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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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The real cost of ad blockers

Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 11:01 pm. #

My coins

Google AdSense and Google Analytics talk to each other beautifully. So I can see, at a stroke, how well various pages earn revenue.

I can also see information about the ads that display on each page, too. This is useful to know what pages earn revenue (and which pages don’t, more to the point).

Of course, another function of this is to allow me to see exactly how many people are running ad-blocking software.

The front page of Media UK contains one ad. And, of course, it’s one page impression. So, the figures should be virtually the same, right?

Er, ah. No. They’re not.

Google have a lot of good reasons why this should be the case. Taking a look at them, it would appear that either a lot of my users are disabling their cookies (which I’d find difficult to believe), or – more probably – they’re using the rather coyly described “Security (blocking) software”.

The bottom line? I’m losing 14% of revenue to ad-blockers. And, if you’re running ads on your website, the chances are you are too.

I do find it difficult to understand why running AdBlock or the like is not frowned upon by otherwise honest people. It’s somehow acceptable to write and use Web2.0 services, yet block the very ads that pay for them.

If you run an ad-blocker (on your standard, unmetered, broadband connection) it would seem to me that you’re no different to a petty thief.



commenting at April 20th, 2009 at 11:08 pm

I’ve never ever run a piece of adblocking software.

Ad’s don’t really bother me. Most well designed sites (Media UK included) are made so the ads aren’t intrusive.

Alistair MacDonald
commenting at April 20th, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I do not use an ad-blocker and am not such a fan of them. There is no such thing as a free lunch and I prefer having sensible advertising to many other funding methods.

The exceptions to this is that I do have flash blocked by default. This is not explicitly to block flash adverts, but they do tend to be the most annoying types.

As for the mainstream, I do remember that Kerio personal firewall (now Sunbelt) did block a lot of adverts by default. This kind of behaviour in mainstream software could be resulting in the 14%.

One final thought. Although 14% of the adverts are being blocked, the people who go out there way to block them are less likely to click on them out of principle anyway.

Sean Inglis
commenting at April 20th, 2009 at 11:27 pm

On this particular issue at least, you’ve lost the plot.

First the assumption that Web 2.0 is a result of and is paid for by online advertising revenue. Give over. Let’s have something more than an empty assertion to back that up. Deeply ironic considering the slew of open source technologies that have made the majority of Web 2.0 frameworks and functionality available.

Second, retrospectively and unilaterally applying a rule for accessing content. Then deciding that it’s somehow dishonest of people not to comply with this unenforceable condition that you didn’t specify in advance. This is the electronic equivalent of wiping a dirty rag across my windshield at the lights and then crying thief if I refuse to pay.

Let me know if you’d rather I didn’t read your posts if I have adblock turned on. I’ll give it some consideration.

diamond geezer
commenting at April 20th, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I don’t think it necessarily follows that, because 14% of your readers are using ad-blocking software, you’re losing 14% of revenue.

Personally I’d rather buy you a pint of beer once a decade than unblock your adverts. But I assume you don’t go drinking with petty thieves.

James Cridland
commenting at April 20th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Alistair: “Although 14% of the adverts are being blocked, the people who go out there way to block them are less likely to click on them out of principle anyway.” – you appear to think that ads only earn money if they’re clicked on. They don’t. They (can) earn money every time someone sees them. Ad-blocking denies me of that revenue.

Sean: It’s hard to deny that many Web 2.0 products are funded by advertising. “Second, retrospectively and unilaterally applying a rule for accessing content.” – that holds if you simply close a website and go somewhere else as soon as you see an ad. If you simply block the ads, and carry on using the website, you’re stealing from the website – no other words for it.

“Let me know if you’d rather I didn’t read your posts if I have adblock turned on.” – I don’t run ads on this site, in fact.

diamond_geezer: True, it doesn’t. But don’t go falling into the “I never click ads” trap, will you, like Alistair did. And your maths is rather wrong – ads earn considerably more than you think, particularly if you’re a regular visitor. Your excellent blog doesn’t carry any ads (and nor does my crappy one); but if mine did, surely the honest thing is either to read it -with- the ads, or to simply not visit?

