The devastating effects of ad blocking · 2010-03-08 15:08 by Wladimir Palant

A few years ago I used to blog about some of the more ridiculous claims that ad blocking opponents make and take them apart. Fortunately, I no longer have to. Other people do this now and they are much more successful expressing their opinions. So I don’t really need to write about the recent article at Ars Technica on the effects of ad blocking. I do so mostly to link to the responses so that I can find them again.

Rob Sayre, Why Ad Blockers Work

Ad blocking software works because there are telltale technical cues that a site isn’t paying the same level of attention to ad content as they are to editorial content (whereas print magazines pay more attention to ad content–that’s how they work).

Eric Shepherd, On ad blocking

Why, then, have I started blocking ads? Simple. Companies that insist on using tricks to try to force you to look at ads you don’t want to see.

Mike Masnick, Don’t Blame Your Community: Ad Blocking Is Not Killing Any Sites

Mike Markson recently wrote up a blog post for entrepreneurs, talking about how every entrepreneur needs to learn the lesson that, whatever doesn’t go right is your fault. It’s a tough lesson for people (especially entrepreneurs) to learn. If you can’t raise money, don’t blame the investors. You were the one who failed to convince them. If you can’t make sales, don’t blame the sales people. You either hired the wrong sales people or didn’t put together a compelling enough pitch or didn’t have a good enough product. It’s your responsibility as an entrepreneur to fix things.

Richard Chappell, Does Ad-blocking Hurt Websites?

Advertisers are paying for the chance to increase sales. They’ll pay for ads when the expected benefit exceeds the cost. But, just as the incidence of ‘click fraud’ (clicking an ad link just to drive up advertising costs, without any intention to buy the product) causes advertisers to pay less per click than they otherwise would, so the incidence of what we might call ‘dud views’ (i.e. page loads where the ads won’t be clicked or even attended to) reduce the price that advertisers will be willing to pay per pageview. If ad-blocking users have a prior disposition to ignore ads anyway, then convincing these users to disable their adblockers will simply serve to increase the number of ‘dud views’. It does nothing to increase the expected sales for advertisers, and hence they won’t be willing to pay for these extra views.

Articles that are devastating to my brain

Telling the readers that people get fired because people have adblockers on, that because revenue margins decrease, people look into more ‘questionable’ forms of advertisement to recoup on losses, and blaming this on the readerbase – that’s a shitty thing to do. We the readers are not to blame for this. Not for the most part.

John Leach, Advertising and ad blocking

Funding your content through advertising is hugely inefficient. Of the people who visit your site, usually only a tiny proportion click on (or notice) an advert, and only a tiny proportion of those then spends any money. So a tiny, tiny proportion of your visitors give any money to your advertisers. So money filters down this system in tiny margins. Then, at the bottom of the system, a tiny amount of the profits from the income covers the cost of advertising. Then this money moves back up the system to you, usually via your advertising agent who takes a nice cut (I’ve heard Google pass as little as one twelfth onto the publisher in some cases).

Jacob Mandelson, Prisoners’ dilemma and web advertising

The Ars Technia article is titled “Why Ad Blocking is devastating to the sites you love”, but from the other side it could be called “Why intrusive advertising is destroying your users’ tolerance for your business model”. The publishers defected long before the visitors did, and turned a deaf ear to user complaints, and so I’m unsympathetic to cries from them that we’re now defecting too.

Jonathan Bailey, The Ad-Blocker’s Dilemma

On the surface the math seems pretty simple. A user with ad block generates zero revenue and consumes bandwidth, server resources, etc. As such, they operate at a net loss. The reality, however, is not that straightforward. Ad blockers often contribute to the site in other ways, including posting comments, submitting links to social news sites, sharing URLs with friends and helping build a community that others, including those who don’t block ads, will want to visit and partake in.

Matt Asay, Is ad blocking the problem?

Online media publishers should change, as asking consumers to change is a recipe for failure…and for stagnation rather than innovation in business models. It’s not the consumer’s job to figure out a successful business model for the vendor.

Adblocking is Missing the Point

What is needed is a different system, one that provides value to all three entities.

Patricio Robles, Is ad blocking really devastating to the sites you love?

Using Fisher’s restaurant analogy, one could argue that the advertiser is footing the bill for dinner and Fisher is trying to find a way to get the advertiser to pay for 10 meals when only six individuals are really eating.

