It’s hard to reconcile the public-relations “spin” coming from AdBlock Plus publisher Eyeo, with the financial reality facing today’s independent publishers who are struggling for their very survival:
To hear it from Eyeo, the German company is just a struggling “start up”. They’ve got a small browser plug-in called “AdBlock Plus” which renders-invisible all forms of Internet advertising, and they’re being sued in German courts by big, evil publishers who want to (shock) profit from the Internet.
Didn’t these big publishers get the memo that profit is bad? Don’t these publisher’s know that hundreds of millions of netizens expect the publishing-industry to go to work, write, edit, photograph, blog and otherwise ‘webbify’ our news for free?
AdBlock Plus is not just a “plug in”
Let’s be clear about “little” Eyeo: They recently celebrated their 200 millionth install … and that’s just on Netscape, the web browser which plays a distant second to Google’s Chrome browser.
Their “little” plugin is the most successful and widely installed browser plug-in in history with no close competition.
Here’s Ben Williams, a spokesperson for Eyeo, via the BBC trying to spin it like they’re just “two guys in a garage”:
Ben Williams, a spokesman for the German company, told the BBC the dispute had been the biggest one it had faced to date “just by nature of the people involved and the amount of claims that they had”.
“This is the fourth time that massive publishers have brought legal proceedings against our start-up,”
It takes some serious chutzpah for Eyeo to describe themselves as anything resembling a “start up” as they rake in tens of millions at the expense of the thousands of independent websites (many of whom actually are start-ups) whose revenue is being decimated daily by ad blocking plug-ins like AdBlock Plus. And just in case it needs to be said: Bloggers aren’t exactly killing it. But that doesn’t stop Eyeo from pretending they’re working from mom’s basement and the rest of the industry consists of monolithic giants, swimming in vast oceans of revenue.
Just because it’s the big guys that have enough firepower to bring legal proceedings, does not mean they are the sole victims.
Which brings us to the nature of the Internet publishing industry as a whole: Large publishers actually represent a tiny sliver of the industry. Most publishers are small and most small publishers earn a blushingly small amount of revenue for their work. The real losers here aren’t “massive publishers”. They’re men and women of modest means trying to keep their voices free and trying to make a modest living along the way.
And yet somehow, Eyeo bills themselves as being “for the people” and (somehow) better for the Web.
The Internet already is populist. Eyeo isn’t.
Let’s go back a couple of decades: Wasn’t the Internet already “for the people”? Didn’t it already represent free and universal access to news? When did “populism” come to mean “no ads“? Aren’t the ads what makes the whole thing work? Didn’t the Internet already empower small, independent website publishers by offering them the capacity to generate their own advertising revenue separate from major, media corporations? Didn’t it equalize the playing field by giving global reach to individual voices? How is starving those same independent publishers, who offer their work for free, in any way “populist“?
The bottom line is this: AdBlock isn’t populist. To pretend it is populist is to is to pretend that the Internet as we know it would exist with or without ads. And that simply isn’t true. Just in case we’ve forgotten after a mere two decades of since the world-wide-web hit the mainstream: The web’s “populism” is equally on the “sell side” as it is on the “buy side”. It is the ability to survive as an independent publisher that is an important part of the Internet’s populism.
For Eyeo, wearing the “populism” mask does provide a wonderful moral cover to a wildly successful, parasitic corporation which is profiting hand-over-fist from the destruction of small publishers and the decreased profits of major publications.
One can’t help but postulate that if you wanted to “be evil” and intentionally devise a scheme to return publishing to the hands of the largest, most well-funded publishers — and if you wanted to starve the small, easily-silenced voices — ad blocking is perhaps the most devilishly ingenious way of shutting up everyone but the mainstream. Not that that’s the plan. At least I hope not… right, Google?
AdBlock is anti small-publisher at it’s core
One thing is for sure, if there’s one thing that AdBlock (and ad-blocking in general) isn’t, it’s populist. It’s a ball and chain, dragging at sustainability for thousands of struggling voices which had come to understand that the Internet is a place where the popularity of content could be translated into sustainable revenue regardless of major-media affiliation.
We’ll get into the multiple (easily toppled) justifications that AdBlock users use in another post. In this post we’re knocking down just one overwhelmingly obvious target: AdBlock’s supposed “populism“. It’s a mirage.