Ethics of blocking ads - Part 2 · 2006-10-25 10:23 by Wladimir Palant
The German readers probably know it already and can skip this paragraph. For the others I want to give some background information here: Heise is a publishing house which is best known for its excellent computer magazine c’t. I don’t know whether c’t has the most readers in Germany (probably not) but it is certainly the most professional and informative computer magazine around. Actually, it is the only one where I don’t have the feeling of wasting my time when reading it, so I will certainly subscribe to it when I am back in Germany. And Heise’s web page is also great, it is the single best source of German IT news.
Yet there is a catch. If you disable Adblock Plus and go read some article on this site you will see something like this:
With Adblock Plus on the other hand the page looks like this:
You see the difference? In the first case almost all the space is taken away by ads, you can only see a few lines of the actual article text. Note also that since the RSS feeds on Heise.de only contain the headlines and no text (not even the excerpts you see on the main page) you have to go to the web page and read it.
Now one could argue (and some people do argue in fact) that Heise needs these huge intrusive banners to survive. It needs to pay for the server, it needs to pay the reporters doing all the work. “Without advertisements all this wouldn’t be possible” is a phrase I have heard numerous times.
But for some reasons there are other people who are downright obsessed with removing ads on Heise.de. Back when Adblock Plus 0.6 removed DIV blocking and element hiding hasn’t been added yet one of the most common arguments against the new Adblock Plus was: “I can’t use it because it doesn’t remove the ads on Heise.de”. Mind you, this is only about text ads that are relatively few on Heise. Ironically, it is likely that Heise is one of the major reasons for the popularity of Adblock in Germany.
Why are these people so obsessed? Because they care about the site. Because reading it with all the intrusive ads is a torture — and yet they don’t want to give up. People want to read it despite the ads. Because the content on this site is great, it really is. Now would it be possible for Heise to turn this appreciation into money without annoying users? I think the answer is yes. Even if Heise simply put a button on the page: “Help to keep this site ad-free, donate now”. Or started to sell t-shirts or souvenir cups. That would already generate a considerable amount of money on a site with such loyal users.
Would it be enough to pay all the expenses? Probably not. Yet there are other factors here. On the one hand, an ad-free site means more users — and more loyal users. This will certainly increase the number of c’t subscriptions since every regular on Heise.de is simply bound to subscribe it. So Heise could easily consider the costs of running the site as marketing expenses, and I guess it isn’t the most expensive thing Heise does to promote its magazines.
There is also another way in which Heise profits from a loyal community — feedback. Community feedback is essential in order for a magazine to improve and meet the expectation of its readers. So the reporters writing news aren’t really wasting their time. They are rather testing the community’s reaction to certain news before deciding on how they should report on those in the magazine.
In the end it seems that Heise could remove the ads on its site without harming itself, maybe even profit from it. And the same is true for any good site that is capable of attracting and keeping users. Of course, getting money out of a loyal community without being annoying is more complicated than filling web pages with ads. But who said that running a successful site should be simple?
I will write at least one more article on this topic where I want to talk about how ad blocking helps to keep the Internet in balance. Stay tuned!
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