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Use of Adblock Blockers by Print Media is Speeding their Final Demise

October 11, 2018 3 comments

This is one of those posts that I started writing a couple of years ago, but didn’t get around to finishing till today. While it is almost certain that most of you know what I am talking about, let me write-up a quick introduction. It is common knowledge that print media, especially in USA, is on its last legs. Sure.. the election of Trump in 2016 has resulted in some improvement in profit margin for a few major quasi-national outlets such as the NYT and WP- for reasons that are all too obvious. Yet it is painfully obvious that most traditional outlets for print journalism are on the path of terminal decline. But why is that so, given their long history?

While there are many who blame technological “disruption” the real reasons are far more prosaic. To be clear, I am not saying that technological disruption had no role in ongoing demise of print media. It is, however, more like the 2nd or 3rd last nail in its coffin than what put it in there in the first place. Confused? Allow me to explain.. Print media has been on a downward slope since widespread introduction of Television in the 1950s. But why then, did it appear to be doing OK until the early 2000s, or at least the late 1990s? Two words.. Advertising Revenue. For many decades, the business model of print media has centered around advertising revenue.

Why then did TV or Radio not affect their revenue model as seriously as the Internet? Well.. both legacy media formats did hurt print advertising revenues but neither one could really replace it for certain classes of advertisements. You could not (for example) put personal advertisements, flyers, catalogs or advertise the detailed technical specifications of a product on TV or Radio. But the more important point is that most print media outlets stopped caring about real journalism a long time ago. If you don’t believe me, just Google/Bing/Duckduckgo a scanned newspaper from the 1990s. It is pretty easy to see that most “news” was wire service reprints, syndicated content from larger outlets and what is euphemistically described as paid journalism.

But how is any of this linked to the ongoing demise of print media? For starters, people are still interested in good journalism, opinion pieces, gossip and even activism. Have a look at Twitter (and its alternatives), YouTube channels devoted to opinionated commentary, Reddit (or any its alternatives) and you will see that people today are just as interested in what print journalism was supposed to be about. OK.. let’s cut to the chase- print journalism (especially in USA) lost its soul a long time because it embraced deference to elites, pretense of objectivity, tone policing and other advertiser and corporate friendly policies for decades.

Print media, you see, has been living for borrowed time for decades. The internet merely knocked away the crutches of guaranteed local advertising revenues which had allowed it to forestall its inevitable and terminal decline. This does not mean that it will disappear for ever, as some parts such as large quasi-national newspapers are likely to survive- at least in a recognizable form for the near future. But what does any of this have to do with the topic of this post? As it turns out, a lot more than you think. Regular readers might remember that more than a few of my previous posts say something to the effect of “large institutions in terminal decline often speed up that process by making increasingly disastrous decisions”. And this is not a new idea either.

We have all seen the USA make increasingly disastrous foreign and domestic decisions since the early 1990s. Whether it was extending NATO into Eastern Europe, de-industrialization of flyover country, involvement in disastrous (and highly expensive) wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, using the dollar payment system as a weapon of war, ignoring domestic problems such as increasingly decrepit infrastructure, rising costs of what passes for ‘healthcare’ and higher education etc. In a similar manner, print media has made a series of increasingly disastrous mistakes which have accelerated the speed of its demise rather than stabilizing the situation.

We have all seen those auto-playing videos, increasingly buggy and atrocious user interfaces, click-bait which masquerades as journalism and publishing barely concealed press releases as news items. I could go about their obsession with website views, metric of engagement and anything else that allows them to not fix their core problem, which is the lack of high quality, controversial and adversarial journalism. Now let us turn to their latest fuckup. As many of you might have noticed the proliferation of disruptive and malware ridden ads since 2012-2014 created a huge market for adblocking extensions for web browsers.

Long story short, the poor quality control of ads by Google and other ad-serving networks makes its mandatory for any non-retarded person to use adblocking software. But how has the print media responded to this apparent reduction in revenue from serving horrible auto-playing ads and malware? As it turns out, they decided to the most ‘logical’ thing and alienate their viewers even further. You must have seen popups on many print media that either try nagging you to turn your adblocker off, whitelist them or buy a subscription. But does it really work, especially in the medium to long-term? Of course not!

Only the old or naive are usually trusting enough to fall for such bullshit, and even they stop doing that after being burned out by one too many autoplaying ads and malware infestations. Most other people either apply counter-counter measures or simply stop visiting that site. There are many other places on the Internet where they can get news from Twitter and FakeBook feeds, certain YouTube channels, newsgroups and forums including Reddit, Podcasts etc. The use of measures to counter adblocking software ends up reducing the number of repeat viewers who will keep visiting their site. Sure.. it might appear to increase their profitability for a couple of quarters, but after that it is an even steeper fall.

But the most bizarre part of these corporate policies involves the remarkable lack of thought behind their implementation. Think about it.. would you keep going to restaurants or bars which served very mediocre food and drink but were constantly trying to upsell, even to the point of not letting you enjoy your stay there? Would you keep going to a restaurant where the furniture was full of bedbugs and fleas? Would you go to a restaurant which required an annual membership fee to even look at their menu? Would you go to a restaurant which sold your contact information to telemarketers? So why would you return to print media websites that served autoplaying ads, sold your contact information to spammers and infected your computer with malware- especially if there were other safer and better options to get news, opinions and adversarial journalism?

What do you think? Comments?