Web Publishers Must Address Reasons Why Readers Install Ad Blockers

NEWS ANALYSIS: Newspapers and Web sites of all kinds are fighting the use of ad blockers as a threat to their revenue, but maybe they're fighting the wrong foe.

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It happened a few days ago, just as it happens nearly every day when I read the news: I clicked on a story about drone regulations and, instead of a story, I was greeted by a loud, unrelated video that I couldn't stop. Eventually it ran its course, and I was able to read the story, but I also resolved not to visit that site again.

Unfortunately, intrusive ads are far too common, as are ads that serve malware, slow down peoples' Internet connections or soak up expensive mobile bandwidth. Because of this, users are installing ad blockers on their computers and mobile devices that keep out all advertising, not just intrusive or annoying ads. Understanding why they do this is pretty easy.

It's also common when I go to a Web site that I wait. And wait. And wait. The reason for the wait isn't because of the Web site content, but rather because ads load too slowly. Sometimes the sites use Flash content, which I've disabled. And, in many cases, the Web pages I'm trying to read are coded so they won't load until the ads load, which may be forever—which, again, is a strong incentive to block ads.

Despite the fact that there are some very good reasons to reject online advertising, it exists for some very good reasons as well. The most important is that it's about the only way to pay for content that appears on the Web site. Without ads, you'd have no content. And yes, if you look next to this column on eWEEK, you'll see ads. Those ads are how I get paid.

So it's understandable that the Newspaper Association of America has gone on a campaign to prevent the use of ad blockers. After all, the association estimates that more than 10 percent of all ads on the Internet are blocked. In addition, the NAA has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission challenging the use of some ad blockers.

Perhaps more notable, David Chavern, CEO of the NAA, declared in an opinion column in January that "Ad blocking threatens democracy." Really? So I called Chavern.

"That might have been a little bit of hyperbole in the headline," Chavern said when I spoke with him. But he pointed out that the idea of free access to news was being threatened by the declining revenues that news organizations receive from their online advertising. He maintained that this is a threat to access to news by everyone.

But in his opinion piece and in other public statements, Chavern and the NAA seem to be blaming their own readers for their revenue shortfall because of ad blockers.

But in fact, it appears to be the publishers and their advertisers that are cannibalizing their own readership. Those advertisers have been allowed to run poorly crafted, intrusive ads without fear of retribution.

The publishers have allowed this in an effort to maximize their own revenues, forgetting the golden rule of advertising supported publishing: It's the audience that is the product being sold, not the publication. If you lose your audience because they grow to hate your advertising, then you lose your publication.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which is an advocacy and technical standards group for the digital advertising industry, has published what it calls its L.E.A.N. initiative. In this case, the acronym stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-Invasive. This is backed up with a scoring system that lets publishers decide whether the ads they allow are up to snuff.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...