Sean Inglis
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 12:38 am

I don’t deny that many products that rely on Web 2.0 technologies also rely on advertising as a means of subsidising or directly funding their service.

But this is very different from Web 2.0 relying on advertising revenue – in fact I’d argue that the reverse is true – the opportunity to monetise in this way is only enabled by the availability of Web 2.0 technologies to advertisers.

The possibility of advertising and earning is a bonus afforded to some people as a result of the selflessness of other people developing the range of FOSS products and technologies that constitute Web 2.0 (a uselessly broad term, I’d say)

If your non-subscription service doesnt earn enough money in advertising for whatever reason, and not enough people are willing to pay, tough. Your business model isn’t viable.

Similarly if your content isn’t supported by advertising and no-one will subscribe, your content isn’t compelling enough.

No-one has a right to make a living in this way.

As for ad-blocking as theft, a nice bit of provocation, but also unutterable nonsense. Show me a website that states as one of it’s terms and conditions that you must not enable ad-blocking software?

I won’t hold my breath.

The fact is that every site wants to drive traffic, ad-blocked or not, and no viable site stipulates this sort of condition, it would be suicidal. If nothing else they may actually sell something *tangible*, not content or advertising, and if I find their site useful enough, I may drive other less fussy traffic their way by recommendation.

Certainly they have a right to politely request that I don’t adblock, or ask me to consider using a partner link to buy something I would buy anyway.

And thay also have a right to state that they consider it immoral or larcenous to visit their site with adblock software enabled. But if they go down that route, they’d better make sure that every link to their content is prefaced by a disclaimer stating that’s the case so that I don’t visit; that every snippet quoted somewhere else is similarly shielded behind a link; that they don’t submit their content for indexing or deep-linking by search engines for the same reason.

And this needs to be applied to participation in delicous or digg or stumbleupon or slashdot or – well you get the picture.

Personally, I pay for things: Fastmail, GAFYD, Usenet, broadband access, domain registration, Linux distributions, tip jars, donations to projects like Rockbox, even television licenses.

But when I visit a public website, I’m under no obligation to look at it in any way other than the most convenient way for me. And if some websites don’t like that, they need to find another medium that suits their business model more closely – the web is *based* on that principle.

Mike Nolan
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 1:32 am

I’ve never run ad blocking software because as a web developer I don’t like to have my web pages messed with – it’s important to see pages rendered correctly. That said, I’ve got a bit of a blind spot for adverts but if there’s one that’s interesting I’ll read or click it.

Nick Jeffery
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 3:33 am

Sounds like the same sort of ‘petty thief’ who’d fast-forward through adverts on Sky+. In the olden days, the same sort of crook might have left the room to make a cup of tea or briefly watched something on the other side.

Sean Inglis
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 8:07 am

I’d also like to point out that, in a similar spirit to diamond geezer, I’m banging on about this and simultaneous gesturing to refill your pint glass.

It comes across more agressively than I meant it. For one thing, it’s not leaving me much headroom when I *want* to appear aggressive. And it’s an interesting problem.

Beth Hart
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 9:27 am

Aside from blocking pop-ups (which I regard as the online equal to those annoying leaflets that fall from magazines) I don’t block any ads on my computer.

I do believe however that when I view pages on my phone the adverts often don’t show. Could some of your 14% be people accessing via mobile phones?

commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 10:10 am

Can I ask you, James if when you record a program off, for instance ITV or channel 4 or another ad supported channel,you watch through the adverts of your recorded program? Or do you fast forward through them like any other sane person?

If you do – that what’s the difference? Using your logic you’re “stealing” from the content provider. Sure they don’t get paid per ad view, but they will surely have done some sort of calculation of the price of the slot based on viewing figures which you have artificially deflated.

As far as internet content goes – not all machines, nor connections are equal and it is a bit OTT for you to assume that. There are still people out there on dialup for heaven’s sake!

