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Nick Carr Archive
I have been following the ad blocker discussions over the past few weeks and the on and off discussions for the last 10 years. I had to take some time to cool off before writing this post because frankly it’s a subject that has made me quite mad and I don’t get mad often. I have attempted to remove as much rant as possible. Let’s start by saying, what’s so wrong with helping an author generate revenue from the time invested to write a column which you have just read and benefited from?
Here is my take on ads using CenterNetworks as an example. And I am leaving RSS out of this part of the discussion but it’s discussed further along. When you come to CenterNetworks and view content I wrote, you view the ads that I have selected to show. I spend hours a month hand picking every ad (except for AdSense, they don’t allow it) so that you get an optimum experience. I don’t show shoot the money, free ipods, porn, lottery, gambling or extreme animations. I also don’t run popunders, popovers or layer ads. I respect you and therefore only want to show you what I believe is the best possible ads that you actually might be interestedin.
My expectation is that when you read the content I provide, you at least see the advertising/sponsors. This is how I generate revenue so I can eat and feed my family. I spend hours (as do most professional bloggers) thinking of content, writing stories I hope you enjoy, meeting local companies. For example, when I met Mochila this week, it took me 2 hours of travel and 90 minutes of discussion to generate that article. And I generate a mere few cents in pageviews and maybe 1-2 of you will click an ad and make a few more cents. I estimate working on CN content a minimum of 45 hours a week. Should I not have the opportunity to get paid for my work? Charging for content won’t work because if I charge, you will go elsewhere. And please don’t get me wrong, I totally love CN and enjoy every minute of it.
Some have said that they block ads because they would never click one. So if you never click one, you’re obviously already ignoring them just fine, so why block them?
Then I read Nick Carr’s article about ad blocking. Boy this guy has a set of them. Let me take a step back. During my graduate studies, one of my courses required us to purchase his "Does IT Matter?" book and discuss it over the first half of the semester. So I know Carr. He claims there are two objections to ad blocking: one ethical, the other utilitarian. He doesn’t give a sh** about the ethical one, says it’s the same as walking away from the tv while watching football on tv when the commercials are on. Says if I choose to accept ads for content then he can choose not to show the ads while still viewing my content is his right. WRONG BUB. His other objection is, "The utilitarian objection is that the continued provision of tons of free stuff on the web depends on the success of online advertising. Blocking ads, therefore, is self-defeating. You may get a little short-term pleasure, but in the long run you’ll end up sacrificing all the free goods." He is right here. Both arguments are the same imho.
The professional blogging Web depends on advertising. And it depends on the barter relationship we all have silently agreed to. What do I mean by this? Simple, I visit engadget or gizmodo, I see their ads. They come to CN, they see mine. If I see one that interests me, I click it and they do the same. In this way we all support each other.
He then quotes a couple of other so-called experts around the idea of adblocking to save bandwidth in corporations. Well you know what, let’s get a list together of the corporations who are too good to let my ads show while they use my content in their executive presentations for zero dollars. Would these same people pay a consultant for work and then stiff him or her? No, they wouldn’t but I guarantee you that if you walk into any Fortune 500 company, you will see printed columns from TC, Mash, RWW, Eng, Giz, Jeremiah, etc. Free analysis that can provide immense corporate gain and they want to block the ads that supported creating the analysis?
Nick Carr sells a few books that he authored. Would he appreciate it if instead of buying any of his latest book, each of us stole it? I mean physically stole it. Absolutely not, but he refuses to discuss the fact that he sells a product and I sell a product as well. Let’s say that I run a small coffee shop and the only currency I accept is mangos. One cup of coffee is 12 mangos. You have no mangos, nor do you care to pay in mangos so you steal the coffee. Hello? Bloggers use ads as their mangos.
Nick decided at the end of the article that he would remove the ad blocker, and I applaud that decision.
The event that seemed to spark the broader discussion came from a blogger named Danny Carlton who blocked all Firefox users because some of them might be using ad blocking techniques. The story hit Digg and many bloggers wrote about the topic. Blocking all of Firefox is probably not a good idea, but it’s Danny’s blog and he can choose who he wants to let it. Same as going to a dance club down the street letting in only the attractive people.
The Diggers went crazy over this. Many noted that they use adblocking and love it. Of course many diggers still get their milk from somewhere other than a gallon jug. What really irks me is that diggers are so passionate about the Digg brand and Kevin Rose. Yet they are so willing to rob him of the revenue from their usage of the Digg system.
Mike Arrington picked up the story and noted, "Users are solid gold. Even the ones that block ads. They sometimes write comments, which is free content. They link to you from their own blog. And they tell friends about your site. All that leads to more readers and, ultimately, more revenue. If a user wants to skip the ads and is willing to go to the trouble of installing ad blocking software, so be it. I still love ‘em. And I gladly hand them my content for free."
I agree completely with Mike about the value of a user. But I disagree with him regarding ad skipping. It’s easy for Mike, the so-called leader of the tech blogs to make this statement. He’s about to hold a conference that some believe will net $2M+. Sure he can give away the content for free. Heck, for that cash, I wouldn’t even run any ads at all. Mike is right that the comments and links and virality is critical. But that is separate from the advertising. It’s not a either-or situation. It would be interesting to get Mike’s opinion if he was just starting out today and/or have/didn’t have cash when he began. What I have learned in marketing is this: the car in the front of the race always has clean air in front of it.
For any uber-large blog, ad blocking won’t be an issue in general. Large blogs have a hefty amount of "float" keeping them on top and the float users (those that come typically from search engines) are generally mainstream and won’t have an ad blocker in place. So even if all of the loyals did, the floaters won’t and that’s enough to carry a large blog. Of course the loyals are the ones who shouldn’t have the ad blocking in place because they should show support for TC, or whatever blog they are loyal to.
Should ad blocking software become mainstream and reduce a Web site or blogs ability to generate revenue to (at a minimum) break even, I believe we will see more paid posts, paid links that stay ahead of the blockers. And sadly, professional blogging might end as we know it. There is one positive side to ad blocking which is that it is going to push the online advertising market further ahead as it’s been a bit stagnant for the past few years.
Mike noted that Danny offers a full content feed with no ads and anyone can grab this, why should he care if anyone blocks his ads on the Web site. RSS is great, you can get the content where you want it, how you want it and on what device you want it. I believe over the next 12-15 months, we will see more companies offering RSS advertising systems and paid RSS plans. FeedBurner and Feedvertising offer systems now but the sell-in is low. I think we will see more ads in RSS to a greater level than it is today. There is one selling point about offering a full non-ad feed I hear over and over. That the feed drives people back to the site when they click related links or a comment link. And this is the way to monetize. I like this idea and since the RSS list is supposedly a site’s loyal users, they should have no issue in helping the site/blog to generate revenue.
Before I close, I would like to say that there are evil ads. There are ads that shouldn’t be shown and ad networks need to do a better job of filtering these ads. For example, the ads that promise you a free xyz, spyware, scams, etc need to be banned. But the banning needs to come from the ad networks and the site publishers/bloggers, not from the content consumers.
Here is the conclusion: If you like a blog’s content, great, I hope you become loyal to that blog. And I hope you will remember that this is someone’s job and earning a living at it is a fair trade-off for the great content you are receiving in return. If a blog is showing ads that you object to, talk to the blogger.
As a side note, this discussion reminds me a lot of the early-90′s HTML view source stealing discussions.