Adblockers say, "Find a better business model." But can you really?

I was reading through several adblocking forums this morning and I kept seeing the same basic comment over and over again:
Ads suck.  Go find another business model“.
Sounds easy. But is there really another business model that works?
Let’s be clear, since the dawn of publishing periodicals there have really been only two business models:  Subscriptions and advertising.
And in general, advertising is the bigger piece of the revenue-pie. (Although there are exceptions of course).
But the web is not printed media.  We web-readers interact with our media far differently from readers of printed content.

We enter through the Side Door:

Increasingly, when we browse the web we rely entirely on Search, and/or news aggregators to bring us directly to a page.  When we get there, we’re likely to read just one page on the visited website, and to bypass the homepage entirely.  Website “bounce rates” (the rate at which users abandon the site after just one pageview) are now in excess of 50% for a majority of websites.
Another common dynamic of web visitors, is to move from one website directly to another via referral links.  Here too, website traffic is increasingly likely to bypass the homepage.

visitor traffic side door
Visitors move directly from one sub-page to another

We may not even be aware “which” new website we have linked to.  We simply consume the content on that second site, and perhaps we “click out” to a third website along the way.    As we traverse the web we enter and leave multiple websites “sideways”, that is we don’t ever see the homepage of those sites.   We jump from a page deep in website “A” to another page deep in website “B”.  More and more, this is how we browse the web.   We are not “readers” of a website as a whole, or as a brand.  We are simply consumers of individual pieces of content that happen to exist on a particular website.
As Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab reports:

A remarkable 88 percent of traffic to The Atlantic comes in sideways, meaning just 12 percent of site visits begin on the homepage.

More importantly, we frequently visit thousands of websites which we will never visit again.  We pop in, consume content, and leave happily — possibly without ever knowing the name of the site we were just on.
Why is this important?  Because if it is increasingly likely that we have no relationship with the sites we visit, it is also increasingly unlikely that we will voluntarily support these sites.
So how do those sites with which we have zero reader/publisher relationship monetize the millions of visits from these fleeting visitors?

Why the subscription model doesn’t work:

In these cases, where our entire interaction with a website consists of one two-minute visit, followed by no further visits ever, the lowly ad is is one of the few means by which a publisher can hope to monetize his investment.  Now imagine if during that “once ever” visit, a pop-up jumped on to the screen and said “Please subscribe for $20 per year”.  This request would seem deeply out of place within the context of a user simply ‘passing through’.
Of course, there are dozens of additional ways to monetize web content from affiliate marketing to native ads.  But few websites are able to incorporate these methods across as wide a range of articles as they are with banner ads.
To suggest that websites “find another business model” is to either ask media to spontaneously devise a heretofore never invented model, or to walk the “other” well-trodden path of subscriptions.  The latter suggestion misunderstands the way in which modern web-readers interact with digital media.  We come in sideways, and leave sideways.  And as the web expands to unprecedented proportions, our affiliation and repeat-interaction with websites decreases in frequency.
Given the difficulty of monetizing this increasingly non-repeat web traffic, the solution more frequently chosen is to ‘push back’ by blocking ad blockers entirely, or to use a nag screen to encourage whitelisting.

14 Replies to “Adblockers say, "Find a better business model." But can you really?”

  1. There is a different option you don’t want to consider: leave the Internet as a money making place if you’re not running a web-based store. The act of making money is not inherently wrong but it is possible to do immoral things in pursuit of making money. I believe immoral things are happening in the field of Internet advertising.
    I believe that the use of non-free Javascript* is immoral to every visitor to any website and non-free Javascript is typically used to deliver ads. A different problem with Internet ads is Internet privacy and the fact that far too many ad networks (all of them?) track users and their habits in order to deliver a “personalized” set of ads and also to build profiles based on the data we provide by simply visiting a website. This is wrong because this kind of data is stolen** from users who didn’t explicitly choose to share it for this purpose (as in the style of Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds). A different problem is that too many forms of ads are obnoxiously offensive. These forms include: video ads that emit a noise without consent, video ads that drain visitor’s Internet quota without consent, ads that cover some article in front and break the expectation of the page we wanted to see, ads with bold flashing animations that steal focus and brainpower – it takes more effort to look at a website and ignore flashing animations. It is very typical that a website has no control over which specific ads are shown on the site and I would bet that the ad experience would be less obnoxious if websites did curate ads to be tasteful.
    Now you say that it is difficult to make money from subscriptions. I say that if it is indeed true then “you need to find a better business model”; this means shutting down your website and go do something else that doesn’t involve the distribution of non-free Javascript and building profiles of people who didn’t explicitly consent. If I was a brick-maker and I’ve made a lot of bricks and then I find that nobody cares to buy what I have, the investment that I’ve put into hard labor means nothing to anybody. I could whinge and whine all day long about the investment that I’ve made but in the end people are going to tell me, “go find some other job”. Common sense should dictate that I shouldn’t be making bricks for the purpose of profit if people aren’t willing to buy them. Yes, it is very possible to make money with Internet ads but your anti-adblock plea is just like a brick-maker who whinges that a fully automated robotic brick-maker makes your business as a manual brick-maker difficult – you need to find a better business model and move on.
    ** I use this word for lack of a better word