On my work laptop, the display of animated and flash ads significantly swallows up RAM, as well as slows down my machine. I have no choice but to use the internet, so it makes perfect sense to squash as much adverts as possible. Also, despite being on a broadband connection, the presence of large ads does perceptibly slow down the page loading (less so for google based text ads, obviously).

Personally, the use of ad blocking software is more aimed at the rich content irritating flash style ads, as well as those really quite distasteful banners in the middle of articles. Before blocking software, I would simply not bothered to visit sites with what I considered to be an excessive number of distracting, irritating adverts. Simple as that.

Would you rather a page view without ad revenue, or no page view at all(and therefore no word of mouth, social engineering, viral whatevers)? Do you know how many of those blockers bring in other people, via links that do not have blocking software?

Adam Bowie
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 11:54 am

The only times I’ve ever played with ad-blocking software is when there’s been a particularly obnoxious piece of advertising that’s tried to distract me. So I’m largely talking about Flash adverts with sound turned on by default and so on.

Pop-ups, and even worse, pop-unders are especially annoying (quite why the Amazon owned IMDB is using such nastiness is baffling).

Another annoyance is sites that load the advertising on their pages successfully almost immediately, but then don’t serve the editorial for ages. This is usually a problem at the ad-serving company holding up delivery of the content. Hence I might just try to kill the advertising altogether.

Do some of the newer security suites come with ad-blocking and so on all switched on by default? I wonder if that’s the reason that the figure is as high as it is.

As for the morality of ad-blocking? I’m not sure. As others have said, it’s not dissimilar to fast-forwarding on Sky+. Indeed, other PVRs have skip functionality that mean you don’t even see a high-speed version of the ad.

Of course, if everybody skips or blocks advertising, then the model fails and websites will close. Or they’ll have to find a new revenue model. But that’s the same as for any business.

If I’m served relevant, non-resource hogging, non-annoying advertising then I’m unlikely to go ad-blocking. But in the race to the bottom, that’s not always the case.

I’d also hazard a guess that as people begin to realise what information is being tracked about them (and Phorm’s doing no favours here IMHO), then sites like this one are going to be used more than ever.

commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 11:57 am

I do find this blog post amusing.

As has been done to death above, for as long as there have been commercials, people have made an effort to avoid them. Be it making a cup of tea, fast forwarding a VCR or so on.

For websites that depend on ad revenue it means you’ll have to make more of an effort to not make your ads look like ads so that you fool the ad-blockers. Or change your funding modal.

Considering the amount of copyright theft on the internet that goes on, surely it can’t be much of a surprise that this goes on?

Andy Vale
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Can’t say I’ve ever thought of it like that. Personally I don’t have a problem with adverts as long as they don’t scroll over half the page or make noises without you requesting them.

Jonathan Sanderson
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Years ago, I was in a producers’ briefing given by then-ITV Director of Programmes, Nigel Pickard. He said something that struck me at the time:

“You all think that my job is to spend £850m a year on your programmes. It’s not. My job is to sell £850m-worth of advertising space.”

Disregarding the figures (my, how times have changed…), the distinction is useful.

If your website exists to draw a significant audience, sell that to advertisers, and hence make money from those advertisers – then yes, ad blockers are evil. If, however, your site exists to present stories to an audience, and makes money on the side, then ad blockers may be annoying or inconvenient, but they’re not interfering with the site’s primary purpose.

(for the record: I haven’t blocked ads for a while, though I do block Flash partly for stability reasons, but mostly because it catches most of the really annoying ads. This is a morally grey position, I’ll concede.)

commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I find this blog very interesting as it is not a simple as it first appeared to me! After reading the posts above I am inclined to ask, is it thievery if there is no (sensible) way to protect against it?
The problem is clearly defined by the economic definition of a public good. The good (website content) is non rival, i.e. if I read it, it doesn’t stop you reading it. And also non excludable, i.e. there is no way to stop a particular person using it. It is also free at the point of consumption (relatively speaking, there are obvious charges to internet use). Other classic examples of public goods are street lights, pavements and information.
The point is the problem of people not looking at your ads is the “free rider” problem, and is a reason why things like street lights are paid for out of council tax, which is a compulsory charge. Since no such compulsory charge can be applied here (i.e. you cannot force them to see the ads), there is no solution to this problem.
I know this is sort of an obvious conclusion, but it brings me back to the first point. Is it thievery if it cannot be stopped? Surely this is just an inherent problem of internet advertising and perhaps it could be viewed inversely and observed that 62,645 visitors have not blocked your ads!

