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Blocking Ads Is Actually Good for Content Creators

A lot of “content creators” — the people who make the internet worthwhile — hate ad-blockers. I don’t. I am glad that ad-blockers exist, and I think they’re actually good for the future of “content” and editorial websites in general.

First let’s review the argument against ad-blockers. (Note that sketchy ad-blockers do exist, but assume I’m talking about normal ones like uBlock Origin.) Basically, ad-blockers stop display ads from loading. This means that websites can’t make any money from the visitors who use these browser extensions. (The idea that web ads only pay per click is a common misconception — most professional websites are paid per thousand views.)

When websites can’t make money, they can’t pay the people who write for them, and then those people are out of a job. Plus, the internet starts to degrade. This point of view has been chronicled extensively, most notably on Ars Technica, a popular geek site that experimented with blocking the ad-blocker users right back. Other good articles include the explanation on This Interests Me, Andrew Taylor’s “AdBlock Is A Bad Thing”, Network World’s “Why do AdblockPlus users hate my kids?” (lol), and finally a Hank Green video.

Examples of Display Type Beside a Column of Plain Letter-Press
Image via History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library.

Here’s what I think: Making money from advertising is not an inherently terrible plan. Making money from display ads is. Banner ads and noisy autoplay videos are not the only option! Dreaded paywalls are not the only alternative. (Besides, subscriptions won’t be sufficient unless you have a premium legacy brand like The New York Times, or niche appeal like Andrew Sullivan’s political commentary.) Here is an example of what a respectful ad looks like:

Please consider shopping through our Amazon affiliate link to support this website. We rely on readers like you to keep creating the [content type] that you love!

This is basically how fashion bloggers do it, although some of them are less obvious about disclosing their affiliate links. The techies may not have noticed, but fashion and lifestyle bloggers are doing well for themselves! You should be copying them. There are plenty of affiliate programs, and a website with a decent amount of traffic can probably make more money from this type of advertising than from display ads. (Granted, some of the protests were written years ago, so this may not have been true at the time.)

The other excellent idea is sponsored posts. Ars Technica contributor Kurt Mackey commented on the article that I linked above, “There are really two possibilities […]. The first is what we’re striving for: finding the least offensive level of advertising […] while keeping our overhead as low as we can. The second is scary and more malicious, and if Ars ever went this way I would no longer work here: disguising ads as content.” I agree, but sponsored posts don’t have to be disguised. All you need is a disclaimer. Example:

The following post is sponsored by [commercial entity]. Please consider doing business with the brands that support [website]. Thank you!

Readers have been duly informed, and they can scroll past if they don’t want to read an advertorial. Actually, the best type of sponsored post has that disclaimer at the top, and then normal content below that is vaguely related to the field of the sponsoring entity. Here is an example from a Medium article by Jason Harper, “In Defense of the Good Old-Fashioned Map”:

sponsored post example

The disclaimer could be a little more explicit — “Sponsored by Marriott” would be better than “Presented by Marriott” — but in general this is well-executed. The visual experience is not annoying, I get to read something enjoyable, and I will associate my happy internet feelings with Marriott. Win-win-win for the creator, the advertiser, and the reader.

People who protest sponsored posts are generally concerned with objectivity. For instance, if you review a product that was sent to you for free, and the company is paying you to review it, can you offer an unbiased review of that product? Well, no, of course not. Presumably the people who worry about this are the same people who complain when news writers use personal pronouns.

What the critics don’t seem to realize is that objectivity is not a thing. It straight-up doesn’t exist. Literally every single person in the entire world is biased — deeply biased — in one way or another, because that is human nature. We’re irrational animals, not logical automatons. The important thing is to declare your biases, for example by disclaiming the sponsored nature of a blog post.

Image by yuichirock.

So why do I think ad-blocking will be good for the future of the internet? Because it will push websites to rely less on irritating ads, and implement user-friendly business models instead (which may include sensible advertising). Sure, plenty of websites will be unethical and not use disclaimers, but that’s why we have to be discerning, skeptical consumers, both of media and any products we choose to purchase.

Too long; didn’t read? Here’s my basic point: it is worthwhile to develop a revenue stream that doesn’t annoy your readers so much that they block the revenue stream altogether.

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