The Advertisers Dilemma
Written by: Jordan Rapp
Date: Mon Nov 26 2012
Eyeo does maintain a "white-list" within AdBlock - Amazon.com, for example, is allowed to serve it's own "ads" on it's own site, but Eyeo doesn't allow any site to petition for inclusion on this whitelist. Likewise, users can allow certain sites to serve ads, but based on the prevailing research on "opt-in" vs. "opt-out" psychology, I don't hold out much hope for that as a truly viable solution to the dilemma many sites face going forward. The dilemma is simple, "how do you pay your content creators if the very people consuming your content block your revenue stream?" When AdBlock blocks an ad, it prevents it from ever serving, which is perhaps fair. So it's not like when you TiVo a show and then fast-forward through the ads, and the company charging their advertisers doesn't actually know that you fast forward and can claim that your eyeballs were on the ads, which they were, just at 3X speed. I don't know if I'd like it better if AdBlock loaded the ad and then rendered them invisible, since that would be turning us into liars, effectively, when we claim that we served so many ads. Because of how AdBlock works - preventing an ad from ever loading - we are able to keep track of how many users on our site are using it. It's not particularly difficult, and - if we chose - we could also prevent the rest of the content from loading as well. But we don't. We simply use our tracking tool as a way of gauging, roughly, how much revenue we lose to folks using AdBlock. Thankfully, it is currently pretty minimal - less than 1% of visitors - but I expect that number will go up as AdBlock becomes available for mobile browsers, which make up an ever increasing amount of our traffic.
And the last, but not insignificant reason, was that this coincided with Cenegenics (the "anti-aging" folks) contracting with third-party and remnant brokers to serve their ads to the same target clientele that Slowtwitch serves - active and (relatively) affluent individuals. The problem that we had is that much of what Cenegenics appears to offer is not legal for anyone who is actively racing. It's not criminally illegal, but it is in violation of the WADA Code (at least without a TUE, which is rarely given for most of the stuff that Cenegenics seems to be pushing). and we just didn't think it was right to offer our site as a platform to serve the message that youth is just a shot of HGH or testosterone away. These are the sorts of decisions we deal with internally. Most of the time, these are internal dialogues that rarely get discussed outside of Dan, Herbert, and I, at least until we get threads on our forum asking how to install AdBlock or accusing us of being spineless capitalistic Randians who will do anything to make a buck.
The title for this article is my play on the name of the classic game theory exercise called, "The Prisoner's Dilemma." Given the erudite and august nature of our readership, I'll save going over it suffice to remind you all that it's that thing where the police catch you and a partner and makes you a deal of leniency in exchange for testimony, with the catch being that he's making the same deal to both you and your conspirator simultaneously. It's a basic 2x2 matrix of choices, where the best-decision is affected by what your partner-in-crime decides to do. Logic dictates that it's best for you to confess, because the best case scenario in case of confession is as good or better than if you don't, but the worst case scenario is not as bad as if you do not confess but your partner-in-crime does. The basic takeaway is that cooperation is ultimately the best for everyone. That's what logic says to do. But, of course, people are not logical. That applies to us as people running the site as much as it does to people reading the site. But I'm struck by how often, whenever this topic comes up in one form or another, how often I hear, "I never thought of it that way." And that's the harm I see with AdBlock. By default, it blocks all ads. You have to opt ads in, and people don't like to opt-in (many, many economists and other social scientists have done a lot of research on this, much of which is worth reading). I'd be much happier if AdBlock was an opt-out system. See an ad you don't like? Block it. And in blocking it, send a message that it was blocked. Right now it's like a boycott that you don't even realize is happening.
The purpose of this editorial is absolutely not to paint Eyeo software (really, he's just one guy, plus a business-oriented partner) as evil. They have a noble mission statement. They believe in, "Privacy. Openness. Responsible Advertising. Sustainability." All things that we believe in here at Slowtwitch. And Eyeo is a business, but a business with some very different fundamentals about how it operates from a lot of companies. A business that is not supported by ads, but by volunteers and a single generous backer. At least, as far as I can glean from the statements on Eyeo and on the AdBlock blog. They seem like want the same thing that a lot of folks want - they want to experience content, not ads, and especially not ads that "know" who they are. But I just think they choose a somewhat divisive tactic to execute their vision. So, all irony asides, I'm open to suggestions via the comments (powered by Facebook) below. This isn't just about my thoughts on AdBlock. This is about figuring out a way that we can grow this site, keep it free, and still serve the larger concerns of our constituency. Thank you for reading.
I read Cyclingnews.com with vigor. I do so every morning. A cup of coffee, a muffin, and that site starts things off right for me. It was during one of my forays over to Cyclingnews, reading Tour coverage, that I saw an ad for Cenegenics. 7.05.11