James Cridland
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 7:38 pm

“Is it thievery if it cannot be stopped?” – well, that depends on whether you view crime as something which is morally wrong (like taking someone’s hard work and deliberately filtering out any way of that person earning revenue from it) or you simply view crime as something which can be stopped (in which case, shoplifting is crime, whereas murder isn’t crime).

It can be stopped, incidentally. I deployed that code a while ago; it works pretty simply. “Load page, call ad display code, wait twenty seconds, check if ad display code has executed, if not, put up a message”.

“Isn’t it the same as skipping the ads on the telly?” – no, it’s not; there’s a subtle but important difference. Television ads aren’t normally sold on exact views (as web ads are); nor are they normally sold on interactions (as web ads are). Skipping an ad on the telly doesn’t instantly deny Sky of any money. However, ad-blocking an ad instantly denies a web publisher of money – since I can’t earn revenue from the ad-view.

“Shouldn’t you change your business model?” – shouldn’t people be more respectful about my preferred business model, which costs them nothing yet earns revenue to enable them to get the content they want?

“Isn’t this an inflammatory claim designed you get you loads of links and comments?” Ah, you noticed. Frankly, I don’t care too much if the majority of visitors don’t use ad blocking (and don’t care too much about the actual level of revenue – this blog having no ads on it being a good case in point). But I can’t deny that the level of ad-blocking going on was rather a shock; 14% is hardly a tiny minority, and if your wages went down by 14%, you’d know about it. Probably. Unless you’re that Fred bloke from that bank.

Adam Bowie
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I’ll dispute your claim about how TV ads are sold. They *are* sold on views of a particular break. You buy them in advance based on expected views, but once they know how many people watched, that’s taken into account on a debit/credit basis.

That said, if everyone watching a programme fast-forwards through the ads currently, there’s no discount. But the technology to measure this certainly exists – at least in the US. The feeling currently is that claims to fast-forward the ads against how many actually do are high.

A 2007 Sky piece of research amongst Sky+ owners claims that 87% of viewing is live and of the recorded programming, 44% of ads are seen as live (Source: http://www.thinkbox.tv/server/show/nav.898). Extrapolating that, it means that in PVR homes (or DTR homes as Thinkbox would have it) just over 7% of viewing is fast-forwaded.

But if fast-forwarding becomes the norm, or more homes get PVRs, then you can certainly expect discounts to be demanded by advertisers. Indeed, I’d already be demanding them if BARB was able to supply that data.

But here’s a question. Suppose I use an ad-blocker. I Google a particular radio station and a page on your site is thrown up. I click on the link and read the relevant data. Am I stealing from you? I didn’t enter into any contract with you. You let your pages be spidered by Google. I just clinked on a link that Google gave me. I guess that Google could refuse to serve search results to people who ad-block.

As you say, the solution is to fix with code.

Shoplifting is illegal. But that doesn’t mean that stores just leave it at that. They put in CCTV cameras, and employ security. They prosecute offenders. They provide solutions to the problem.

Sean Inglis
commenting at April 21st, 2009 at 9:55 pm

“Shouldn’t you change your business model?” – shouldn’t people be more respectful about my preferred business model, which costs them nothing yet earns revenue to enable them to get the content they want?

(Note I use the term “you” and “your” to refer to advertisers in general, not you in particular)

Well this is the nub of it.

Your preferred business model is just that: *your* preferred business model, and no advertiser who decides they want to make money from the Internet has any right to impose their view of how they think it should be as the “natural” or default state of affairs. I don’t feel any compunction to respect a position frothed up as representing a moral obligation on my part.

That you happen to be able to exploit the internet for profit in this particular way is a niche that exists with the consent of public behaviour, not an entitlement.

