Ad blocking begins to have an economic effect

So I was checking out copper (as you do), and followed the wikipedia copper entry link to’s copper data, and I discovered that ad blockers are beginning to change the economics of the web. The web site whinged that they had detected ad blocking, and if I wanted to get the content I’d have to turn it off (and provided directions – which I followed, but it just turned out to be a bunch of atomic numbers and covalent bonds and useless crap like that).

The economics of a lot of the web are not dissimilar to those of free-to-air television; there’s a covenant between the producers (broadcasters/webauthors) and the consumers – we will let this stuff out to anyone, and you will consume our advertising. Advertisers give the producers cash to cover the costs of publishing. There’s a profit in it, and everyone’s happy.

Except that consumers have decided they don’t like the deal anymore. People are taping TV shows, and skipping the ads. People are using ad blockers in their browsers. The economics of the model are breaking down. I personally am behaving this way because I find the advertising increasingly intrusive and irrelevant, and thus annoying. The ads suck, for products that suck, and they’re shoved down my throat. So I avoid them. This is how a character in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact became the richest man on earth – by selling TV ad blockers.

The three outcomes I can forecast from this are:

  1. increased relevance of advertising (unlikely, the reason advertising is necessary is because of an inherent suckiness of the products, otherwise they’d be compelling)
  2. decreased expenditure on content provision (on TV, cheaper nastier shows – if that’s possible; on the web, uneconomic sites being pulled or at least not updated)
  3. product placement, which is a bit like 1, ‘cept different because it’s more about appropriate products in appropriate places

I for one have no idea how this will play out, but I’m sure advertising will get more subtle. It’s done that over the last century, and will continue to in response to increasing consumer sophistication. Perhaps advertisers will find a way to back off, and only offer their products to customers who want them; they certainly want to act that way, because it’s a waste of money advertising women’s sanitary napkins to the gay male viewers of Friends — unless they’re planning to fix their car’s leaky roof with one.

BTW, how did they figure out I was blocking their ads?

6 thoughts on “Ad blocking begins to have an economic effect

  1. Phil Bevan

    It appears, at least it did for me, that they are checking some kind of return value in the OnLoad event and because its not what they are expecting they are assuming that the OnLoad did not execute correctly (i.e. open the popup).

    And you’re right most of the stuff it was hiding was useless crap. Although I didn’t have to change anything to display the page, it refreshed and displayed correctly without any input from me. (i’m using FireFox 1.0 and its adblocker)

  2. Daniel

    Tried with IE and Google toolbar/ad-blocker. It showed a warning about Javascript, then loaded the page correctly. Does your setup not run Javascript properly or something?

  3. Josh

    If you turn off image loading, it behaves just the same as if you have adblocker running. Which is a bastard for the lynx user. This is consistent with my read of the code, which a) demands javascript; and b) checks for loaded images.

    From a javascript comment:

    // While trying to decode this script, please keep in mind that although we require users to
    // view our ads, WE DO NOT USE POPUPS, POPUNDERS nor rich media ads (e.g. flash).

    // Without advertising revenues to pay the cost of operating this site, it would not exist.
    // We simply ask that ALL USERS of this site, do their fair part in helping to pay the bills.
    // We do not ask users to act on our ads, only that the ads be allowed to display.

    Which repeats the argument I’ve listed above. Anyho, the code contains a function hlcxxt(), which I suspect is a function name with the ‘xx’ swapped for ‘un’. Angry programmer.

  4. Ken

    The script works by testing for the presence or absence specific objects including images and for their CSS state. For those concerned about Lynx users or those who use dynamic Braille displays, have no fear. They are unaffected by this script. In fact, if you test the site using Lynx, you’ll find that only does it work in Lynx, but that great pains have been taken to make it fairly Lynx/text browser friendly. How often do you find a site that actually thinks about text browsers and dynamic Braille displays?

    BTW: the reason Google’s popup blocker does not cause problems when people are accessing my site is because I don’t use popup ads, which is all Google’s toolbar blocks (read my programming notes you quoted).

  5. Andy

    Hmmm, methinks I’d really want to visit a site real bad to go through turning blockers off just to please the person who runs it. Now let me see … Environmental, Chemistry & Hazardous Materials Information & Resources … nope, can’t be bothered. I am sure my lost visit will be devestating. 🙂

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