Even though I have Ads on this blog, I have absolute disgust towards online ads in general, in its current form. I wish there was a middle ground where online contents could be monetized without compromising reading experience, getting malware through ads, having slow browsing speed and fear of being tracked all the time. It’s not a surprise that according to one study 41% of young readers are using some sort of ad blockers.
I have been using adblockers (uBlock Origin) for as long as I can remember. The general experience of using the internet with and without adblockers is dramatic. It’s not just the speed, ads are being jammed into every possible empty space inside the body of the website. Most of them are not relevant, ads are flashing and disrupting the reader’s focus on the content. It’s disheartening to see that there is not enough investment and research done to make ads more bearable for readers. Even though I have adblockers on by default, I turn them off on sites I really enjoy, like Arstechnica, but I do it out of respect for the quality content they produce not because they have fewer, relevant, unobtrusive ads on their site. Advertisements on Ars is not much different or better from most other sites I despise.
Ars does give us the option to a monthly subscription which removes all forms of ads, among other features (I was a subscriber for a short time). The problem with this kind of subscription model is that Ars subscription by itself is not a lot of money, but when you have dozens of websites on your frequent reading list, and as more websites are slowly moving towards this model it can soon start to become very expensive. I don’t think this model scales very well for frequent readers. A relatively new service called Blendle, is trying out a new medium of micro-payment for each article read with the option to refund if you don’t enjoy any article. It’s an interesting idea but in its current form, it is only limited to premium News websites. This idea is not new, but it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Google has a similar micropayments service called Contributor, but it’s only limited to Adsense and within the USA. The success of these services relies on reaching a large number of users willing to use them. Adblockers are just so much more convenient to use.
One of the negative side effects of using adblockers that most people don’t seem to realize is that it’s pushing the advertisers to be more deceptive and the general quality of contents are suffering because of that. Instead of dialing down on aggressive advertisements, site owners are doubling down on countermeasures and deceptions. Forbes is now famous for blocking users from accessing their contents if you have ad blockers installed in your browsers. There is also this new breed of advertisements (Outbrain is the major culprit, but there are few similar services) where “Related Contents” are nothing more than glorified click-bait ads. But perhaps the worst of them all are Sponsored Contents. There are two types of sponsored contents, one of them is where a sponsor gets to put their brand name on articles and the author is presumed to write a neutral review of their services or subject matter related to their services. On the second type of sponsored posts, the readers are not even exposed to the fact that a particular ad is being sponsored. You need a keen and experienced eye to weed this kind of articles and ad blockers won’t block them for you.
I don’t have any magic bullet suggestion that will solve the online advertisement problem or any idea that hasn’t been already discussed before by more capable people. I don’t think either subscription only model or a zero ads model is a feasible solution. I also don’t think all Ads are evil, I personally have been introduced to many useful software and services online because of Ads. I think there is a place for reasonable Ads online that can benefit the publishers and also not disrupt the reading experience. I think that one way to deal with this problem would be to have a single Ad per page, and the Ad itself would be sold with very high CPM/CTR rates. This would stop site owners from plastering their websites with high volume or deceptive ads and at the same time get a similar or decent return from their quality work. Whether there are enough high CPM/CTR rates paying advertisers out there is another story.