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Is the Adpocalypse upon us?

Preston Gralla | Oct. 21, 2015
To save the Web, should you stop using ad blockers?

mobile ads
Credit: Jamie Eckle

The Internet crisis du jour concerns ad-blocking technologies. Although these tools have been available for years, their popularity has now reached a level to make them controversial, a situation that was magnified when Apple recently announced that for the first time it would allow ad blockers into the App Store.

What is it that makes a technology that suppresses ads on websites controversial? For its users, ad-blocking technology is a bulwark against a flood of annoying, privacy-invading ads. For some people, though, the widespread adoption of ad blockers sounds the death knell of the Web as we know it. That’s because making ads invisible will destroy the Web’s economic underpinnings. It’s a scenario that some people call the Adpocalypse.

But is the problem real? And are there any solutions?

There is indeed evidence that ad blockers are growing in popularity. A report from Adobe and PageFair claims that ad-blocking software this year will lead to nearly $22 billion in lost advertising, a 41% increase over last year. More than a third of users in some European countries use them, the report says. It claims that 200 million people around the world use ad blockers, 45 million of them in the U.S. Your trust in those numbers depends on what you make of the fact that PageFair sells a service that helps websites deal with ad-blocking software by analyzing how many site visitors block ads and showing how to design nonintrusive ads targeted at people who use ad blockers. But others have made similar claims. Interactive Advertising Bureau president and CEO Randall Rothenberg says some websites now lose up to 40% of potential revenue because of ad blockers.

And the App Store development is important because the world is moving to the mobile Web. It’s already tough for sites to monetize mobile traffic. iOS ad blockers will only make things more difficult.

So, clearly, the problem is real. But does it deserve a name as dire as “Adpocalypse”?

As you might expect, Ad Age, the bible of the advertising industry, claims that the problem is very serious. Ad Age has done research into the advertising economics of various websites and calculated what they would have to do to survive if all ads were blocked on them.

The New York Times, it claims, would have to increase the price of its digital subscriptions from $195 a year to $334. Facebook would have to charge $12 per year per person. BuzzFeed simply wouldn’t be able to survive.

Journalism can live without BuzzFeed, but there’s only so much adversity that a beleaguered profession can take. This worries a lot of people, not just journalists, including, surprisingly enough, the developer of the most popular ad blocker on iOS. Marco Armen developed the Peace iOS ad blocker, which for a time was the most popular paid app on iOS — the most popular app of all, not just most popular ad blocker — until Armen had a change of heart. He wrote on his blog, “Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”


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