The Many Ways I Avoid Ads

There has been a lot of righteous indignation since iOS 9 was released, and ad blockers have been allowed to integrate with the Safari web browser. Many of the people who complain – such as this person who equates blocking ads with robbing an Apple Store – are forgetting that they, too, probably block a lot of ads.

Note that the Fortune page I link to above is, on the desktop, 13.2 MB, and took me 1.5 minutes to load with my 4 Mb connection. It contains a number of animated ads, caused Safari to beachball, and made it impossible to even scroll for more than one minute. And I don’t have Flash installed, so there’s one ad that I don’t see, which is replaced by a sleazy “Your System Status” box telling me that I need to update my Flash Player.

Rob apple store

With ad blockers on, the page is 6.6 MB, and takes me 16.95 seconds to load. Ghostery reports that the page has 19 trackers.

(For a similar ironic problem, head over to Khoi Vinh’s website, where he recorded video of him trying to load a New York Times article about ad blocking. He was unable to do so easily, because of an ad on the site.)

If you visit my website, you know that I do offer ads. I am currently advertising for a new Take Control book (up on top), and for my own books (in the sidebar), as well as for my iTunes forum and my podcast. These ads are as discreet as possible: they don’t flash, move, or otherwise animate, and their layout is sober and minimalist. And I have a couple of Amazon ads at the bottoms of pages, where they aren’t too disturbing, to earn some affiliate income (I wish Amazon had smaller ads that would fit better on my site…). I also run other ads at times, but I am very careful which ads I accept, and I refuse to use any animated ads, or ads that slow down page loads. I have turned down countless offers to run “sponsored articles” and text link ads. *

So I’m not against ads overall; if they fit with a site, and aren’t just scattershot, or bottom-feeding Google ads, then I don’t mind seeing them. I’d rather not block ads like this to help websites pay for the content they provide. But the Fortune web page is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong about ads.

In any case, I made a list of the many ways I block ads in my life. If you think that blocking ads on websites is wrong, tell me how many of the following actions you take to avoid ads.

  • I turn off the volume when TV commercials are on
  • I go to the bathroom when TV commercials are on
  • I skip through commercials when watching recorded TV
  • I throw away junk mail without looking at it
  • I throw away inserts with magazines I subscribe to without looking at them
  • I throw away ad sections of newspapers when I buy them
  • I turn the pages of magazines and newspapers too quickly to assimilate ads
  • I don’t look at ads on the sides of busses
  • I ignore billboards with ads when driving
  • I avoid televised sports, because there are too many ads
  • I hang up on robo-calls
  • I avoid buying clothes with logos when possible
  • I ignore the ads on the back of supermarket receipts
  • I delete spam emails
  • I use a pop-up blocker with my web browsers
  • I use a tracker blocker (Ghostery) with my web browsers
  • I use an ad blocker with my web browsers
  • I use Safari’s Reader view to be able to read pages that are too cluttered

I remember when a one-hour TV show in the US was 52 minutes long; it left eight minutes for ads and station identification. Now, a one-hour show has 42 minutes of content, which means that 25% of the hour is commercials. Viewers adapted to this by recording shows and skipping ads, and the same is happening on the web.

I would happily embrace a micro-payment solution that would allow me to pay a few cents when I read an article on the web. But the current model of inundating readers with ads, and making web pages hard to read, is simply wrong. Don’t blame readers for not wanting to put up with these problems.

* I’ve been thinking about the best way to monetize this website, and I’ve hesitated because so many ad options would harm the experience my readers have on this site. I get about 250-400K page views per month, and I could probably make a lot of money with Google Ads. But I don’t want to. For now, I earn money from occasional self-served ads (that is, ads that I place as images with links, but with no other code), sponsorships, and affiliate income. If you want to sponsor this website, get in touch.

14 thoughts on “The Many Ways I Avoid Ads

  1. Purify has an issue on where content in the collapsible page elements will not load. I tweeted to the Purify folks and got a request from AllMusic to not block their (very obtrusive) ads. I suggested to AllMusic to instead host relevant ads such as those for audiophile recordings.
    1Blocker does not have the same issue with

    • Yes, I’ve found several sites already that don’t load with different ad blockers on iOS 9. I’ve never seen that on OS X though; only site elements that may not load, which require me to turn off Ghostery. Interesting, you need to allow the Omniture tracker to use Apple’s support website, the part where you set up a case.

  2. Kirk-

    Love the article. Re: the last line: “I would happily embrace a micro-payment solution that would allow me to pay a few cents when I read an article on the web.”…

    We tried to build exactly this And everyone we talked to loved the idea, and yet… participation was very low. People love the idea in theory, but when it comes to speak with their wallets, they don’t.

    • Yes, I’m not surprised. There needs to be a paradigm shift. Major websites need to start erecting paywalls for this to work. As long as there are ways to not pay, people won’t pay.

      • I think that is wrong. You can make people pay if you produce content that has value for them. If you coerce them into paying while not delivering value then your content will go the same way as ads. Blocked and obstructed as irrelevant.
        Mutatis mutandis if I would not have to pay through my nose for ads in terms of consumed bandwidth – especially over a metered connection – and would not be as obnoxious as they are currently I would mind a lot less. I guess that an approach along the lines of a daily email ‘hey we’ve seen you visit this and this and this would you be interested in that and that’ were you can select the ones to visit would be a far better solution.

      • The problem with paywalls is that the site either needs to be producing content that I can’t easily find elsewhere (an Apple Watch review on site A is likely not appreciably better than the ones I can read on Sites B, C and D) OR all of the sites in a category need to erect paywalls so they’re on a level playing field.

