One of the reasons for the Internet’s surge in popularity is the cost of most online content – or rather, the lack of cost. That’s not to say the content is free, however. Almost every site is supported by advertisements (including MakeUseOf), and sites are paid for displaying them either per-click or, in some cases, via a flat monthly fee.
Yet some try to side-step advertisements by using browser extensions or features that block them. There’s no doubt that ads can be annoying, but without ad revenues, there’d be nothing to read. What does this mean for the Internet? Could a downward spiral result?
Looking For The Free Lunch
Personally, I am not a fan of using the world “entitlement” as an insult. Yet it does seem to apply to many who choose to use an ad blocking extension to remove ads from their favorite sites. Ars Technica’s experiment, in which the site prevented visitors using ad blockers from viewing the site’s content, was an excellent example. While some fans were supportive, others acted as if Ars was withholding what was rightfully theirs.
This is the definition of obtaining something for nothing. Anyone who is choosing not to view the ads on a site is making a deliberate choice not to support the site in question, with a few exceptions aside (a handful of sites offer premiumwhich remove some or all advertisements).
Yes, advertisements can be an annoyance, but they’re the only way sites can provide content without charging for it. Some argue that advertising is an outdated business model, but so far, the replacement for it remains a unicorn – a creature that’s kinda cool to think about, but ultimately mythical.
Suffer The Consequences
Suggestions that ad blockers are ethically sound remain dubious. It’s obvious that without revenue to support quality content, that content will disappear, and the world will be worse off because of it.
Modern American media serves as an excellent example of what happens when revenues dry up. Consolidation has put most American print and television media in the hands of just a few companies, which wield considerable cultural power and have little incentive to care about factual reporting.
The race for the bottom’s most putrid result yet is the creation of citizen journalism programs such as CNN’s “iReport” in which unqualified amateurs upload their own videos, photos and commentary. As one would expect, the quality of iReport is abysmal. CNN is quick to highlight any decent clip, but dig deeper into iReport and you’ll find a hoard of terrible photos and barely explained videos, many of which are lined with descriptions that contain misspelled words and unfinished sentences.
If advertisements disappeared from all sites today, this is what would become of the web. Most sites would have to rely on subscriptions, a revenue model that would only encourage consolidation. The rest of the web would devolve into iReports – an incoherent, amateur, and uninspired sprawl.
All of this seems very doom-and-gloom. Ad blocker extensions aren’t hard to use, and some web browsers (Opera, I’m looking at you) are starting to include the functionality by default. While I’ve already argued why blocking advertisements is a bad idea, there are plenty of people who simply don’t care, and are happy to devour content without ever supporting it. So what’s going to keep us slip-sliding down this slope?
Microsoft and Google.
Yes, these two corporate giants hardly seem like the best choice for stewards of online quality. Microsoft has been involved in numerous past anti-trust disputes, and Google is the new target for them. Yet for now, the interests of these two companies are in line with the interests of people who want to see quality content on the web at no charge.
The connection is obvious. Google derives much of its revenue from advertisements. Microsoft would quite like to have a piece of that action as well. In addition, both companies distribute web browsers. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google’s Chrome together represent about 65% of all web users. Google also owns the most popular mobile operating system.
So long as Google and Microsoft remain powerful companies with great influence over how people view the Internet, advertising will remain the primary means of generating revenue. Some portion of users may block ads, but these companies would never let them threaten their business models, which by extension protects the sites that rely on advertising to generate revenue.
If you care about the sites you visit, and you want them to be successful, you should not be using an ad blocker. It’s that simple. Just say no to blocking ads!
With that said, ad blocking extensions are not killing the Internet, and have no hope of doing so in the near future. Despite what some supporters of ad blocking believe, the use of advertisements to generate revenue is the dominant paradigm and will likely remain dominant for decades. If it is interrupted, it won’t be because some geeks were blocking ads, but rather because of the elimination of net neutrality.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Do you block ads or not?