David Adams, Another Look at Online Advertising

The problem we have is that advertisers and their agents, in their quest for clicks, are constantly pressuring publishers toward ever-more-intrusive ad sizes and behaviors. Unfortunately, more intrusive advertising is scientifically proven to attract more clicks. Because in most cases the advertisers themselves don’t get any feedback on whether readers hate the more intrusive advertising, from their point of view, the bigger the better. There needs to be some push-back, but the publishers don’t have enough clout to do it. If they refuse to run an intrusive ad, it seems there’s always someone else that will be willing to run it if the price is right.

Frederic Filloux, Why is digital advertising so lousy? Industry is too smug to innovate.

Let’s face it. On digital media, advertising hasn’t delivered. In the news business, we have a rule of thumb: An electronic reader brings 15 to 20 times less in advertising revenue than a print reader does.

I might add some more links later.


Comment [25]

  1. charlo · 2010-03-08 16:26 · #

    Blocking ads being work-destructive, socially irresponsible ? it is like asking people to “buy weapons” so that the weapons industry can keep.. giving money to whatever (Croix-rouge fundation ? electoral campain) ?

    The underlying ideology in the article would be that advertising is a necessary evil. But the author and I may never agree on how evil it really is and just why on hell it should be “necessary”.

  2. Dan · 2010-03-08 16:48 · #

    I want a t-shirt with “It’s not my fault your business model sucks” on it.

  3. Miff · 2010-03-08 17:59 · #

    I beleive that the way of the future for internet ads is not the traditional javaflash monstrosities, but rather small subtle sponserships on blogs and such.

  4. DrPizza · 2010-03-08 18:42 · #

    As I said before: money still comes from results, not from the potential. This is true for television, it is true for radio and it is true for the Internet as well. No company will continue paying for a television ad if they notice that it doesn’t yield in any results despite all the potential. The only difference on the Internet is that feedback arrives faster. But there is no inherent difference and CPM is still a payment model that works with potentials. Do ads that are viewed but ignored yield in results?

    Yes. They do. They result in increased brand awareness and product knowledge.

    I can’t believe you still link to and stand by that previous post you made. In it you go into detail about how it’s clicks that matter, yadda yadda. All very nice, except it’s not true. Simple adverts like Google ads are click-based, but big campaigns on high profile sites are not. This has been explained to you before, on numerous occasions, and yet you still spew the same old crap. What gives?

    Why not at least have the common courtesy to acknowledge the truth: “yes, ads do indeed generate revenue for websites—I just don’t care”?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I removed my own statements from this blog post because I found another article that makes the same point in a more concise way. I hope the argumentation there will be easier to understand for you. If not – I reserve the right to not share your opinion, please have understanding for that. I also reserve the right to ignore any rude comments on my blog.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Seriously, are you expecting to be taken seriously by posting here without exposing your affiliation with Ars Technica? I’m not somebody to shut out different opinions but I think mentioning that one is biased is the least to be expected, particularly from somebody who seems to be a journalist. Coming here with that attitude makes it at least understandable how you managed to fully miss the point of the texts you are commenting on.

  5. charlo · 2010-03-08 20:29 · #

    Still, I would like to understand in the name of what advertising would be mandatory. When you read the article mentionned, it seems so obvious it makes me feel fuzzy. It is as if “there can be no web without adverts”, a postulate. It is just wrong and quick assertions (or trolls) like “It’s not my fault your business model sucks”, as simplistic as they are, are… valid. I do not like them because of the “business” model involved (“business” is one of many models possible on the web), but it is pertinent and should not be put away.

    Does income come from “display” or “clicking” ? I just do not care. I do not want advertising, plain and simple. Especially not on a website whose purpose is “information”. you do not bite the hand that feeds you.

  6. James · 2010-03-08 21:08 · #

    I do believe that brand awareness is a legitimate form of advertising that would not be measured in clicks. However, as an internet user I’ve been on the receiving end of relentless unapologetic in-your-face advertising to the point that I just had to do something or quit using the internet. In fact, I cringe when I use a browser that doesn’t have ABP because it’s obvious that so many websites still just don’t get it.

    Still, is there a way in ABP that I can allow advertisements from certain websites that I choose? How about not blocking the content and just not rendering it for certain sites?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Note that brand awareness is what I meant by "influence the subconscious".

  7. DrPizza · 2010-03-08 22:04 · #

    Does income come from “display” or “clicking” ? I just do not care. I do not want advertising, plain and simple. Especially not on a website whose purpose is “information”. you do not bite the hand that feeds you.

    Um, if you’re not looking at the ads, you’re not the hand feeding anyone. So uhhh. What the hell are you talking about?

