Is it unethical to block ads?

The number of people using ad blockers has increased by 40% over the last year. 200 million people are now using them - resulting in over $20bn of lost revenues.

German publisher Axel Springer has banned online readers of tabloid newspaper Bild from using ad blocking.  Those who continue to do so will be expected to pay €2.99 a month.  Similar moves have been made by the Washington Post and streaming company Hulu.

It’s not just ad blocking that can have a negative impact on publishers’ revenues.  Viewability is also an issue. According to ad verification firm Meetrics, the UK in particular has problems with viewability – in the third quarter of this year only 52% of adverts were actually viewable.  A Google report last year found that 56% of all banner ads are never seen globally.  Companies are beginning to demand that they pay publishers only for viewable adverts and publishers are being forced to prove their viewability rates.  Google has made a limited (so far) release of its DoubleClick feature which automates the process of delivering full viewability to advertisers  - for a premium.

Ad blocking – right or wrong?

The problem is that publishers are increasingly reliant on advertising, rather than content, to generate their income.  In fact, this concern led to Marco Arment – the creator of an ad blocking app – to withdraw his app from the Apple Store.  He stated on his blog that he simply didn’t feel good about creating the app.  Of course, ad blocking can give you a faster device and make content easier to read on mobile devices – as well as stopping intrusive tracking.  Yet so many publishers – particularly small ones - rely on advertising content to remain in business.

Publishers’ responses to ad blocking vary from explaining why their business models rely on advertising to prodding people to consider other ways to support the content – including subscriptions.

One way to reach a balance might be to use a blocking app which enables you to whitelist preferred content/publishers.  Maybe the final end result will be less – but better – content?

If you’re interested in learning more the US podcast Note to Self discussed the ethics of ad blocking in this episode.

Sources: The Guardian; econsultancy; The Local Germany; DigiDay; Fortune.