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iOS9, Peace, and the Allure of the Ad-Free Internet

Stashed in: Facebook!, The Web, Apple, Teh Internets, Advertising, Awesome, Greylock, Mobile Web!, @johnolilly, Mobile Ads!, Microentertainment

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The biggest "innovation" in iOS9 may very well be its embrace of ad-blockers. Remember, Apple has never liked the web! So messy!!

Yesterday there was a great article about how Apple's ad blockers hurt not just Google but all of the small publishers on the Web:

John Lilly of Greylock invested $12 million in DWNLD to make app versions of websites:

Because you can make more money on iOS inside apps than you can on mobile Web.

Apple and Facebook win, and small publishers lose.

Other organizations have been more forthright. Readers are already blocking ads on a quarter of pageviews at The Awl's suite of websites. That’s according to Casey Johnston, who quoted the site's publisher as having told her that up to 85 percent of The Awl's revenue is blockable as a result. If you want to get really deep into the ad-blocking frenzy this week, Johnston’s piece is a must-read, along with articles by Nilay Patel, and Annalee Newitz, in The Verge and Gizmodo, respectively.

The rise of ad blockers isn’t just a clash of sensibilities, though. The major leaders in tech are all trying to leverage their advantages at the expense of their competitors. “So it's Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook, all with their own revenue platforms,” Nilay Patel wrote, in his article for The Verge. “Google has the web, Facebook has its app, and Apple has the iPhone.” It’s also no mistake, as Newitz pointed out, that Apple starting allowing ad blockers on the same operating system that features a news app that can’t be deleted from people’s homescreens.

But Facebook has a layer of protection that many other media organizations don’t. On phones, its ads mostly display in apps—and Apple’s new ad-blocking capabilities only affect the phone’s browser. “In our case specifically, ad blockers haven’t had as much impact—in part because the bulk of ads shown on/by Facebook are delivered on Facebook and in other apps that integrate with us,” Adam Isserlis, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement he provided. Facebook’s latest earnings report shows mobile-ad revenue represented approximately 76 percent of overall advertising revenue for the company in the second quarter of this year, up from 62 percent in the same period the year before.

Given the dominance of Facebook’s app, the likely result of ad-blocking on the mobile web is a further consolidation of the company’s power. If Google struggles to deliver ads, that money will flow to platforms whose ads can’t be blocked—like Facebook.

Media companies are, in effect, watching two business models crumble at once: their traditional business, and whatever business they were able to cobble together on the desktop.

Many publishers are still struggling to meet revenue goals in the shift from print to desktop, to say nothing of the shift from desktop to mobile. The latest earnings report from The New York Times shows revenue from digital advertising made up about one-third of overall advertising revenue; $48.3 million out of $148.6 million total. The “digital first” movement that emerged among print-media companies in response to the Internet has been replaced with a “mobile first” attitude. But that maxim still falls apart on the business side. For many legacy companies, print advertising revenue still dwarfs revenue from desktop and mobile ads. Throw ad blockers into the mix, and the picture is further complicated.

The businesses that end up surviving won’t give up advertising but may stop serving up ads that can be obviously blocked.

This will come in the form of sponsored articles designed to look like editorial, and search results paid for by companies who want to rank first on Google—only the lines will, Moore believes, become increasingly blurry.

“Users will be incredibly offended if they ask a question like, ‘Where’s the best Caribbean restaurant in Pittsburgh?’ and the question-and-answer system answers in favor of the restaurant that's paying… But that's what you're going to see,” Moore said. “There will still be a lot of controversy in this area but it will be about how the content is not purely advertising and not purely organic. It will merge into this mysterious combination.”

In the short term, ad blockers will make web pages cleaner, faster, and more mobile-friendly. “I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today,” Arment wrote. Maybe so. But they won’t be a lasting buffer against advertising. Depending on what they target, ad blockers encourage a more pervasive form of advertising—a kind that’s harder to avoid, harder to identify, and impossible to shut out.

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