  8. Bryan · 2010-03-09 01:56 · #

    How about not blocking the content and just not rendering it for certain sites?

    I suggested this on the Ars thread but I guess it got lost in the 40+ pages because nobody responded to it.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I can give that link again:

  9. Uhm Hum · 2010-03-09 03:12 · #

    They made the ads annoying, then came adblocking. If they didn’t try to make the ads cover up the website so I had to click something to make it go away, if the ad didn’t start talking to me, if they were unobtrusive text links like google’s, then fine, I’ll let them load.

    When I get a magazine at my house, any page that has ads on both sides of the same page, gets torn out and thrown away. I guess they’ll start crying about that too.

  10. charlo · 2010-03-09 17:22 · #

    DrPizza, if you are a website and your income is from an advertiser (he is the one feeding you, not the reader), you are sweet with him. It is one of the common problems with medias in general (the weight of advertising and ownership on the editorial content).

  11. Evan Daniel · 2010-03-09 19:53 · #

    I read the article at Ars, and thought it made an interesting point. In short, I’d like to support them, but I don’t want to pay as much as their subscriptions cost. I’m willing to have a few ads around instead, provided they’re not too intrusive. Ars is better than most about that. For now I’ve unblocked ads on Ars, but I’m considering changing that.

    So, a feature request for ABP: finer grained control. I’d like to unblock only the non-animated, non-flash ads at Ars (possibly other sites, too, of course). The reason I use ABP isn’t simply to remove ads; it’s to have control over my browsing experience. I’d like the option to decide what sorts of ads I see, and right now it’s difficult to have the answer be other than all or none.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    This is possible to some extent, see

  12. chodelord · 2010-03-09 20:22 · #

    Techdirt owned Ars really hard with this article:

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Thank you, very interesting article. I added this link to the post.

  13. Dalek Cann2 · 2010-03-10 08:49 · #

    I agree with you completely. 95% of ads are obtrusive and annoying; and don’t even get me started on those banners that give you seizures. If 95% of ads were useful, unobtrusive and didn’t store personal data I wouldn’t use ABP. Sadly the reverse is true.

    What I fear is that in the future most websites will be able to detect users who block ads and force them to view ads.

  14. MoJo · 2010-03-10 17:38 · #

    The comment about ad-block users contributing is a good one. I am so loved by Slashdot for my comment contributions (or should that be notorious) that they disable the ads for me anyway. I get a little box that says “To say thanks we turned off the ads for you.”

    The value of user contributions cannot be underestimated. Slashdot is a good example – if it were not for the excellent comments system it would be just another pointless tech news site. If the ads it did have were really annoying I would not have started reading it anyway.

  15. Bryan · 2010-03-15 23:46 · #

    Ars gets paid by views, not clicks:

    Clicks do not come into our equation at all. Ever. Not even one tiny itsy bitsy bit.

    Sure, advertisers (remember I used to work for an advertising company) would love for people to click, however, they are not under some sort of delusion that their $x is going to turn into y clicks. The only major company that pays per click as far I a know is Google, and its extremely hard to make money off them as a large site without being ultra-skeevy.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Yes, we all got that point. Feel free to read the article written by Richard Chappell however – because you don’t seem to get the point.

  16. Bryan · 2010-03-15 23:49 · #

    Okay, so here we are. This is a very simple Greasemonkey script that will hide the Ars ads while still allowing them to load. I verified it with Firebug and in doing so, learned that Firefox doesn’t bother to load IFRAMEs when they reside in a parent with the “display=none” style. So I used another method to hide the content and ensure that the resources would still be downloaded.

    With it you can whitelist Ars, install this script, and still not see any ads:

    Realize that Ars does NOT support doing this and that you will still be an asshole for using this method. But perhaps a bit less of an asshole than continuing to use Adblock and/or FlashBlock on Ars…

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    No, you are going to be more of an asshole – because now you are committing fraud. But some people at Ars are apparently fine with fraud as long as it doesn’t hurt their wallet (at first).

  17. Anonymous · 2010-03-16 14:42 · #

    If someone had missed it or were not familiar with ars’ staff, it might be interesting to note that the “DrPizza” who posted a couple of times above is ars technica’s very own Peter Bright (

    The comments here do not seem out of character compared with those replying to responses on his articles or acting as expert on the ars Observatory forum. Whether that reflects poorly on ars is up to the reader.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Oh, that explains some things. And I thought it was simply somebody with poor reading comprehension. Thank you for pointing that out.