  3. I would like to see a hybrid model. I think site owners should display the ads they want. If I use an ad blocker then they have the right to disable the page load and give me a page that says I need to disable the adblocker or pay for the content. I agree the cost needs to be inline with what the ad pays. Say 5 cents. Then as a consumer of the site I decide if it is worth my money. If we want great content then the people making it need to be paid. NO ONE WORKS FOR FREE NOR SHOULD THEY.

  4. Hi Kirk – Like you, this is a very interesting topic to me. 90% of my income comes from ad campaigns run using banners on my site. I like the micro-payment option you suggested. For a couple years I have offered a paid subscription option for my readers that removes all the banners. For $50 per year or $5 per month readers can browse ad-free. My ultimate goal would be to replace my ad based income with subscription based income and get rid of the banners, similar to how Consumer Reports operates. However, there is a reason Consumer Reports is one of, if not the, only publication that operates this way. It’s incredibly difficult if not impossible for 99.99% of publications.

    One of my worries is that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water. Sure there are some sites that use intrusive ads making them nearly impossible to browse. These sites will certainly suffer from ad blockers. However, I’m guessing people who paid for an ad blocker will opt to use it on all sites, even those with minimal or “acceptable” advertising.

    I always look at it this way: There is a price of admission for all things, free or otherwise. I’m willing to accept Google’s invasive practices because the pros outweigh the cons for me. I’m also willing to accept the banner advertising on sites if I really want to read the content. It’s all about a pro/con analysis. In a way, it’s the free market at work. I hate to say it, but introducing ad blockers is also the free market at work I suppose.

    In the end the giants of the publishing industry will find a way to win and counter the actions of those who block ads. It’s the small publishers who may be hurt most in the long run.

    • I agree with much of what you say. The subscription model is hard to sell, and I doubt many sites that use it get a lot of users. I think it works better if you offer some additional content in addition to the ad-free site. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

  5. KIrk;
    I am pretty much in sync with you on all the ad avoidance behavior – I’ve always thought life is too short to watch an ad. We don’t have TV – Comcast brings us the internet and we use Netflix to watch what we want on our terms. I just won’t sit and watch commercial TV or listen to commercial radio ever. I have whitelisted your site on my browser as we agree on the necessity of avoiding all annoying, animated, auto-play, flashing, etc. crap. Until the marketers get out of our faces on the great majority of sites the default setting for my ad blockers will be on.

  6. My front line of defense on the desktop is the MVPS hosts blocker. It puts a ton of domain names into the hosts file to block not just ads and trackers, but known malware sites and more. The downsides are that it’s quite awkward to use and modify, it can break sites such as google apps, and some software that uses invasive copy protection. It also doesn’t block everything, such as trackers that use an IP address instead of a domain name.

    On iOS, I’ve always used iCab browser which has ad blocking (and a great feature set). I haven’t looked closely into what it’s doing; though it is possible to edit the filters, I don’t think you can easily do it on a site by site basis.

    For other media, I haven’t had a TV for years, though I used to use eyetv, which has handy skip controls. I rarely watch videos of any sort anymore. I’ve let all of my magazine subscriptions lapse, since they were piling up unread and becoming a fire hazard. I miss some, but not enough to cope with minuscule print and the need to carry yet another thing around.

    I buy subscriptions to some blogs when they’re available, such as tidbits. I also try to remember to use affiliate links, but since those mostly go to amazon which I prefer to avoid, it’s of limited help. I don’t know what’s involved with doing the affiliate thing, but if you could have a variety of links to different places, such as adorama (photography), and powell’s books, it might help.

  7. I’m proud of you Kirk. You actually read my comment on the “Sorry for blocking” post, and took a few steps to discover that I was right.

    Now we can say “Your web page doesn’t suck”
    . . . but now you know more of the
    “Top Ten Signs that web page sucks . . . ”


      • Hmmmm … I cannot find the post now. I commented on the post about the ad blocking app, and the app developer then removing it from Apple because he felt “bad” about making ad blocking app.

        I commented with some history, and various web developer responses to “The Top Ten REasons Your Web Site Sucks” and advertising being number 1 or number 2 on those lists. I spoke of the sort of info regarding web page loads, and so forth. I even used one example from my upcoming article on “Websites that Suck” — ZDnet which has basically turned into an unreadable spam site. (Worse than that of which you speak above)

        Then about two weeks later, you come with this article as if you took my comment and researched my points and found your own points 100% in agreement.

        You probably read the comment, but have now forgotten it. That’s okay. There’s been an ongoing discussion on LinkedIN (started by me) on the design issues of the “new” web, and how the unquenchable pursuit of a penny is causing normally “good” or “important” websites into spam, stalker, predator, sites that SUCK.

        I applaud you for taking the issue to task. I’m a nobody, and only have maybe 25 to 35 thousand readers at the most. YOu’ve got millions, so when an online ‘celebrity’ like you takes the right path, I cannot applaud you enough.

        I’ll be passing this article on to my readers too — so don’t take it down. And that video you mention from that guy is priceless. That’s one of the real problems with the new mobilegeddon pared with advertising . . . the results are web sites that jump and gitter and refresh so much it makes them unreadable. Important sites. I could have illustrated that a hundred times if I took the time to get an app and figure out how to video the monitor.

        So bravo. Keep up the great work!

        I’ll be reading!


        I’ve been a long time Mac supporter and User Group guy going back to 1984. and are two of my ‘community’ efforts.

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