At the end of last month, Samsung introduced support for ad blocking in its web browser for devices running Android Lollipop and higher. As with the ad blocking functionality in Apple’s iOS 9, it allows third-party developers to build apps that block intrusive ads and remove extra content from pages on mobile so they load more quickly and use less data.
It wasn’t long before third-party developers launched mobile apps that worked with Samsung’s browser to block ads. We all expected these apps to be overwhelmingly popular as they were when Apple first allowed ad blockers… however, Google had other ideas.
Indeed, Adblock Fast, a free ad blocking app and one of the first to be released, shot to the top of the “Productivity” category in Google Play before being banned. The developers at Crystal, another ad blocking app, saw their updates being rejected due to their violation of Section 4.4 of Google Play’s Developer Distribution Agreement:
Prohibited Actions. You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Store, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages or accesses in an unauthorised manner the devices, servers, networks or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Android users, Google or any mobile network operator. You may not use customer information obtained from the Store to sell or distribute Products outside of the Store.
Fast forward a week, and Adblock Fast is back and Crystal has updated. With no official word from Google, we’re only left to speculate as to why the company (whose ad revenue amounted to over $67 billion last year, btw) was against ad blocking apps.
The rise of ad blockers
Sure, Google’s bound to be kinda concerned about ad blocking, but user experience is higher on the agenda. That’s not stopping the digital marketing industry as a whole from feeling a little nervous, and with PageFair & Adobe reporting 198 million active ad block users worldwide last year, it’s no wonder why. Website owners or publishers stand to lose out on revenue generated by third-party ads (it’s estimated publishers lost almost $22 billion in 2015), but those large enough to run first-party ads and publishing sponsored content needn’t panic.
Users are blocking ads to retaliate against intrusive, irrelevant and often downright dreadful ads in terms of quality – you know the data-sucking ones that take over your screen with auto-play videos and flashing slogans so you struggle to sort the content from the crap:
But those ads pay the bills. No money, no website.
Enter the paywall
The paywall has been adopted with varying success. The New York Times is knocking it outta the park with their 1 million digital-only subscribers while The Sun dropped its paywall as part of its plans for “growing the Sun’s audience” as of November 2015. Seems its readers weren’t prepared to pay for unrestricted access to its news articles, despite the absence of ads.
For some sites, subscription models could plug the gap left in ad revenue due to ad blocking, but they’re far from fool-proof. If your content’s deemed worthless, no one’ll pay to access it for a predetermined length of time.
Let’s talk micropayments… again
For the commitment-phobes among us, micropayments can feel like less of an undertaking. Although readers are still asked to part with cash to access content, we’re talking pence not pounds. Industry experts have been predicting the triumphant rise of the micropayment for a long time, but it’s yet to really come to fruition. Clay Shirky, teacher of the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, says it never will, because users hate them. He believes the reason for this is that they waste users’ mental effort due the volume of unpredictable transactions.
Won’t somebody please think of the user experience?
There are those that believe users shouldn’t have to choose between subscription fees or advertising bombardment. That they shouldn’t be faced with pay up or put up. Ads are fighting for engagement and while ad blockers will remove irritation for the individual, they risk exacerbating the problem by reducing click through rates, so ads fight harder still for that engagement.
Many believe that the internet would be a better place if we got rid of obnoxious ads. There are a growing number of organisations supporting the “Acceptable Ads” manifesto saying that were they adhered to, there’d be less demand for ad blockers and subscriptions because users wouldn’t get so pissed off with ads.
The rise of ad blockers is forcing digital advertisers to rethink the importance of user experience in online marketing. We’re quick to blame spammy ads for the rise in popularity of ad blocking, but, in this gal’s opinion, shifting focus back on to the user is no bad thing.