Web Ads Challenge

By Tim Butler | Posted at 5:03 PM

As I do every so often, I had a debate with a fellow blogger the other day about ad blocking. My assumptions are rather straightforward:

  • Ads don't pay much, but they can pay for the bandwidth a fairly busy site needs.
  • Ads are clearly the “price” for using the site, so long as they are attached to the content of the site (pop ups and pop unders are a different story).
  • A laborer is worthy of his wages (Luke 10.7), so when I am asked to “pay” something for content that I request (and web pages are requested not pushed to me, after all), I should pay what I am asked.
  • If the requested price is too high (annoying ads), I don't buy the product (I find a web site that works that doesn't annoy me).

Now my friend thinks that is unfair: he doesn't like ads, so why should he have to view them? For me the answer is simple: if you value what you are receiving, why wouldn't you? In any other situation, I expect to pay if someone requests a payment for something I value and want. And, more importantly, if it is costing the content provider money to send the content to you that you requested (and make no mistake, bandwidth is still costly), why should the content provider not only provide you with content you value but also eat the cost of you viewing it?

I've heard a number of people say, “but I already pay my teleco $40/month for Internet, that grants me the right to view the web without paying more.” This is a flawed perspective, because ISPs do not (and, really, should not) pay me if you view my site. The argument is essentially like saying, “I had to pay a toll to cross the toll bridge on the way to the movie theater, therefore, it is fine if I slip into the theater without paying… I've already paid that money to get there!”

If everyone adblocked, even if sites don't make much from ads, I propose many sites would shut down since not even basic operating costs would be covered. If one can run a helpful site and come out even, that's great; if one needs to dump $50, $100, $1,000 down the hole every month, it becomes a lot harder to justify. I don't think any of us want our favorite sites to shut down, right?

My friend suggested sites should move over to subscription fees. This sounds like a good idea, but I challenge anyone thinking this sounds like a good idea to stop for a moment. Imagine if every time you did a Google search, every result you pulled up that was formerly ad-supported instead required even a small subscription price, say $.50 for a month of service (though an ad may pay a penny or less, due to the costs of credit card transactions, I can't imagine a monthly fee being any lower than that, unless you pre-payed annually, and for many sites, would you really want to do that?). Most users would find this a bad deal.

How many sites have I visited via Google only to quickly turn around and move on? Even at $.50/month, I would feel really hesitant to load up a site I didn't know was going to be of some value. Conversely, what harm is it if I see an ad graced by the Verizon Wireless guy? None for me, but the site owner — who may own a site that serves people just fine — is being helped to keep the site running.

I probably visit, say, ten ad supported sites regularly, plus dozens more per month doing research. Let's be really conservative and say I only visit fifty ad supported sites per month: that's still $25/month. Presenting this cost to him, my friend said he could easily deal without the commercial sites and just use non-ad based sites.

Another idea: switch to a text based browser. Sure, even with a text based browser it costs the site owner bandwidth (and, hence, money) to serve you, but it costs far less than serving you the graphics that make sites pretty and enjoyable to use. It's a compromise: the site owner doesn't get paid, but you don't see ads and don't cost the owner quite as much.

So I made this challenge to my friend, which he didn't like. There are sites like Slashdot that do offer ad-free subscriptions. Pay for those and get rid of the ads while still supporting the site. On other sites, block the site as a whole if it has an ad on it. If ad based sites are truly of little value, simply blocking the site itself wouldn't be a problem at all. If, after taking my challenge, you find yourself tired of paying for subscriptions on some sites and being unable to use other sites at all, then I would argue that the ad based sites must be providing value to you.

And, if that's the case, why not do your favorite sites' owners a favor and let the ads load? On a site like Open for Business, basically all the ads pay for are the network services necessary to run the site. Nothing else. So here's the food for thought: when you block ads, you aren't “sticking it to the man” who is becoming filthy rich, you're actually punishing the owners of your favorite sites for serving you.

Something to think about.

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