Okay, first up, calm down. I am sure you are a good person. I am sure that you use Ad Blockers for all the right reasons. I know you Redditors and certain self-righteous subsets of the Internet community will get all up in my face about how advertising is evil, it’s about protecting your privacy, and being offended by pop-ups and have the right to browse everything on the Internet without banner ads. I get it.
Note: I get that someone who sells digital marketing services might not be the best person to say this. But a) I don’t really sell advertising and b) I really have little to gain from this — just some thoughts that might get you thinking.
I am going to walk you through an empathy exercise, and hopefully get you to see Ad Blocking software in a different light.
I have not, and never will, install an Ad Blocker.
I believe that to do so is immoral.
I get it. Ads are annoying.
But, without a paywall, advertising is the price you pay for getting content for free.
You know why?
Despite what you have been told, Ad Blocking doesn’t hurt Google. It doesn’t hurt Facebook. It doesn’t hurt the high-volume media sites. Their profits are heading skyward and the CPCs and CPMs are helping them see mad, mad money despite your Ad Blocking efforts.
Ad Blocking hurts independent media, freelancers, journalists, bloggers and everyone in this business who are expected to work for free “for the love of it”.
You may have seen the articles this week, that Ad Blocking features are being built-in to Apple iOS. It also came out that Ad Blocking software costs publishers an estimated $22 Billion annually.
Do you know who “publishers” are? Yes, I know the word makes you think “evil corporation”, and yes, it does consist of news.com.au, and Yahoo7 and Fox News and Channel 10. But, it is also Gawker, the Huffington Post, Crikey (who now operate behind a paywall)… and every single independent blog out there that puts Adsense on their site. All of whom use freelancers and low-paid staff to produce content.
Many individual bloggers even do it for free, for the love of writing, photography, video blogging, writing on LinkedIn, posting on Facebook… I write on here and on social media primarily because I have something to say (no shit…). I do it because I love to write long-form essays. But also, I am not going to lie to you, I also do it because it generates me some traffic that makes me money so that I can put a roof over my head.
You can’t live on love. Unless somehow you have managed to bag yourself a millionaire partner that pays for your “Lifestyle blog”, then hey, good on you.
But for most of us, we gotta pay for shit.
Now, I am not saying that there isn’t a bigger problem at play here that is beyond the scope of this article, which is major media outlets’ refusal to pay fair rates to those that create content. This is something that has been widely discussed by people who are more qualified to do so than me.
But when you use Ad Blocking software, you are contributing to a broader problem: everyone thinks they have the right to be drip-fed unlimited, high-quality content for free. It’s the same with music, TV. It doesn’t affect the studios, or the labels. You aren’t defeating “the man”. You are affecting all of the people whose internet-popular shows don’t get renewed because of low ratings on ad-supported channels. You are affecting the musicians whose royalty checks are now $30 a year.
I am not saying this to be self-righteous, because I know I am a hypocrite. I do it. I pay for Netflix and Stan out of guilt, but I still torrent and illegally stream shows I can’t watch because they aren’t on. But that is again, a separate discussion that has been done to death.
But, in the case of Ad Blocking on its own… if there is one takeaway from this article:
Good content costs money to produce.
Do you know how much your average popular YouTube personality spends to bring you High-Definition vlogs from their bedroom? Thousands of dollars. Sure, it can be done on an iPhone & iMovie (which still costs $1000+). But to do it right, it costs money. Lighting, audio, software, a good camera, makeup, insurance on all that gear…it is a production that we all take for granted.
They recoup their costs with money generated from Ads. That you block.
Do you know much a photographer will spend on gear? Take a look at what professional camera setups cost. Lighting, cameras, $15,000 lenses, worker’s compensation, public liability. Writers? Still need gear, a place to write, time to write, babysitters… you name it.
Many of them recoup their costs with money generated from Ads. That you block.
We may be creative, but we have to live too. And you cannot avoid a simple fact:
Good content costs money to produce.
It cost me $6 for the photos for this post.
Despite all this hoopla about the sharing economy, where you can get a job done on Fiverr, a professional will do a better job. The only people who can afford to work for free? Teenagers. Students. Do you know the only people who can afford to be a professional artist? People who live on benefits (which in Australia is a full time job in itself… you get paid to wait in line & fill out forms) or, for the particularly talented, get government grants (again, they get paid to write grant submissions), or have some external source of income.
The rest of us? We have to get paid to live. And nobody on this planet can work for free.
This is why Ad Blocking is a problem.
Facebook is brilliant. Google is brilliant. LinkedIn is brilliant. Instagram is brilliant. The makers of these platforms are brilliant people. They should make money. But they, too, rely on these things to improve, exist, hire people. The advertisers who buy that space, from small business owner up to a bank: they hire people. Advertising Agencies, regardless of what I, or anyone might have to say about their rates and the quality of their content… support tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.
They also hire freelance writers, videographers, photographers, designers, web developers and the creatives who come up with campaigns, who are constantly squeezed on their hourly rates because they have bills to pay, and some work is better than no work.
I don’t think most of you stop to actually think about the stuff that you read on a daily basis. And I believe that, if you think about it for a second, you would pause, and wonder: “who created this?”. I will tell you. It is usually a low-paid staffer, or a freelancer, or a videographer, or animator, whose livelihood depends on a steady stream of paid work to survive.
Stop expecting free content.
I am going to acknowledge (and move on from) the broader structural problems that exist in large Agencies and Media that exploit content producers across the board. This is really the root of the problem and a far bigger one to solve. I am also going to acknowledge that (and move on from) the shitty ads are annoying, and it is those that make us want to block them, and that high quality native advertising is a better way to go.
However, it also starts with the collective, endemic attitude of entitlement, that free content is a right, not a privilege or gift. That just because we can access everything for free, doesn’t mean we necessarily should. I know if people really stopped to think what goes into the production of free content, and how CPC works, you would be happy to sacrifice a little banner ad on your screen and a cookie that says you live in Sydney, in order to give the little guys an extra few cents in income.
I see it that way. Not in absolutes: I get that sometimes, you can’t afford stuff, or it isn’t on in your country, or it is out of print, or… whatever. I do it. But then don’t go and block ads at the same time. Give a penny, take a penny. Focus on the big guys, and the big issues, without depriving the little guys of revenue. Pay when you can. Go to shows. Buy direct from the artist if you can.
Ads are the price we pay for the privilege of reading free, high quality content. Connecting with our friends. Networking. Selling. It keeps everything on the internet running, including the data centers that allow me to share this post to thousands of people.
So, when you see that $22 billion figure and think “ha! I am sticking it to the man!”. You are not. You are being, just a little bit, entitled and selfish.
Think about it.