It’s a wonder web publishers are able to make a living anymore, in that most people unapologetically use some form of ad-blocking software. The conscientious visitor to a given website will turn off the blocker for that site, in hopes that the site is able to continue to produce the content that brings them there. There is also the option on some ad blockers which enables users to allow “unobtrusive” ads or the type that won’t affect their experience and aren’t known to be full of malware.
It’s not magic, after all. Someone’s paying the writer, someone’s paying the photographer. If not the advertisers, who? In some cases, people are willing to pay subscription fees, but much of this disposable income is now usurped by other types of digital media – your Netflix, Hulu, and now YouTube, along with your Spotify and so forth.
Edward Snowden has suggested that it’s the only truly safe way to browse the web, saying this month:
Indeed, it’s the fault of the advertisers themselves that people feel the need to block out the advertising. Most people are capable of ignoring a banner ad or two, as in the early days of the web, similar to how they can sit through up to three minutes of television commercials or flip beyond an advertisement in a magazine. But more than once in recent memory, malware has been installed on people’s computers as a result of advertisements – not on the part of the publisher, but the advertiser. The less scrupulous the publisher, the more likely such ads are to surface. Thus, the prevalence of ad-blocking software.
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For awhile, and potentially for awhile yet, the mobile web represented a new opportunity for game, video, and other digital content providers. Users of free Android games are by now accustomed to seeing advertisements, even on the most popular games. Mobile web browsers have been slower to catch up with their desktop cousins in terms of ad blocking, and so mobile content has been more profitable in recent memory. This was never a situation that could last, as is evidenced with the advent of Blockr, an ad-blocker for iOS9 which now finds itself in court.
Axel Springer Gunning for Blockr
Axel Springer, a massive European publishing conglomerate, recently took issue with the ad blocking phenomenon. They put up a pay-wall last month that gave users a choice between a subscription fee and turning off their ad blocking software. Not surprisingly, many people who still wanted to see the content after that chose not to pay the fee, but rather to disable their ad blocking for Bild.de, the first of Axel Springer’s sites to implement. According to Axel Springer, the number of users who had ad blockers enabled dropped by 23% in just a month.
But they’re not stopping there. Axel Springer have a pending lawsuit against the makers of Blockr in regards to another of their websites, Welt.de, in which they contend that the app negatively affects their business model. In the November 19th court hearing, the court seemed to agree, saying at one point that Axel Springer has other means to deal with ad blocking, such as the one that has been successful on Bild.de. A final ruling on whether Blockr will be prohibited from distributing software that blocks ads on Weld.de will be issued in a couple weeks, on December 10th.
In an era when nearly all content is online, and competition is more fierce than ever, it is understandable both why consumers want to use ad blocking software and why publishers would prefer they didn’t. Social media and professional media can co-exist, and those who work deserve to be paid, but it is unlikely that this quandary will ultimately be solved by courts or government officials. This is the kind of thing the market itself will best sort out, and so far, that’s the direction we seem to be headed in.