Mark Evans recently articulated an issue that’s been in the back of my mind for a while. What happens to the web if ad-blocking software becomes commonplace?
Anyone using Adblock wants to eat their cake (access free content and services) and have it too (no advertising). Sorry, but you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have it both ways. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t gorge yourself at the Web buffet without paying for it in some way such as seeing advertising.
Mark wields some fairly alarmist and provocative language, but he’s generated some interesting discussion in the comments associated with that post.
If things online advertising revenue goes south (and we’re talking Patagonia here) as Mark suggests they might, that would be a disaster. I’m wouldn’t be overly worried about web companies who rely on advertising revenue. I’ve talked with plenty of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs who have creative plans to make money that don’t rely on serving ads.
I’d be more concerned about the hobbyists and site owners who have enjoyed (usually small) rewards for their work through Google AdSense and the like. They’ve experienced a significant paradigm shift in recent years, and that’s probably inspired them to keep doing the often excellent work they do online. Here’s a commenter from Mark’s post:
I have provided free content on improvisational theatre [ed: wow, thorough site] for more than a decade, and Google Adwords is the first remuneration I have ever received for this labour of love. It actually helps out with the endlessly thankless task of giving your stuff away ;).
Remove the ad revenue, and you might end up back at GeoCities? Not really, but you get the idea.
Even more problematic than that, however, is the amount of commerce that web advertising enables. Surely there are far more companies using Google AdWords (et al) to generate leads than there are companies depending on advertising for revenue. We’ve had technology companies who get 90% of their leads (and therefore revenue) through their AdWords campaign.
TiVo or Newspaper?
In thinking about this potential problem, we first need to think about how the average person conceives of web advertising. Is it like ads in the newspaper or ads on television? TiVo and the mute button enable people to ignore TV ads, so the ad skipping genie is out of the bottle.
How come readers tolerate ads in newspapers? I don’t think many of them regularly think about how the ads subsidize the price of the paper. By the same token, once they discover the power of ad-blocking software, you’re never going to convince people that they should just turn it off.
If Microsoft ever decides to add (and turn on by default) ad-blocking in Internet Explorer, beware. It will have a huge impact on the economics and, therefore, the landscape of the web.