For two hours a few weeks ago, major news websites were devoid of advertisements after a software glitch brought down Google’s DoubleClick ad server. Twitter celebrated under #dfpocalypse, and Quartz writer Leo Mirani declared, “This is what the web looks like without ads”. He took screenshots of The Atlantic, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune and The Telegraph during and after the outage. A few banner and video placements disappeared from each site.
I think Mirani’s screenshots are inaccurate. The web without ads would be a blank page.
Yes, a blank page. There is no content because the publisher can’t afford staff members. The ‘improved’ user experience and faster load times are irrelevant now that there’s nothing to improve or load.
The #dfpocalypse Twitter celebration was a reminder that double standards exist in advertising. We take it for granted that ads run on TV and radio. People expect to see ads on billboards and taxis. But on the Internet, ads are treated like a pariah.
When a big advertiser throws a free concert in the park, no one thinks, “Gosh, they’re ruining my user experience with their banners and signs! And how dare they let other brands give us free drink and food samples!” People know that the concert is funded by advertising – the stage is lined with corporate logos – but they don’t lament the user experience because they receive entertainment (i.e. content) in exchange.
Why is web content treated differently? Why are online advertisers considered nuisances rather supporters of the content?
A thriving advertising economy fuels our news media. Even when newspaper and magazine publishers used to charge a subscription fee, they lost money on print and distribution. They have always needed advertising revenue to capture breaking news, support investigative reporting and deliver the paper to your door.
Without advertising, we can’t sustain an independent press and healthy democracy. Paywalls wouldn’t rid the Internet of ads. Although The New York Times and Hulu Plus charge for subscriptions, they still serve ads. They have to.
While ads might increase load times and occupy some screen space, they are funding the information we need and the content we enjoy. Ads increase the quality of the Internet.
Without online advertising, our favorite news sites would become blank pages – digital ruins of a once bustling media economy.