Blocking ads is like being a free rider

Over on Broadstuff in (Ad) ventures in Wonderland Alan writes about a website owner who has barred Firefox users from his site in response to the rising popularity of a Firefox extension that blocks ads (originally from Infoworld):

A Web site owner has blocked Firefox users from accessing his site in protest of a popular browser extension that blocks text and display ads.
Firefox users who go to http://jacklewis.net/weblog/ are redirected to Why Firefox is Blocked, which says the Adblock Plus extension undercuts Web sites dependant on advertising revenue.

“Accessing the content while blocking the ads therefore would be no less than stealing,” wrote Danny Carlton, a Web site designer and author, who runs both sites. JackLewis.net is his personal blog site. “Millions of hard working people are being robbed of their time and effort by this type of software,” he added in a posting on the Why Firefox is Blocked Web site.

I have some sympathy with this guy.  Sure his response is over the top (blocking all Firefox users because some of them have are offending), and some of the language he uses is inflammatory, but deep down he has a point.  If everyone blocked all the ads on all sites then the quality of content available to us all would plummet.  All of our favourite websites would go out of business (apart from the VC backed ones….).

So if a small proportion of the web community are blocking ads then they are free-riding on the rest of us that put up with them.

Some disclosure feels appropriate at this point – we are invested in a number of businesses that depend on web advertising for their livelihood.

Now I’m with Alan when he points out that Firefox users who get blocked from the site aren’t goint to fire up IE and have another go.  Danny Carlton is going to lose lots of viewers to his site.  Being a pioneer in areas like this is rarely rewarding.  If ad-blockers continue to gain popularity at some point, somewhere, someone will have to make a stand though.

The right answer, or should I say the fair one, is that people should have a choice – they can view the site for free if they take the ads or they can pay for a site without them.  That is the way it is with traditional media and the way it should be online.  (Actually – with traditional media the choice is typically between free with loads of ads and pay for with only a few ads, but you get the point.)