There Is No Free Web

Ad blockers are wonderful plugins that save bandwidth (and therefore money for people paying by usage) and protect computers against malware. But a lot of people, namely website operators that rely on advertisements for revenue, hate them:

This is an exciting and chaotic time in digital news. Innovators like BuzzFeed and Vox are rising, old stalwarts like The New York Times and The Washington Post are finding massive new audiences online, and global online ad revenue continues to rise, reaching nearly $180 billion last year. But analysts say the rise of ad blocking threatens the entire industry—the free sites that rely exclusively on ads, as well as the paywalled outlets that rely on ads to compensate for the vast majority of internet users who refuse to pay for news.


Sean Blanchfield certainly doesn’t share Carthy’s views. He worries that ad blocking will decimate the free Web.

As the war between advertisers and ad blockers wages there’s something we need to address: the use of the phrase “free web.” There is no “free web.” There has never been a “free web.” Websites have always required servers, network connectivity, developers, content producers, and other costs. This war isn’t between a “free web” and a pay web; it’s between a revenue model where viewers are the product and a revenue model where the content is the product.

If you’re using a service and not paying for it the content isn’t the product, you are. The content exists only to get you to access the website to either increase the number of page clicks and therefore give the owners a good argument for why advertisers should advertise on their sites or hand over your personal information so it can be sold to advertisers. In exchange for being the product other costs are also pushed onto you such as bandwidth and the risk of malware infection.

Ad blockers can’t decimate the “free web” because it doesn’t exist. What they will likely do is force website operators to find alternate means of generating revenue. Several content providers have started experimenting with new revenue models. The Wall Street Journal, for example, puts a lot of article behind a paywall and the New York Times gives readers access to a certain number of articles per month for free but expects payment after that. Other content providers like Netflix charge a monthly subscription for access to any content. There are a lot of ways to make money off of content without relying on viewers as a product.

As this war continues always remember TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) otherwise you might get suckered into believing there is a “free web” and let that color your perception.

3 thoughts on “There Is No Free Web”

  1. I absolutely hate advertising because 99% of it is intrusive, disrespectful, and irrelevant. It is a tax on my time, an unending swarm of mosquito bites on my ears and eyes. I use “adblocker” on my browsers. Some points you might want to consider: 1) How many site owners actually vet and approve each ad that appears on their site, and screen out those that are inappropriate for their audience or make or link to deceptive claims? 2) Adblockers allows ads to display which meet its standards – have you looked into what those standards are? 3) There are certainly ways of coding sponsor ads or banners that are not blocked – do site owners really have a problem with true sponsors, or are you lamenting the loss of those indiscriminate amalgamators that sell flashy, intrusive ads to all comers and rotate them regardless of the nature of the site? 4) You neglect to shame readers who DO act as tho content was free by not making donations to sites they use and respect. When I am bombarded by ads at a site – and I still see plenty even with adblocker – I dismiss any urge to send a donation, and I feel GOOD about that – it’s my revenge. You’re on to something here, but you really haven’t looked at this from the perspective of the website user.

  2. You’ve struck a nerve here, so I’ll rant on a bit more. For a year or so now, I’ve been following links to various sites and just as the article I want to read comes up, the screen goes gray and there’s an overlay with a message something like – Gosh, gee, welcome! Wouldn’t you like to fill in these blanks and SEND US MONEY? (or you can just click that “x” and get on to what you came for) Is this really an effective way to solicit donations? To me, it’s the digital equivalent of strolling past a store’s window display and just as your eyes begin to focus, the glass goes black with a sign – wouldn’t you like to come in and buy something? Please, please site owners, get a clue – the point of purchase is AFTER they have read your content. Why annoy a potential buyer BEFORE they even see the merchandise?

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