I don’t know the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t get it either; the better you treat your customers, the more likely they are to return for business, no? I guess common sense ain’t so common when you’re that rich.

        Also, I *hate* previews before every home video release. I always skip them if they play before the main feature. Always.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I hate to use worn-out clichés, but “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” applies in this case. Free news websites provided by newspapers have cost hundreds of jobs in journalism – including my own – as publishers scramble to reduce costs. The world is digesting itself. Thank god someone is still earning an honest few quid by hiring cars in Cleveland.
    Alen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ad revenue could have been a useful tool for businesses operating on tight margins, but they killed its potential by making it so intrusive. At home, adverts on the telly don’t leave the screen and follow me round the house; in magazines they don’t swell in size to cover the article I’m reading.

      The proprietors of newspapers, national and local, seem to have lost the idea of what newspapers are about, seeing them instead as cash cows. When a business lays off the people who make the business function (eg journalists on newspapers) it says a lot about the people in charge.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The regional press used to be run by journalists, but accountants and speculators have taken over. My old paper (local news for local people, that sort of thing) is owned by a big national company which is, in turn, owned by a huge American corporation. The emphasis is on returning profits to reward shareholders, and the only way they can hit their financial targets is to continually repress wages, sack people, and undermine the quality of the products. The entire process is self-defeating.
        The entire ethos of business in Britain has changed in recent years from producing goods that will make a nice profit, to squeezing companies to maximise profits on a short-term basis. Pop-up, in your face, garish ads are a symptom of this. I shall look into this ad-blocking stuff. That’s the road to go down I think, if only as a means of rebellion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If you use Firefox use the plug-ins AdBlock Plus, AdBlock Plus Element Hider and NoScript.

          You’re right about British business. When you consider the way various forms of legislation and bad management ruined the aviation and car industries, Tata Steel has been bought, not by a steel company but another investment fund (so we know what’s going to happen there); the whole business ethos seems to be about finding ways of making money without actually doing anything.

          And the web is a great illustration of this ‘monetisation of everything.’

          Having said that, do you want to buy a watch?

          Like

  3. Amen. Nothing blacklists a product for me like being forced to see an ad for it. The most annoying thing is that nobody has been able to prove those ads have any efficacy whatsoever, and yet they keep pumpin ’em out. Who’s buying the damn things?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember phone calls telling me I’d won a holiday. “Great”, says I, “Send me the tickets!” “Well, it’s not as simple as that.” Came the reply. “You will have to attend a meeting.” Does that particular holiday company still make these phone calls I wonder? I’ve heard of people being locked in and not being allowed to go until they’d signed on the dotted line and paid for an apartment they’d only visit one or two weeks every year.

    Liked by 1 person

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