Don't Blame Your Community: Ad Blocking Is Not Killing Any Sites

from the get-over-it dept

Every so often we hear about a random blog or website that freaks out and claims that ad blockers are "stealing" or somehow damaging websites. But it's quite a surprise to see a similar argument from a site like Ars Technica -- one of the top techie sites out there, which is now owned by Conde Nast. Over the weekend, Ars wrote an odd post claiming that ad blocking "is devastating to the sites you love." Ars decided to run an experiment where it blocked access to its content to any user using an ad blocker (with no warning or explanation). Not surprisingly, this pissed off a bunch of readers, and Ars now admits that it was a mistake in how it was handled -- but that it still believes ad blockers are harming sites.

Frankly, such a position is insulting (though, even more insulting was the way Ars staff responded to complaints in its comments, dismissing people who don't like their ads as not adding anything and actively telling them to go away). If you're reading Techdirt, and the ads we serve are not good, you have every right to use an ad blocker. It's your browser, do whatever you want with it. I, personally, do not use an ad blocker because I don't find most ads annoying -- but if you do, more power to you. You're absolutely welcome here on Techdirt.

If the ads are bad, it's bad for the advertisers

Back in December of last year, we signed an experimental ad deal to run a series of ads on the site, where a single advertiser would effectively have all the ads for a 24-hour period. As a part of that, there would be an ad at the top that temporarily "pushed down" the content for a few seconds, before pulling back up. Nothing was covered. Nothing prevented readers from getting the content. And the "pushdown" ad only showed once per visitor and never again. We went back and forth about it, but decided it was worth an experiment -- especially since no content was blocked or covered. I won't name the advertiser who was in the first test... but many of you did notice, and did not like it. We got a lot of complaints. So we killed the additional tests. I won't lie: these deals were for quite a bit of money -- a very large premium on the amount of money we typically make from advertising. But when we saw how annoyed our users were, we realized immediately what a bad idea this was and told the others who were scheduled to run similar campaigns, "sorry." We gave up a lot of money to do so, but what it came down to in our mind was that it wasn't worth it.

And when I say "wasn't worth it," I don't mean just to us or our community -- but to the advertiser. Most of the anger we saw over the original ad campaign wasn't directed at us -- it was directed at the company doing the advertising. So we told a bunch of companies willing to pay us a lot of money not that we didn't want their money -- but that they didn't want to buy that kind of advertising, because it would only damage their own brands.

Advertising that works, not annoys

Now, compare that to another "project" that we did late last year. As you may recall, UPS sponsored me doing a series of "whiteboard videos" about topics that we regularly talk about here -- one on the economics of abundance, one on the innovator's dilemma and one on the difference between innovation and invention. Before releasing these, I was actually a bit nervous about how people would respond. But these videos, which were clearly labeled as being sponsored by UPS, actually were a huge hit, and we received lots of compliments about them. Even more interesting? Numerous comments on the videos thanked UPS for sponsoring them and making them happen.

A similar thing happened when we launched our IT Innovation website, sponsored by Sun and Intel. In that case, those two companies were sponsoring us to develop more general content around a topic that we (and many of you) found interesting. The editorial control was still entirely our own, but Sun and Intel received branding on the website, and the ability to offer up some whitepapers to download in the sidebar. The end result has been wonderful, and we'll likely do similar projects in the future. Rather than annoying readers, we lined up everything in a way that benefited everyone. It really was a win-win-win sort of setup.

Those types of projects are the kinds that we love to do, and which add real value to the community and to the sponsors. Those are the types of things that we think all media publications should be looking at doing. Things that add value, not take it away. Oh, and if you're a company that wants to do a project like this that gets people excited, rather than annoyed by your brand, feel free to contact us.

Don't blame others for your failures

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. And I'm not saying this as a third party: I've been in both of the experiences discussed in this paragraph, and had to learn not to blame others, because that is the natural tendency. But it's not productive at all.

Along those lines, if you are running a media site, if you're having trouble making money, it's your fault. Don't blame your readers. Don't blame your community by telling them they're "devastating" a site by blocking ads or failing to pay for a paywall. As the producers of that site, it's your responsibility to do things to get that site paid for. If you don't like what we're doing on Techdirt, go ahead and block our ads. Sure, just like Ars, many of our ads are paid for based on impressions and we may make less money from those ads, but that's our problem and the problem of advertisers who aren't willing to do more unique, creative and compelling projects that benefit the community rather than annoy it. We want the advertisers, sponsors and partners we work with to get the best results possible in a way that everyone wins. And that's not by forcing people who don't want to see their ads to see them, or by pissing off our readers by blocking them if they use ad blocking. It's by taking on the responsibility ourselves to put together compelling programs that make everything more valuable for all participants.

There's lots of ways to value a community

And we value you as readers even if you're not seeing any ads at all. That's because you take part in the community. You share links to our posts. You comment. You tell others about what we've written -- and that's all incredibly valuable to us and the rest of the community -- much more than any CPM value we'd get from a few extra ad impressions. If you don't see an ad, that doesn't mean you have no value. Quite the opposite.

Claiming that ad blocking is harming sites is like the recording industry claiming that piracy (or home taping) is killing music. Or it's like the newspaper industry claiming that aggregators are killing them. It's passing the blame. If you run a company, it's your responsibility to put together a business model that works. And if people are somehow figuring out ways to do what they want where you don't get paid, then it means you're doing something that needs to change. A good business model is one where everyone is happy with the transaction, not one where one party feels forced or coerced into accepting something they don't want.

So, let's get past this idea of blaming others, and focus on building business models where everyone benefits.

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  1. icon
    vivaelamor (profile), 8 Mar 2010 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Stop Hurting Advertisers

    "Ars states that sites often get paid on a per ad view basis, and blocking them hurts the site. What about advertisers that are paying for each ad view, even for the users that don't care about their product at all? Won't somebody think of the advertisers?"

    I'd be interested to know if they answered this point at all. In all the discussion there someone must have pointed out the hypocrisy.

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