  2. Subscription models might work for major publishers. But even then it’s unlikely. I pop into CNN once a month. Same goes for most major newspapers. I read the web 1 article at a time, and I don’t particularly care where it comes from. If I’m researching, I might visit 30-40 new sites in an afternoon.

    1. So long as CNN and other sites that you read join the same federated paywall. There used to be one called Adult Check, where viewers paid a monthly fee to signal that they can pay for things like a grown-up, and participating sites got paid per page view out of subscription revenue. is trying to revive this model.

    2. And you can’t just pay 25c for accessing the webpage for the day? You would put that quarter to buy a newspaper, why not a webpage?

  3. Lets be honest here, I’m irremediably addicted to entertainment, like heroin addicts standarts.
    Ads are part of most entertainments on the net or in publicated entertainment(books, movies, video game to name the one I’m used to). Entertainment is about getting elsewhere, ads are one of the most violently grounding thing, kind of : ”Look this ugly world you live in”.
    Not everyone is so obsessed with commercialization as publicists or anyway those who makes it possible are and part of the people who isnt is ALSO pissed by how you obsessive realistic and capitalist freaks are messing with liberty.
    If I had to do such aggressive publicity as the publicity that victimize me and who know how much more, I’d go necrophilic, sadist, corrupting, violent and non human, I’d shock you alike as I am.
    So well, find a better business model if you have manners; sorry, I meant morale.

  4. You highlight a very real problem, and it goes a bit deeper. Suppose that I am in fact willing to consider donating. I pay $20 a year here, another there, and for each site I use at least a little, before I know it I’m paying a small fortune.
    The problem you highlight in this article, and this other problem, is one of a few that we are trying to solve at It’s a way for websites to offer a subscription that’s:
    a) Valid on multiple websites
    b) Doesn’t require an account on each website
    c) Easy for websites to implement

  5. A user on another message board pointed out a lack of imagination on the part of this article’s author. It turns out there are three business models. This article mentions A and B but not C.
    A. Publish information and draw revenue from advertising.
    B. Publish information and draw revenue from subscriptions.
    C. Don’t publish information. Switch to a different industry entirely.
    In this comment, the user states that he wants those 99* percent of web businesses that cannot thrive on model B (subscriptions) to switch to C (a different industry). He suggests meat butchering as an alternative to information publication.
    * Guessing.

    1. Well C is actually what’s going to happen. And you’re going to lose around 80% of the world’s publications. Win?

      1. “And nothing of value was lost.”
        Anti-ad hardliners would claim that the 80 percent of publications that can’t survive on single-publisher paywalls, federated paywalls (such as or SatoshiPay), donations (if non-profit), or the author’s pocket change (if a personal site) are “nothing of value”.

    1. Meh, thats called the donation scam model.
      Wikipedia, for instance, only needs 5% of what it asks for to actually run the servers. EVERYTHING ELSE is pure income for Jimbo.
      When people are shoved with “donate or we’ll go away forever” ADVERTISEMENTS they will donate.

  6. Too bad. I remember when the internet was new, and ads were JPEG image that you can click, or just links. keep in mind, I use my PC resources and my money to access those websites. I do not trust any website. Me not using ADBLOCK is like me visiting an infectious hospital room without the proper personnel protection. Visiting without ADBLOCK is like not using a condom with a hooker.

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