Why is ad blockers sharing ad revenue with publishers so controversial?

Adland: 

The Wall Street Journal have reported on the news that AdBlock Plus will soon
include a feature that will allow users to pay for the sites that they visit most often. This comes through a partnership with Sweden-based content-funding startup Flattr, founded by Peter Sunde and Linus Olsson. Peter Sunde is most well known for having been the spokesperson of The Pirate Bay, which eventually got him convicted for piracy and eventually listed on the National Criminal group of international fugitives. Flattr has their headquarter in Malmö, Sweden and was founded in 2010. Flattr and Adblock Plus will keep a 10% cut of the revenue generated, while the remaining revenue will be divided up and handed to publishers based on "engagement." They're currently working on an algorithm to determine what “engagement” actually means.

Not everyone is impressed by Adblock Plus's foray into the micropayment area, even though it's not news. Eyeo has a minority ownership stake in Flattr and they're been testing the waters for micropayments for some time, as well as explored the possibilities of acceptable ads, and substituting ads on websites directly, or at least allowing specific ads to come through. This feature was used by Amnesty International, where their ads only were allowed to penetrate the adblock on websites for a day. Fortune says that Flattr & Adblock Plus plan to generate $500M for publishers in 2017.

Publishers are wary of these ideas. With Adblock Plus doing this, it looks like a shakedown to some publishers. "Nice website you got there, would be a shame if nobody saw your ads". Adblock Plus positioning themselves to take 10% of anything donated to the content producers via Flattr won't settle that feeling. Meanwhile Telecoms are substituting ads on websites, as they literally own the road to the internet and can do this. Everyone wants a slice of the ad network revenue, for that is where the real money lies. When Brave browser appeared as a solution to clunky slow ad ridden browsers, the Newspaper Association of America sent a cease and desist letter to them, protesting what they saw as digital theft of their revenue.

Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website. Your public statements demonstrate
clearly that you intend to harness and exploit the content of all the publishers on the Web to sell your own advertising.

Brave fought back saying that the NAA has misunderstood, and misrepresented how a browser actually works. From their block post:

Furthermore, the NAA's letter misconstrues how Web standards and browsers work by design: the Web is a system that allows users to consume content in any combination and presentation that user-chosen software can achieve. Browsers do not "republish", copy, serve, syndicate, or distribute content across the Internet or to any computer other than the one on which they run.

With our ad-share model, the default money flow directs up to 70% of ad revenue to site publishers – far greater than the average percentage in the current programmatic display ad ecosystem. Brave keeps 15%, and allows the end-user to choose whether to donate or keep their 15% share. Keeping their share still results in 55% ad rev share to site owners – beating the current average of 45%. Take a look at our Brave User Paths from Browsing to Ad Rev sharing.

It's not that the solutions are wrong in our micropayment and ad blocking browser ideas, it's that the publications took a wrong turn 15 years ago when they put all of their eggs in the ad revenue basket. Micropayments have been discussed for over 20 years now, with Scott McCloud's 2000 book 'Reinventing Comics' convincing many creative people that this was the future. It's the publishers who were too slow to adapt, and without a central simple system, the micropayment clicks won't be happening. Since credit cards and online banks also take a share of each action, a penny donated to a website results in the site getting a fraction of that penny. The biggest success of micro payments is iTunes that showed us we would buy a song for a dollar, and spawned several similar services.

Another fundamental misunderstanding from the publishers, is that people think the ads are "bad" or uncreative in some way. While ads that pop-up, pop-under, asks us to punch a monkey or autoplay a video or sound are all examples of ad annoyances, it's the privacy breach that bothers people. Not just the poor creative. Ad buyers are increasingly realising that digital paid media is a fraud, those 3-second rollovers on Facebook "count" as a view but nobody saw your ad. In the end, the annoyance stems from the same old thing - the path from reader and "payer" of content to creator & maker of content has too many people in the middle taking their percentages at every turn. The calls to third party venders violate both the readers and the publishers privacy, and people actually care about their privacy rights.

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm after growing up in Kiruna, Raleigh and Jiddah.