Spare the sites you love, adblock everything else

I love Adblock Plus. Nearly everywhere I go on the web is stripped of mildly distracting to suicidally obnoxious advertisements because of this fabulous Firefox add-on.

The downside? Ars Technica hit on it in a recent article1: you (all those adblocking types out there) and I are harming the sites we love.

There is an oft-stated misconception that if a user never clicks on ads, then blocking them won’t hurt a site financially. This is wrong. Most sites, at least sites the size of ours, are paid on a per view basis. If you have an ad blocker running, and you load 10 pages on the site, you consume resources from us (bandwidth being only one of them), but provide us with no revenue. Because we are a technology site, we have a very large base of ad blockers. Imagine running a restaurant where 40% of the people who came and ate didn’t pay. In a way, that’s what ad blocking is doing to us. Just like a restaurant, we have to pay to staff, we have to pay for resources, and we have to pay when people consume those resources. The difference, of course, is that our visitors don’t pay us directly but indirectly by viewing advertising.

Perhaps you feel guilty now. Fear not; you may easily make redress to these sites, read on. Ken Fisher of Ars continues:

My argument is simple: blocking ads can be devastating to the sites you love. I am not making an argument that blocking ads is a form of stealing, or is immoral, or unethical, or makes someone the son of the devil. It can result in people losing their jobs, it can result in less content on any given site, and it definitely can affect the quality of content. It can also put sites into a real advertising death spin. As ad revenues go down, many sites are lured into running advertising of a truly questionable nature. We’ve all seen it happen. I am very proud of the fact that we routinely talk to you guys in our feedback forum about the quality of our ads. I have proven over 12 years that we will fight on the behalf of readers whenever we can. Does that mean that there are the occasional intrusive ads, expanding this way and that? Yes, sometimes we have to accept those ads. But any of you reading this site for any significant period of time know that these are few and far between. We turn down offers every month for advertising like that out of respect for you guys. We simply ask that you return the favor and not block ads.

If you read a site and care about its well being, then you should not block ads (or you subscribe to sites like Ars that offer ads-free versions of the site). If a site has advertising you don’t agree with, don’t go there. I think it is far better to vote with page views than to show up and consume resources without giving anything in return. I think in some ways the Internet and its vast anonymity feeds into a culture where many people do not think about the people, the families, the careers that go into producing a website. People talk about how annoying advertisments are, but I’ll tell you what: it’s a lot more annoying and frustrating to have to cut staff and cut benefits because a huge portion of readers block ads. Yet I’ve seen that happen at dozens of great sites over the last few years, Ars included.

I agree heartily. This is not something I’ve thought about but it clicked and persuaded me right off the bat. I very much love certain websites, so now Adblock Plus is turned off when visiting these sites. A few ads is a small price to pay for what these sites give freely. Ars also presented this in a very gracious manner, which I think is key. They alerted readers about the issue, politely asked them to consider  unblocking their site and then left it at civilized discussion. They also made clear in the comments their policy with their advertisers not to run any ads with non user-initiated sound, flashing ads, or ones that fly out over the text.

In this issue, I believe reason can easily be shown on the side of both the site and its viewers resulting in mutual benefit. This is the sort of company-viewer relationship I like to see on the internet and it goes to show that big publishers don’t have to be faceless and brazen—the same goes for its customers and consumers.

That being said and done, the rest of the web remains clear and clean for me. The sites I stumble over in my daily browsing do not have my loyalty and so shall not have my ad views.

To wrap it up, Ars Technica posted an article soon after the first on just how to allow adverts for certain sites. Read it, add exceptions for your favorite sites, and continue (or begin) to enjoy a better-looking web while supporting sites you love.

  1. A modified version also aired later on NPR.
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