If you want to earn money through publishing content on the Internet you only have a few options. The first is to put up a paywall where people can only access the content after they have paid a subscription fee. The second is to tack on some advertisements and hope that you generate enough traffic and clicks to meet your costs. A third way is to publish sponsored content where someone pays for an author to write an article or whitepaper and the finished content is provided to the public free of charge. As you are aware, the second method is the most commonly used method of paying for content on the Internet. This is because most people won’t pay for something at a paywall that they can get “for free” by visiting a site that is supported by advertising.
The key concept here is the perception that content hosted on sites supported by advertising is “for free”.
Adblock Plus ( http://adblockplus.org/en/ ) is an extension for the Firefox web browser that configures the browser so that advertising on websites is blocked. Not every advertisement is blocked, but most of them are. If you tinker with Adblock Plus, you can have an advertisement free browsing experience. Adblock Plus, like the Firefox browser, is available free of charge to anyone that wants to download and install it. When you talk to most people about what annoys them about surfing the web, they’ll often talk about advertisements. Tell them about Firefox and Adblock Plus and they will want it installed on their computer. You will have to ask a lot of people before you find one who would choose to view Internet advertising if there was a trivial way to have it blocked. One of the main reasons that Adblock Plus isn’t more prevalent is that people aren’t really aware of it. Installing Adblock Plus requires a minimum level of technical skill.
What would happen if Adblock Plus, or a product that obtained a similar outcome, was used by the vast majority of web surfers? What if Microsoft included similar functionality in Internet Explorer and allowed you to enable it in the same way that you enable InPrivate browsing? What would happen to the content that is made available through “method two” then? How much are advertisers willing to pay on the Internet if the advertisements on the Internet are blocked for the majority of web surfers? How will providers of free content meet their costs if web based advertising suddenly becomes a whole lot less effective?
Users of Adblock Plus use the extension because they don’t want to see advertisements. Although they realize that the amount of content freely available on the Internet would be vastly reduced if everyone used Adblock Plus, things sort of work at the moment because the vast majority of users don’t block advertisements. If newspapers wanted to hit the online content industry hard right now, they would be running non-stop information about how to obtain and use Ad Block plus. From the perspective of traditional newspapers, free online content is trashing their business model, so turnabout would seem to be fair. A scorched earth approach that makes supporting online news content through advertisements problematic because everyone blocks the advertisements.
The only reason that the vast majority of users do not block advertisements is because they do not know how to block advertisements. No one wants to view advertisements.
I’ve seen arguments published that suggest that users of Adblock Plus wouldn’t “be forced” to use the product if web based advertisements weren’t so intrusive. This argument is a little specious. Yes, big flashy multi-colored banner advertisements are annoying. As with any annoyance there is a princess/pea/mattress issue. That is once you’ve got rid of the big annoyances, the ones that used to appear small now suddenly become all consuming. Once you get rid of flashy Internet advertising, people will still want to block the non-flashy stuff. People use Adblock Plus because they do not want to see advertisements.
If you can block it, people will block it. The technology exists. At some point the advertisement blocking genie is going to really get out of the bag and “method two” will be dead in the water.
People have become conditioned to accessing content for free on the Internet and people also don’t want to see advertisements on the Internet. At some point in the not too distant future, Ad blocking will become a necessary browser feature like Tabs are today. Any browser that does not include the feature will suffer a dramatic downturn in market share as people move to platforms that “block those darn advertisements”. Within five years, all browsers will block advertisements by default because, in the end, it is a feature that most people want.
Although browser manufacturers are cognizant of the reasons why they shouldn’t include advertisement blocking functionality in their browsers by default, as the browser wars become more intense, the temptation to ship a browser that blocks advertisements is going to become overwhelming. At that point, the competition will be about which browser blocks the most advertisements. It won’t be which browser blocks annoying flash advertisements, but which browser blocks almost every type of advertisement.
At present Firefox and Adblock Plus are quietly ticking upwards in terms of overall market share. Slowly, but inevitably, a tipping point is being reached. After that tipping point, Internet advertising will be under siege. Seeing an advertisement on a web-page will be like finding spam in your inbox. At once point you saw a lot of spam in your inbox. Today, while your spam is still present, your inbox is most likely pretty clean.
The pandora’s box of internet advertisement blocking is already wide open. Unless human nature, which tends to find advertisements an annoyance rather than a necessary evil, changes, when people find out about advertisement blocking technology they are going to want to have it. If other people can look at Internet pages without advertisements, why can’t they? At some point, just like with tabbed browsing, almost everyone is going to have advertisement blocking technology.
What happens to “free” content on the Internet then?