Ok…so ad blocking is here….
From browsers to mobile hardware, the drive is on (whether from the creators of ad blocking software or just from us all talking about it now) to empower consumers of content to block advertising they don’t want to see via software based means. This advertising, small and large web publishers argue, is part of a fundamental principle of mass media, going back at least a century. The principle comes down to a deal, which—like many deals—can be renegotiated and changed to reflect shifting values and principles:
We (web publishers) create content without charging you for the creation of that content, and in exchange you (the content consumer) give us attention and we charge a third party, the advertiser, to put ads in front of, and around, our content.
This same deal drove the development and growth of platforms, such as television, radio and newspapers, and the development and growth of content on those platforms, for the last 100 years.
But, the Internet was supposed to be a different content delivery platform.
Now, consumers—instead of just choosing to ignore interruptive ads like they always have (and because measuring audience engagement is difficult (but not impossible) there are more intrusive, interruptive ads, not less)—content consumers are choosing to block everything.
Seth Godin wrote with hope fifteen years ago about permission marketing. Cory Doctorow writes with abandon about the anarchy of the web. But both of those writers and thinkers assume a fundamental point about most content, whether it’s on the internet, on the radio, on television, or in a magazine or newspaper, that must be written down and repeated out loud:
Most content on any platform isn’t good enough, interesting enough, relevant enough or entertaining enough, to act as the glue binding the audience of content consumers to the content creators in a “revenue for value” exchange based relationship.
This is why there are millions and millions of cat and baby videos on Youtube, but only a few breakout “stars.” This is why Vogue magazine (or Burberry on Instagram) will be fine with ¾ of their magazine content (or their social distribution feed) being ad space, but Mother Jones or The National Review might just wither and die with ad blockers. This is the reason there are 152 million blogs on the Internet, publishing 1.3 million pieces of content a day, but no blogger has risen to dominance on the web in 15 years.
There are a few ways out of this bind, but before we get to that, the question of “What kind of internet do we want to have?” must be answered. We (and we are including ourselves in this group as a content consumers) have not answered this question in any kind of meaningful way. Content consumers have to be a part of the conversation before the endpoint of plopping and advertisement in front of our eyes is reached. Content consumers (to build trust and get their permission) have to be engaged in the building, creating and disseminating of a product from start to finish—or not at all.
The first way out of this bind is by crowdsourcing content development. There are some sites on the web that do this well; there are many more that do it badly, or not at all. Crowdsourcing journalism, entertainment, and other forms of content may lead to less ad blocking—and higher revenue—rather than more by content consumers who feel emotionally invested in the product.
The second way out of this of this bind is by creating more subscription-based platforms. For subscriptions to work, there must be a consideration (and a careful one at that) by the web publisher about what kind of content is being created. Long tail philosophy should be ruling with brand-based content, but many are still stuck in the 1950’s. By the way, this is the only way that data gathering, analytics and implementation based on the data is useful as a tool for content creators and publishers, as well as the incorporation of micropayments via cryptocurrencies. Don’t believe me? Ok. What’s in your Netflix queue right now? And have you paid for a reSnap recently?
The third way out of this of this bind is by rethinking distribution systems. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Google and Apple are going to war with each other to decide who controls the ad space of the mobile phone screen and the app walled garden. This war has to be fought (I guess) but thinking of these platforms less as content delivery systems, and more as content broadcast systems, would free many creators from the false choice of “Do I or don’t I put an ad in front of my content?” Email and RSS feeds circumvent broadcast systems and go directly to the audience content creators want. This is also the reason that creators on Meerkat and Periscope who are live streaming events (and their lives) are going to have trouble monetizing their content if the platform ever has to respond to the vicissitudes of Wall Street shareholders.
The fourth way out of this bind is by rethinking all the assumptions underpinning the web. The Internet has moved over the last 25 to 30 years, from being a niche communication channel to a worldwide, glorified telecommunications delivery system. What if the Internet shifted from being a global mass bullhorn, to being an individualized, personalized content delivery system? Mobile phone, tablet and app development is pushing the Internet in the direction of this development, but frankly, not far enough. Which is where blockchain technology really comes to the forefront.
The fifth way out of this bind is for content creators to make conscious choices—and stick to them—about how and where to monetize their content with ads. We are not naïve enough to think that advertising will disappear; there were ads broadcasting the services of prostitutes painted on the walls of buildings in Pompeii and Ancient Rome. However, when everyone can publish (but not everyone will publish) everyone has the choice to run a Google ad (or not) in front of specific content, they produce. We run ads in front of The Earbud_U Podcast, but not on the HSCT #Communication Blog, for a reason.
Ad blocking will not be the end of Internet publishing, nor will it serve as the death knell for advertising on the Internet. By defaulting to the opposite of these five alternatives to advertising on the Internet, many content creators will wither away, and die, on the web.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org