You Get What You Pay For


Recently the news and commentary website Salon instituted a policy of not allowing visitors using advertisement blockers to access their website without either or turning the blockers off or allowing Salon to use the visitors’ computers to mine the cryptocurrency Monero. In other words, when a visitor with an active ad blocker arrives at the Salon website, Salon detects the ad blocker and immediately pops up a notice about its new policy, giving the visitor the options of turning off the ad blocker and continuing to the rest of the site and viewing it for free, but with ads, or, for a visitor who chooses not to turn off the ad blocker, then that visitor must grant Salon permission to use their computer to mine Monero, which replaces the revenue Salon would otherwise lose to that visitor who wants to read articles without viewing any ads. The third option for the visitor is to leave the website.


It remains to be seen how well visitors to the Salon website will accept the new policy and whether Salon will see a return to revenue levels they had before ad blockers became much more widely used in the past few years. It’s commendable that the owner of Salon is being open about taking this step and giving visitors options. Some websites use the computers of visitors to mine cryptocurrency without notifying them, a practice known as cryptojacking. Sometimes the website owner is not aware this is happening because their website has been hacked, and in that case it is the hacker who gets the revenue, and both the website owner and the visitor lose out. What the owner of Salon is doing is not cryptojacking, a sneaky and disreputable practice.

Garry Moore Tony the Tiger 1955
Image of television personality Garry Moore and Kellogg’s cereal character Tony the Tiger taken from a 1955 Kellogg’s advertisement. There have always been tacky ads for products of dubious worth.

There are other ways for website owners to cope with replacing revenue lost to ad blockers. The website for The Atlantic magazine stops a visitor at the door when it detects an ad blocker and advises the visitor to turn it off, or whitelist The Atlantic in the ad blocker, or leave. Simple and straightforward. Other websites, such as the one for The New York Times, give a visitor a certain number of free articles each month before the visitor reaches a paywall that requires the visitor buy a subscription to read more articles. More lenient on the front end, but with a harder line on the back end. These models work reasonably well for very popular websites that can afford to lose a small percentage of visitors who absolutely refuse either to not use an ad blocker or to pay for content on the internet. The owners of less well known websites would have a harder time adopting those models without alienating visitors they can ill afford to lose.

Joe dimaggio camel ad
Long before Joe DiMaggio plugged coffee makers, he did advertisements for cigarettes, as did many celebrities, including athletes like him.

The shame of it all is that ad blockers have increased in popularity because of the bad behavior of a few bad actors on the internet who push out ads that hide malware and trackers, or video ads that use autoplay, or ads with Flash Player code that makes them highly distracting, and because of that kind of activity internet users have quite reasonably installed ad blockers to avoid all that, and the effect has been to punish the good along with the bad. Unfortunately there are also too many internet users who think everything on the internet should be free, conveniently ignoring the obvious point that the producers of internet content have to eat and pay the rent just like anybody else.

Imagine picking up a newspaper from a kiosk, a newspaper from which someone has helpfully cut out every single advertisement, leaving only the articles. This would be a great boon to the reader, obviously, but how is the publisher supposed to pay the bills? The reader picked up the newspaper without paying for it, which is not a big deal because the selling price of a newspaper typically takes care of a small percentage of the cost of publishing it. Print newspapers, and now internet newspapers and other publications have always relied on the selling of advertising space for the greater part of their revenue. If readers can’t see the ads, why would advertisers continue to buy ad space?

In this early scene from the 1963 Stanley Kramer film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Jonathan Winters as Lennie Pike, third from the left, has some choice words for those who want something for free.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the state of internet advertising, from publishers and ad producers who put out obnoxious ads that distract from the visitor’s experience, to visitors who seem to think that internet publishers should make their content available free, and even better as far as they are concerned would be free without any visible means of support in the form of advertisements. That’s the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” pipe dream. More reasonable would be a compromise among publishers, advertisers, and visitors that would ask advertisers and publishers to show respect to visitors by not pushing obnoxious ads on them, and visitors to acknowledge the need for publishers to eat and pay the rent like anybody else, and to satisfy those needs by showing ads to visitors. Simple really, particularly considering the alternatives of working in the mines or paying for what you get.
— Techly