The War on Ads

Over the past few months there's been an internet war brewing. Following the release of iOS 9, Apple revealed they were enabling easy ad-blocking by including an add-on within Safari that allows you to automatically block ads.

Ad-blockers like Ad-sense, for example, have been around for a long time. Since before I can remember, so Ad-blocking as a 'thing' isn't new. What Apple have done though, is significantly lower the barrier for entry, so anyone can enable an ad-blocker if they know how with little technical know-how.

One of the Apple's largest competitors in the Online Ads space, Google, have a heavy reliance on Ad revenue with their pay-per click Google Advertising model. Clearly this move is in Apple's interest since they don't rely on ads heavily to spread their message (since they're such a big player)

This is one of the most significant features of any iOS release thus far and is effectively a declaration of war by Apple on the ad market.

Ads... But It Burns!

When I was a teenager, I too viewed Ads as a highly irritating and immoral distraction that often obscured content and promised untold levels of ridiculousness like: "Earn £1,000 per day working from home!" "Lose 10 stone in a week" or the equally crazed "increase your manhood by X."

How dare they offend my eyes with bright vibrant, Blackpool illumination-style pop-ups that become permanently etched into my corneas even at a moments glance.

However, I grew up. I became one of 'them'. Content producers and bloggers. Someone who contemplates whether or when it's time to decide to show ads. The horror of it.

The Real Cost of Content

Except creating blog content is an expensive business. I'll put it into a cost perspective just to run a simple blog such as this.

I usually post an average of 4 blog posts a month with each blog post averaging anywhere between 1,500 - 2,000 words. It also normally takes me 4-6 hours to produce a blog post from start to finish.

Hosting costs are thankfully pretty minimal sitting at a meagre £2.50 ($3) per month (check out my three-part blog post series on continuous delivery on AWS if you'd like to host a blog that costs half standard operating cost). Each blog post also contains a hero image though which costs about 70p ($1) per image for royalties depending on the dollar-pound sterling exchange rate.

In addition, to generate traffic you also need other tools to improve your workflow which can cost anywhere between £5-£10 subscription per month so let's say you have two of those.

So, in total you're looking at approximately £25 per month to run a blog. Let's say it takes anywhere between 2-6 hours to write a blog post (so 4h for an average) and if you value you time at a conservative £30 per hour that's approximately £500 per month.

Pretty expensive right? That's just to produce 4 blog posts per month. Producing content is a very expensive business. The problem with readers on the internet (especially those who religiously use Ad-blockers) is that they think just because the content is streamed to their device they should have access to content for free. Well, the price of that is ads.

Why is the Internet as a Medium So Different?

If we look at other content delivery mechanisms such as Radio, TV, YouTube or Spotify if you were to alter the content delivered to your device by screening out adverts before it reaches you that would be considered as a breach of terms of use. So a question is, why do we consider websites to be so different?

As a blogger, I feel strongly that the content delivered to your device is in the format it was intended. Therefore, it shouldn't be tampered with or altered prior to rendering in the browser such as with Ad-blocking. If you were to alter the source code for the Spotify app to block out adverts that also would be considered illegal.

Anyway, my thoughts and opinions aside, there is little if anything us bloggers can do about it. In comparison to the might of the Apple and Google's of the world, we are at their mercy. So how should we plan to survive in the post-ad apocalyptic landscape?

Survival of the Fittest

I thought about this for a while and in the face of not being able to rely on Google Ad revenue to expand our blogs I thought of a few different ways around the problem:

  • Bake specialised targeted ads as images by getting advertisers to apply directly to your blog for Ad space (rather than relying on Google Ads etc.) - this feels a lot less offensive to the user. It means you can pick and choose which vendors you prefer to partner with. Blocking them using ad sense will mean all images need to be blocked.
  • Sign up to services such as Google Contributor - a service that allows blog users to pay a subscription to avoid ads.
  • Similar services to Google Contributor that follow the “buy me a beer” model.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book recently called Anti-fragile where he talks about surviving Black Swan events. Black Swan events being catastrophic events that occur infrequently and can't be predicted. Apple's Ad-blocking move could be considered a “Black Swan” event in terms of internet advertising.

In order to survive Black Swan events Taleb suggests we should become anti-fragile in our approach to business and life. Anti-fragile means that we are resilient in the face of disorder but that disorder only makes us stronger.

What that means in very real terms is that we must diversify our income as bloggers in order to make ourselves less fragile. Whether that be through other forms of passive income or by diversifying our portfolio and selling e-products, consulting, speaking, podcasting and perhaps even have our very own YouTube channel.

This is where the be everywhere technique works at it's best.

If you like what you've read please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic below as well.

James Murphy

Java dev by day, entrepreneur by night. James has 10+ years experience working with some of the largest UK businesses ranging from the BBC, to The Hut Group finally finding a home at Rentalcars.

Manchester, UK
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