Ad-Blocking: users are revolting

There has been a lot of great writing across the Web regarding advertising and the ethical nature of ad-blocking software with the recent release of iOS9 and its new Safari Content Blocking features.  Unsurprisingly, ad-blocking software quickly rose to the top of paid apps on iOS.

Content providers quickly responded:

image of cnet blocking mobile safari

Is this what we really want?

I’ve been running ad-blocking software for years.  It’s one of the first things I setup when I download Chrome or Firefox.  I do this as a public service to other people’s computers too.

This has been coming for years.  Advertisers had been lulled into complacency with the advent of mobile browsers.  If mobile Safari or Chrome for Android had these features built-in from the very start–we’d probably would have seen the emergence of native ads sooner.  Apple’s own ad-platform probably would have taken off.  The fact that it’s taken them this long to realize it is their fault.

I know that this is at the detriment of content creators.1  Working in the digital publishing space at Kobo, I understand how consumers don’t understand that digital production and delivery represents only a small part of the production life-cycle for books and journalism.  Just because the consumption channel is digital doesn’t mean that there is a massive savings for the content producer.2

Ben Thompson who notes:

This didn’t happen by accident; to BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti’s credit, BuzzFeed was built from day one to be abusiness that earned money the old-fashioned way: by being better at what they do than any of their competitors.

Publications that seek to imitate their success — and their growth — need to do so not simply by making listicles or by focusing on social. Fundamentally, like BuzzFeed, they need to start with their business model: the future of journalism depends on embracing what far too many journalists are proud to ignore.

And Seth Godin absolutely nails the current consumer ambivalence to how hostile ads have become3:

And advertisers have had fifteen years to show self restraint. They’ve had the chance to not secretly track people, set cookies for their own benefit, insert popunders and popovers and poparounds, and mostly, deliver us ads we actually want to see.

Alas, it was probably too much to ask. And so, in the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all. It’s not easy to develop a white list, not easy to create an ad blocker that is smart enough to merely block the selfish and annoying ads. And so, just as the default for some advertisers is, “if it’s not against the law and it’s cheap, do it,” the new generation of ad blockers is starting from the place of, “delete all.”

This problem will only get worse for content publishers that rely on today’s advertising platforms to generate revenue.  Keep in mind that the companies advertising their wares aren’t going to hurt; they only pay for ads that are seen, not ads that are blocked.  It’s the companies with large active user bases who are willing to monetize them are going to win out.  The Facebooks, YouTubes and the Snapchats are going to see a pretty big increase in the advertising spend of companies–from a limited pool no less.4  The kicker is that they don’t even produce any of the content themselves.5

On the content publishing side, we’ll see a lot more consolidation as publishers-of-all-sorts begin to realize that their captive audience is too small to fund their production-line.  Book publishers will also need to re-evaluate the entire creative life-cycle; everything from how agents work with up-and-coming authors, to how content is produced, marketed and sold to consumers.  Thats a scary proposition for industry that has remained remarkably unchanged over the last century, but for those leading the charge, it’s quite exciting.  For me, I’ve only been involved in digital publishing for less than a decade and I’m still amazed by it.


  1. This doesn’t keep me up at night. 
  2. I’ll be the first to admit that there is probably some fleecing that is going on at the big 5.  They over-value their back-catalogue in an age where everything is about the “now”.  There is also some disruption is occurring in this space that indicates what the market is willing to bare (for better or for worse) with regards to the pricing of eBooks–most notably in digital-only, self-publishing platforms like Wattpad, Kobo Writing Life and KDP
  3. If there is one problem that I am trying to solve at Kobo it is this quote from Godin: “Commodity products can’t expect to easily build a profitable ‘brand’ with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.” 
  4. Who knew that the total US spend for advertising has held steady at ~1.29% GDP? Source.  All retailers have done is shift from one channel to another. 
  5. In the next 2-years, Facebook will begin producing their own content.  They will probably acquire BuzzFeed or something.