  18. Gordon · 2010-03-16 17:02 · #

    I for one am glad that you are providing high quality ad blocking. As the parent of a young child that sits next to me, having the ability to “remove” the content that comes up on legitimate sites that is not appropriate for young eyes makes for a safer web browsing experience.

    Aside from that, it makes it safer for all of us.

    Keep up the good blocking.

  19. The issue is not ad blocking, the issue is allowing deceptive ads which companies use · 2010-03-21 01:48 · #

    If companies’ are so concerned about the negative effects of ad blocking, Let them help by eliminating deceptive ads, spy-ware, annoying pop-ups, and software which they support installed without the users consent.

    I for one don’t want to be harassed by deceptive pop-ups put out by these very same companies who do not like ad blocking.

    IF people do not want to view companies deceptive ads, its their right not to do so. Once more these companies only value profit and not customer service. They want your money but when you ask for support its non-existent.

  20. Paco · 2010-03-21 16:24 · #

    I did feel some pity for the staff when reading the article at Ars Technica. However, what I don’t find reasonable in the long term is a business model based on supplicating your customers every now and then for their mercy. Big populations tend to act like natural forces. They should give Darwin a try. Very instructive reading.

  21. Terry · 2010-03-27 12:21 · #

    Advertising – The art of arresting people’s intelligence to get them to part with their money.

    They are often half truths, lies by omission, because they don’t present both the pros and the cons of a product, nor present independent comparative analyses of their products versus their competitors’ products.

    Ads’ Payloads – Often Viruses, Malware, and Tracking Programs, so I Never click on them.

    If I really want to see a link, I first select Properties, then copy and paste only the part with the web address I want to view into the address bar – no referrers or third party sites allowed.

    I also use proxy servers, so sites cannot capture my IP address or location.

  22. Chris Carter · 2010-03-29 01:23 · #

    I don’t like it, I don’t even agree with it but the fact is “there are no rules in business”. There’s no whinning in business either. Who in the heck ever told a business that my desktop and browser belonged to them in the first place? Yet there are those that act like it does. C’mon people, you’re missing the point! Advertisers and publishers push intrusive ads, use “tricks” a.k.a. “fraud” to get you to click on or view something and everyone’s okay with this? As a technologist I have tools, some I’ve created myself to thwart, fool and stomp this behavior out of my browser. No ads for me. Oh yeah, see, I have this idea that I own my computer, I lease my internet wire and I control what travels on it. Any questions? If they want to play on my playground they have to get my permission. They think they can do anything they want. Well, so can I. They can’t push out a script, activex or whatever that I can’t stompt the crud out of. Did I mention there are no “rules” in business?

  23. deadfraggle · 2010-04-03 10:18 · #

    Interesting debate on the merits and ethics of using Adblock. The main reason I use the plugin is to increase web page loading time. It is really annoying when a page fails to completely load properly because it is stuck waiting for a feed from an ad service.

    When a site forces me to connect to a server I never agreed to download from, I feel I am within my rights, legally and morally, to block that connection. Host the banner locally, and I have no problem with reasonable ads.

  24. Josh · 2010-05-16 03:08 · #

    I’m a web developer and long time user of Ad block+. While I earn a revenue from people clicking/viewing/ordering through ads/links on my sites I have no problem with people who use ad blockers.

    Instead of whining companies have to adapt, The Article on Ars remind me of arguments the MPAA, RIAA etc use to claim fantasy loss of earning figures due to piracy instead of adapting and creating new business models.

    These companies also seem to forget without the users/visitors they are have no business. Stop Alienating visitors and learn to adapt.

    I also find it laughable that Ars staff come here and propose a way to block there ads while still allowing them to increase there pageviews on ads to increase there revenue and shaft there Advertisers. Assholes.

  25. Vic · 2010-05-21 23:48 · #

    I love all these “adapt your business model” comments. Adapt it to WHAT, exactly? If it costs me $4,000 a month to provide a website with the content that my readers love to read from my crew of editors and writers, am I supposed to just eat that and go bankrupt?

    I don’t put auto-expanding ads, ads with audio or popunders on my site – I try to provide a good user experience and find a balance, but if ALL ads were removed I’d have to shut down my site.

    In your little fantasy worlds, the same ones that are bankrupting the US. You want sites with great writers who write for free so you don’t have to “suffer” through ads, just like people who don’t want coal, oil or nuclear but don’t have an alternative for energy.

    Pixie dust, maybe?

    You want to have your cake and eat it, too.


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