Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Much Impact Does AdBlock Have on The Creators You Follow?

Let's be honest, most of you use AdBlock in one form or another. Some of you might not even know that there are usually about 4 ads on a given Literary Mercenary article (two embedded in the right column, and two that comes in from the wings to the left and right). Now, those ads might clutter up the screen a bit, but they don't pop-up over the text, and they aren't sneakily trying to squirm under your mouse. You have to go outside the borders of this post to put your cursor on them.

But I get it. I really do. No one likes ads, and if you can put up a wall that stops you from ever having to look at them, why would you make an exception for just one page?

AdBlock is like a phalanx. One hole, and it crumbles.
Well, if you're not overly concerned with the people who make the content you're enjoying, then there is nothing I could say to convince you to be selective with your AdBlock. However, if you want to support the people who make the things you like (even if it's for the selfish reason that they'll keep making more stuff if they're supported), you might want to consider making an exception or two.

Why? Because I think you sincerely underestimate the number of people who block ads, and how big of an impact that has on creators.

Herd Immunity, and Making Money in The Age of The Internet

Since we all had high school science, we should be familiar with the idea of herd immunity. When you vaccinate an individual, they receive a weakened version of a disease, and it allows the body to fight off the infection by developing antibodies. It is, in a sense, the training wheels for how to fight a particular condition. This stops the person from getting sick when the real version of that disease comes along. Pretty basic stuff.

Of course, some people's bodies cannot deal with vaccines because even the weakened version of the disease will overwhelm them. So those people who cannot be vaccinated depend on all the other members of the herd to get vaccinated, and to act as a barrier for the disease. Because if there's a layer or three of people who won't get a disease, then the vulnerable people behind them will be protected as well.

What about when people stop vaccinating?
Herd immunity only works, of course, if everyone who can vaccinate does it. The fewer people who do, the more gaps you find in your protective barrier. Then diseases can slip through, and run rampant. Which is why there are diseases that had nearly been eradicated in the United States now surging back to prominence (and killing a whole lot of defenseless people who should have been vaccinated).

What does that have to do with the ads on the blogs, videos, and other pieces of content you ingest on a daily basis? Glad you asked!

Picture a constant stream of people flowing into a stadium. Perhaps there's a sporting event taking place, or there's a political rally, or the circus is in town; whatever is going on, people want to see it. What's even better is that there's no cost for admission. All you have to do is walk through the gate, and take a pair of glasses. These glasses don't stop you from enjoying the concert, or hearing the latest rallying cries, but they do allow you to see the ads posted along the walls, and up on the screens. For every person who sees those ads, the arena gets paid a crowd attendance fee. This lets them keep putting on shows without charging anyone for tickets.

Now, one or two people might decide not to take a pair of these glasses. They get the same show as everyone else, but they aren't distracted by all those pesky ads. As long as most people take a pair of the glasses, though, the arena is still going to be able to keep doing its thing. Especially if it's filling seats to capacity. The problem comes when too many people don't take the glasses, and thus aren't counted for the purposes of attendance. They don't see the ads, it's true, but even if you pack the seats, the arena only gets paid as if it had fifty people coming to the show.

That might not be enough attendance to make a profit, and if it keeps up for long enough the arena might have to shutter its doors.

In this metaphor, the arena is the website you're viewing. Putting on the glasses is your willingness to view the ads that actually pay that website's content creators and staff. Because wearing the specs might be inconvenient, but isn't it a small price to pay for getting all this great stuff for what amounts to "free," even while the creators whose work you enjoy are still getting paid, thus allowing them to keep making stuff for your enjoyment?

How Bad Is AdBlock, Really?

Maybe you think I'm exaggerating. After all, there are still plenty of people who don't block ads, so you shouldn't feel obligated to make exceptions in your ad-free life. On the one hand, you're right. Viewing ads is entirely your choice, and if you have the tools not to see them then you have the ability to skip past those annoyances. But choosing to do so is not consequence-free.

Though it might feel like it, from where you're sitting.
As a for instance, one of the ad programs I use is InfoLinks. I get a daily update from the company that tells me how many impressions I've had, and what I've earned in terms of ad revenue. I have two blogs on that account; this one, and my sister blog Improved Initiative.

