Adblockers Are Winning Because Content Is All the Same
One of the hardest problems to solve in the War on Adblockers is the fact that readers no longer identify with publications.
Content farms are in a battle for missing ad dollars, taken from them by internet users with adblocking software. In the pursuit of a more perfect internet experience, 198 million active users had some form of adblocking software in their browser during 2015. A report by Adobe and PageFair estimates publisher losses from adblocking software at $22 billion in 2015.
Users see themselves trapped in a world where content is provided by content farms with unfair and intrusive ads. For privacy-wary users, data-collecting ad zones that slow down the speed at which a page loads is quite a price to pay.
Serving an ad is a handshake between the content provider and the user. A deal is procured for content in exchange for served advertisements on a website. Theoretically, you should be reading a website whose ads should interest you. Native advertising should mean your favorite site has curated experiences where the voice of the brand has tied you in.
Adblocking is a side effect of a readership that no longer identifies with the generalist content that's being provided.
Adblocking is the rejection of more than just the medium and content of ad zones as an extension of a publisher's brand. The entire experience of a site shouldn't offend you enough to install technology that prevents the site that creates content from being able to pay for content that is worth frequenting.
This means the 'war' on adblockers is a war content farms are waging against their users, who have waged war on content they find unworthy of 'enduring' ads. Publishers are trying to find a way to collect their theoretical revenue from content thieves who want all of their free pages of internet without the obtrusive internet experience that they feel has been forced upon them.
A massive content farm like Wired claims 20 percent of its traffic comes from users with adblocking software. They closed their website to adblockers. The New York Times is developing its own adblocking solution. In March, they requested that adblocking users add their sites to their whitelist, or subscribe for a fee. Forbes is another notable content farm which flat-out rejects adblocking readers. Most publishers are thinking about the correct strategy to deal with the growing percentage of their readership who doesn't want to be bothered by their ads.
Last week, Adblock Plus announced a partnership with Flattr to create Flattr Plus, which is a way to tip content creators who you love, but still don't love enough to add to your ad blocking whitelist.
Launching later this year, Flattr Plus will proportionally reward bloggers, newspapers, musicians, and other content providers based on a monthly budget set by the user (who still doesn't want your ads). Flattr Plus will take a ten percent cut of these monthly budgets, but promise to develop their technology to better serve content creators. Independent content creators are much more likely to be backed into this hostage situation with the goal of recouping lost advertising revenue. I can't see any big box or legacy publisher using an external solution for monetizing their own content because it won't solve the larger problem of monetizing ALL adblocking users.
Flattr Plus's business is based entirely on the idea that it can make money from users who want to avoid the mere POTENTIAL of seeing invisible advertisements that haven't been monetized. The solution? Set up a tip jar and at least a few people will buy into a divvied-up subscription model for content providers. A content company can focus on making content so that a technology partnership can skim off the top of the remnants of remnant advertisements.
Eventually Flattr Plus could be as ubiquitous as Outbrain related links on the long tail of sites across the web who managed to develop a snippet of code that could handle the load of distributing related links better than anyone else. It's unclear if great content wins.
A micropayment solution represents a temporary sign of peace in the war on ad blocking, but it doesn't feel like a solution to large problems in the union between the user and publisher. Many users say they use adblockers because ads are intrusive and insecure, which is true in many cases, but it's still difficult to determine if adblocking represents a distrust of the advertising zone as technology or a distrust of the media as a whole.
The handshake deal for content in exchange for ads doesn't seem so bad when you have a feeling there are real people trying to make better content.
The rise of adblocking software in today's content consumption economy is the user's resentful position against content that they wish they didn't need and brands that they see as too big to fail. How can one tiny reader blocking ads really impact a billion dollar brand?
Adblocking is a side effect of a readership that no longer identifies with the generalist content that's being provided. When every content farm realized they had to look the same in order to scale, they lost the perception as having humans guiding their editorial voice. The handshake deal for content in exchange for ads doesn't seem so bad when you have a feeling there are real people trying to make better content. The user can only struggle to preserve their individuality by blocking the advertisements that are supposed to represent their marginalized interests.
Publishers have always existed in a world where their traditional web content can't be properly monetized. Flattr Plus just feels like another straw that a content provider would grab for some money. It's not solving adblocking, it's salvaging some lost money.
In a content farm paradigm where publishers already diversified their content to exist on platforms with non-traditional monetization methods, being hellbent on monetizing webpages does feel a bit counter-intuitive. Figuring out the next realm of 'what the internet will look like' feels like the approach most big box content farms are taking. If they could find the solution to adblocking, why would they need a service like FlattrPlus?
Ads have grown past being bloated and annoying. There was once an idea that a 'cleaner,' web 1.0 version of the web existed without advertising zones, before standard ad zones were established for your eyes to gaze past. Mobile is a non-standardized realm where you are frequently greeted with a popup. Users aren't just blocking what they know, but whatever distrustful suspicions they have against ad tech and the content providers who rely on it. Tip jars aren't going to be helping the big box content farms to monetize their ad-rejecting population.
Sure, large and small publishers would love to effectively monetize the adblocking users who frequent their site. But going forward, the possibility of monetizing an unblockable medium of content could be much more lucrative than the current setup.
Tip jarring will ultimately skim money from the long tail of content providers rather than give an industry-wide solution to ad blocking practices. Until users rethink why they are actually visiting these websites filled with content, wariness of ads as an unfair, exploitative practice will persist. The implied contract of ad serving between a content provider and user can only occur when the "user" feels more like a reader, identifying as part of a community that finds the content worthy of existing.