The Wall Street Journal has a report on companies like Admiral, PageFair, and so on who are working on technologies to circumvent customer-run ad blockers in order to show ads to even those customers who are blocking them. The idea is to try to help recapture revenue that’s lost to people who block ads in online content.

Admiral’s products help websites show ads to users with ad-blockers enabled, Mr. Rua, said, by ensuring they’re loaded into webpages in ways that are undetectable to most ad-blocking software. This tactic is sometimes referred to as “ad reinsertion,” because it helps reinsert ads into web pages that otherwise would not have been displayed.

As I’ve already said, the arms race is off and running. There already exist tools aimed at routing around site prohibitions that disable content for ad-blockers I use one myself, and it works pretty well.

But, all that aside, I think the best criticism of the idea is to consider that ad-blocking customers have already expressed, in the plainest possible terms, their desire not to see advertising on the sites they read. Do these publishers, advertisers, and software developers somehow think that, if they see ads regardless, they will realize their mistake and cheerfully buy the advertised product? No, let’s try the opposite of that. They will get mad at that company for trying to push its ads on them. I can’t imagine any right-thinking advertiser would want their ads to be shown in a context that angers the consumers they’re trying to reach.

This displays a very ugly, patronizing side of some publishers’ relationship with their readers. I think that if publishers want customers to be more willing to view ads, they need to work on making ads that are more worth viewing—including ones that don’t include malware that will try to take over your computer. Nothing else is going to work. Ad-blocker and ad-blocker-blocker-blocker developers are still out there, and they have just as much incentive to route around Admiral’s “ad reinsertion” as Admiral does to come up with it in the first place.

PageFair, at least, seems to recognize this.

“Reinsertion implies showing the same ad that would have been blocked otherwise, but that fails to address the root cause of ad blocking,” said PageFair CEO Sean Blanchfield. “The strategy we’re taking is to try to reinvent, and in a way to wind back the clock to a time before ads were loud and obnoxious and tracked people.”

To that end, PageFair is helping publishers show ad-blocking users “magazine-like” ads, which are not animated and do not track users’ behaviors the way many online ads do.

Good for them—it sounds like they’re doing exactly what I think they ought to in making ads less annoying. But the problem is, they’re still trying to show them to readers who have explicitly opted not to see any advertising at all.

I still suspect any readers who block ads by this point will be at the point where they don’t want to see any advertisements, “magazine-like” or not. And if such ads do manage to circumvent their blockers and appear, the users will complain to the ad-block software writers, who will then rejigger their software to block those out, too. But we’ll just have to see.

In any event, this is an important issue to everyone who reads news online, because online news can only survive if it’s able to bring in enough revenue to fund its continued existence. The blocking of ads threatens that revenue, but some publishers seem primed to learn exactly the wrong lessons in response.


  1. If publishers want me to continue paying big bucks for e-books, then they’d better start smartening up and build added functionality into those books. Since it is electronic media, there’s absolutely no reason I should have to leave my book to go to another app to look up some reference or other in the book I’m reading. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve had to leave a book to look up a reference or a map that should be a clickable link in the book. For example, if the book I’m reading happens to be “Sherlock Holmes” and they mention “221b Baker Street”, I should be able to click on “221b Baker Street” and see a map or an image or both. I know this is a fictional example, but it doesn’t matter. In another example, if the book tells me that the action is taking me to some location in Rangoon, there should be a link that sould show me that location in Rangoon. Or, if the characters are being chased through the streets of Paris, I should be able to click on the various locations and actually see the progress of that chase.

    Other imagery and effects could be added as well. I read an incredible amount of fantasy and science fiction, and I’m sure that almost every author of these genres has some mental idea of what their fantasy or alien creations should look like. It would be nothing to have a clickable link to references to these creations so we can see what they imagined (a good example would be John Ringo’s creations from the “legacy of the Aldenata” series. It’s one thing to describe the Indowy or the Darhel, but it’d be so much more if I could actually have a link to click that would take me to an image of what the author imagined.

    Maps and imagery to do this are publicly (and freely!) available (particularly since most of the publishing agencies already own the copyrights to the bulk of it), so it doesn’t add much, if anything, cost to the the book, and would be the kind of value-added feature that would encourage me to pay a little more for an e-book.