Now, I've had this ad program for about two years and change now. The problem I kept experiencing was that the traffic Blogger said I was getting did not jive with the numbers I was being given by InfoLinks. We're not talking small discrepancies, either. More than half my traffic was missing from my daily reports. So I set up a Google Analytics account to track it from a third source, hoping it would explain the difference. According to Google, Blogger was right. So why is it that when an article like The Tale of The Black Samurai (Yes, There Really Was One), posted on my other blog, earns over 2,000 views on its own, but my daily views for the entire blog come to barely 560 hits on InfoLinks?

Because that is the number of people who use AdBlock software. Blogger and Google Analytics count how many people came to my blog that day, while InfoLinks only counts the number of people who saw my ads. It isn't just a few people sitting in the stands enjoying a free show; it's the majority of the people who walk through the doors. Because on that day where InfoLinks said about 560 people saw my ads over on Improved Initiative? I had over 3,500 hits that day. So instead of earning a couple bucks, I was given a single, shiny dime.

That was one day. Taken over a year, that kind of traffic would earn me over $600 if everyone was viewing my ads. In reality? It takes me about 15 months to earn $50.

Why Are You Laying All This Guilt On Me Because I Hate Ads?

While it might seem like I'm trying to lay blame on people here, I'm not. If you have the ability not to watch ads, you are welcome to use that ability. However, it is also a fact that by not allowing those ads to stream, you are taking money out of that creator's pocket. By withholding your view, they can't count you when it comes time to settle up with their ad revenue at the end of the month.

And that has an impact.
Judging from the numbers, only about 1 in 6 people who view Improved Initiative actually see my ads. Here on The Literary Mercenary, it's only about 1 in 8 (my most recent post generated about 450 views, but InfoLinks only counted about 55 of them).

Jumping those hurdles is like entering the pole vault, mistakenly thinking you're supposed to do a high jump. It isn't going to happen.

What Are You Comfortable With?

This is one of those times where I ask you, the reader, to look at a situation, and make a serious judgment. Is your comfort more important than the artist you like making a living? Because it's easy to think to yourself, "they don't need my views. There's plenty of other people looking at those ads." Which is a variation on, "I don't need to vaccinate my kids. Everyone else will do it."

Well, they're really not.

Well, what do you want me to do about it?
All I'm asking is for you, and all the readers who come across this post, to ask themselves what they're comfortable with. I, and the hundreds and thousands of other artists and creators across the Internet, depend on you for a paycheck. The reason we put ads on our blogs, or our video channels, or our art pages is because we still need to get paid, but we don't want to beg for money from everyone that passes if we don't have to.

Sadly, we sort of have to.

Now, there may be some readers who are much more comfortable just putting money into a creator's tip jar instead of watching their ads. This allows them to say, directly, that they like this person's work, and they want to see more of it. If you're that kind of person, and you don't want to deal with my ads, then I'd ask you to please stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. I don't ask much, and if you pledge at least $1 a month then I'll also give you some sweet swag as a way of saying thank you.

Alternatively, if you're a fan of a creator, you should buy the stuff they put out. I write books, like the steampunk noir short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. I put out new stuff with a fair amount of regularity, too, so you should consider checking my Amazon Author Page if you like my work, and want to support me. Read a book, leave a review, and tell your friends; I wouldn't feel bad at all about someone who chose to do that, but who didn't want to put up with the hassle of my blog's ads.

If you don't want to do those things, though, and you come back to a creator's page to devour all their content with every new update, then it might be time to make an exception for their page on your AdBlock. You don't have to, of course, but if you don't, then what are you going to say when that web comic artist has to start doing one update a month instead of four because she had to get a 9-5 job? Or when that gaming blogger cuts posts from twice a week to once a week to focus on other projects you're not interested in, but which comes with a paycheck attached to it?

It's all about the money, and you're the one holding the purse strings. You get what you pay for... literally, as well as figuratively.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Apologies if it felt like I was taking a truncheon, but this is an issue that still rages online, and it's one a lot of people aren't aware they're participating in every day. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

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