Ever since the release of iOS 9, the tech media has engaged in a collective cryathon over the software’s support for ad blockers that will put major dents in our revenue streams. At the same time, Apple has been reaching out to spooked publishers about offering them a sanctuary from ad blocking if they agree to offer some content exclusively on Apple’s own Apple News app for a limited period of time. Wired this weekend became the first publication to have an Apple News-exclusive story and you can be sure more publications will follow in the coming weeks. All of this is terrible for the open web and the worst part is we in the tech media have only ourselves to blame.
Yes, I’ll say it: Publishers and advertisers bear the majority of the blame for this fiasco. In short, we in the news media have allowed our websites to get overloaded with aggressive ads that take over the entire page, that slow down page load times and that suck up far more data than they otherwise should. These ads degrade user experience and go far beyond what any reasonable reader should have to endure, even if we are giving them content for free.
So is it any mystery why ad blockers became so popular the minute they became available on iOS 9? If we had put our feet down with advertisers long ago and told them that we wouldn’t allow ads to take over our pages and hurt our readers’ experience, maybe our readers would be more sympathetic to our plight.
All the same, Apple’s “solution” to this problem is utterly hideous. Basically, the company wants to kill advertising on mobile web browsers so it can wall off portions of the Internet and make them exclusively available to Apple users. Want to read that amazing Wired story you’ve heard so much about? Well, sorry, you’re going to have to shell out for an iPhone. Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that just so Apple?
And of course, you won’t be able to block any ads that get served to your over Apple News or any of the iOS apps you user. Presumably these ads will be less invasive than the ads that are plaguing today’s Internet experience but the entire concept of sealing off online content to an exclusive platform seems to be a major blow to the notion that “information wants to be free.”
What’s the way forward here? I have no idea. I’ve heard ad blocking fans suggest that the media should move to a donations-based business model, which is ridiculous. No one is going to take the time to write an article if they have no idea if they’ll actually be compensated for writing it. It also has the potential to create horrible incentives in which companies make “donations” for articles that praise their products or that trash their rivals.
The ad-based business model in which readers get free articles in exchange for putting up with ads on the page seemed like a pretty good deal… except we blew it by allowing ads to run amok. If we’re going to find a way out of this mess, that fundamental truth cannot be ignored.