This ecosystem was created, exists and has developed largely due to non-profit government organisations, the efforts of skilled enthusiasts, and the participation of the general public.

It was *not* created as a vector to market goods, services and advertising. If you’ve been able to make a profit this way previously, well good for you.

But don’t labour under the delusion that you’ve *created* the medium like, say, commercial television or a free newspaper – you haven’t, you’re just exploiting the infrastructure that other people are responsible for providing.

It’s delusional and revisionist to expect people to suddenly dance to your tune with respect to advertising – you have no mandate to enforce your view of how it should be going forwards, and history doesn’t support your expectation of how you believe it should be now.

I also have a suggestion; adopt a PICS style system for how you’d like your site and any links to it to be treated by browsers – some kind of indicator that ad-blockers aren’t welcome. Then browsers can elect to automatically filter out references to your sites and content. And as I say, stop shoving it under my nose by asking search engines to index it.

Terry Purvis
commenting at April 22nd, 2009 at 9:30 pm

If you don’t know why people use ad blocking software, you are in the wrong job.

Coffee, smell, wake up, and, the.

Please re-arrange into a well-known phrase or saying.

almost witty
commenting at May 2nd, 2009 at 8:47 pm

What amuses me about people who deploy ad-blockers and the like is the slightly naive assumption that if there wasn’t advertising, the content would still be there in some form.

Adverts are everywhere on professionally-created websites. Get rid of the advertising, and who would pay the content creators to make said content in the first place? There’s a reason why people go to Media UK, and not a random blogger’s list of media links…

Sean Inglis
commenting at May 3rd, 2009 at 3:50 pm

What amuses me about the contrary view is that effectively it says:

“My content isn’t worth paying for directly by interested subscribers. Therefore it should be paid for by a tax levied on everyone in the form of compulsory impressions for adverts.

I know that we’ve never met, we have no prior agreement, and you didn’t actually ask me provide my content. I also know that there is no explicit condition disallowing blockers on my site, and indeed I will provide no hint that I disapprove of them to allow you to do the decent thing and opt out automatically.

Despite this, if you happen across some of my content – because I’ve encouraged people to link to it, and I’m desperate for search engines to index it – and you block advertisements, you’re a thief.”

Sean Inglis
commenting at May 3rd, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Oh, which was a tangent prompted by @almost_witty.

What I actually meant to say was that in a spirit of adventure, I’ve spent a week or so with AdBlock largely turned off to see how things look these days.

Broadly speaking, there were a few sites where it was a jarring awful bloody mess. But the vast majority seem to strike a decent balance where the ads are certainly there, but not too intrusive.

Pop-ups, pop-unders, sliding divs and site surveys are still a pain in the arse, but all-in-all it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be, at least for the sites I visit.

Doctor Blog
commenting at May 10th, 2009 at 4:54 am

You ad blocking donkeys don’t seem to understand that your GETTING FREE CONTENT because of the ADS.

As ADs are blocked, AD revenues DROP, hence web publishers are LESS inclined on spending time on creating quality content and hence once say 50% of ads are blocked you will all start moaning baout how the internet is full of junk pages with little real content.


Simple basic ad services such as ADSENSE allow publishers to focus on on writing content, They don’t EMPLOY F-ING SALES TEAMS to go out and find advertisers !

So all you ad blocking thieves, DON’T MAIN WHEN QUALITY CONTENT DISAPPEARS !

Sean Inglis
commenting at May 13th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Funnily enough, as if by magic, this:


a fine proposal.

And Doctor Blog – I’ll take my chances. I understand perfectly how this particular ecosystem works. What you ad-waving parasites don’t seem to understand is that nobody is entitled to make a living out of it. If you think that’s unfair, bless another more traditional medium with your deathless prose.

James Cridland
commenting at January 10th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’ve just linked to this blog post from Quora, here; and ought to point out that since posting the above comments, this website now has advertising on it.

In December, incidentally, all the Google AdSense advertising on james.cridland.net earned me just enough for a pint of beer, so long as it’s in Wetherspoons.

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