The rise of ad blocking puts publishers in a pickle

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Ignoring web ads is as easy as clicking the x in the upper right, dissolving in an instant the shiny car someone, somewhere wants you to buy. This isn’t enough for everyone, which is why we have ad blocking.\"adblock\"p>

Ad blocking software makes it so no banner ads, pop-ups, tickers, or auto-playing videos will besmirch your screen ever again. Those that choose to climb aboard the ad-free train get in return the luxury of sailing the web’s more placid waves, without any of its sharks or storm clouds.

The problem? Publishing platforms need to show you ads to make money, and so long as that is the case, you need them too if you want to view free content.

Here are some telling stats:

  • 16 percent of Internet users have ad blockers on their browsers
  • This cost publishers about $22 billion dollars in 2015
  • 40 percent of millennials say they block ads, according to a 2014 report
  • AdBlocker topped the list of paid iPhone apps following iOS9’s launch in September

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Circumventing, or stealing?

Ad blocking’s growth can be in large part credited to younger generations’ desire for quick, quality content without a barrage of pop-ups every other second. But many say this violates the implicit contract between readers and publishers, making it akin to robbery.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has claimed that ad-blocking, ethics aside, actually hurts the web experience, especially as ads evolve to be tailored to browsers’ interests. This is an unpopular opinion, as is evidenced by the nearly half of Internet uses that report it is annoying and distracting; creepy, even.

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With the aggressive nature of online ads worsening and compromising page speed and reader retention, it’s not surprising users are running for the hills.

What the future holds

Publishers are naturally panicky over the situation; the same goes from companies like Google and Facebook whose revenue comes primarily from advertisements.

After all, advertising has always been the basic business model of the Internet. Doomsayers say the rise of ad blocking could be the end of the free web as we know it.

How will publishers deal? Here are some possibilities:

  • Native advertising: Branded content hosted by CMS systems gets by some but not all ad-blockers, and is less annoying to readers
  • Apps-ertising: Only browsers are affected by ad blockers; apps like Snapchat still hold opportunities
  • Whitelisting: Publishers can request they be whitelisted by loyal visitors, who can choose to see their ads over other websites
  • “Acceptable ads”: Non-invasive ads that ad blockers and users choose to let slide by
  • Publishers and advertisers can pay to sneak through filters
  • Subscriptions and paywalls

Whether publishers and advertisers are able to alter ads in a way that curbs ad blocking’s growth or be forced to put up paywalls remains to be seen. It may be that there’s a great compromise between an ad-free and actually free — it’s just a question of how and where to find it.

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