Recently, Indian news publications have come together to block their website content from user’s who’ve installed adblcokers. The rationale seems fair: use of adblockers deprive such sites of revenue which comes solely from advertising. As a user of adblocker and a fairly frequent visitor to news websites, here are my views on the whole affair:
Advertising is not the issue, greed is
Why did the practice of adblockers start in the first place? In my view it is because of excessive advertising, not because of ads per se. Personally speaking, I have been using plugins to block ads as a default mode only over the past few years primarily driven by mindless intrusion and overkill of ads. Indian news publications have been notorious in their greed to cram every available pixel of space with advertising. It is also reflected in how media space is sold in the print medium – advertising formats take precedence over news. Nothing is sacrosanct – mastheads to front pages can be taken over by ad formats. In the online medium it is particularly annoying as ad content literally blocks the content which interests a reader. I would wager that if advertising is placed tastefully, many readers wouldn’t resort to use of adblockers. I for one don’t mind the ads on New York Times but I guess to our news brands, NYT is doing it all wrong and a wrong example to follow.
Ad formats need a re-think
As with everything in the modern world, there has to be reference point from a familiar world (like horsepower in automobiles). The ‘banner’ ad on the web was perhaps born out of such thinking. It is a format thrust upon the internet and later mobile screens. Is native advertising the answer? Perhaps not. Is it the iAd like hybrid format showcased initially by Steve Jobs? I guess the ideal ad format is yet to be discovered. Facebook’s Canvas seems to hold promise in this context.
On a related note, I feel the excess of ad units on a browser window (I counted more than 10 on the Hindustan Times home page) does not benefit any of the advertisers.
“When you try to be everything to everyone, you accomplish being nothing to anyone.”
– Bonnie Gillespie
It is the equivalent of wallpaper effect where everything is a blur…nothing stands out. As a result, advertisers believe they need to be flashy and ‘different’ to stand out from the clutter adding more to the clutter in the process. Publications then open up ad spaces and formats (page take overs, sliders and so on) leading to a poor experience for the reader. Speaking of the ‘readers’ their experience should be the primary concern of news publications but it all seems very inward looking.
Make the content worthy of payback
Even if I agree to pause adblockers what I am not clear about is how the publications make it worthwhile for me – what do I get in return? Indian news publications have resorted to sensationalism, bias and misreporting of late. Just embedding a few tweets also passes off as an article nowadays. Given all this, it is rare to find an article or opinion piece one would willingly unblock an adblocker for. Publications ought to remember that there is always a way out for the reader. They can easily move away from the site and not read that content at all. After all, news is available everywhere. Moreover, browsers like Safari offer the Reader option on the Mac, which renders pages neatly without ads.
Tone of voice matters. Very often I have willingly unblocked adblockers simply because the website (like TUAW) asked politely. If I detect a tone arrogance in the manner I am asked to turn off the adblocker (like how Forbes does) it tends to rile me. In such situations I oblige only if the content promises to be worthwhile; else, I ignore and move on.