Blocking ads on the Internet is ethical because the business model is broken – but I hope you whitelist Down the Road anyway

I use an ad blocker in my browser, but lately I’ve been unblocking ads on the small-time sites I follow.

The old-car site Curbside Classic was first to be unblocked, when the site’s owner explained last year how ads kept the site barely afloat. It’s one of my favorite places to visit on the Internet, and I wanted to see it continue.

Clabber Girl
Hard to block this kind of ad. Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kentmere 100, 2014.

Now that I’m seeing some ads, I rather like that they’re targeted. My online shopping and some of my searches are reflected in ads all the time. It’s a whole lot better than random advertising for stuff I would never buy. People worry about how Google and the other online ad services use the information they track, but I don’t understand why. I don’t think they care about anyone’s Internet history. Nobody’s peeking. Tracking is just an electronic means to a profitable end.

But there’s still more to dislike than to like about online ads. Sites cram ads in everywhere they can, making it hard to find and follow the content. Too often, ads pop up over content (and on a phone can be hard or impossible to clear), or automatically play video. And the ad infrastructure slows sites way down and crams computers full of trackers. I consider these things to be abuses, and a tacit admission that the online advertising business model is broken. There are even well-reasoned arguments on respected sites about why blocking ads is ethical. So I block ads on most sites I visit, and I don’t feel bad about it.

Yet I do feel bad about depriving individuals and independent groups of the few cents my pageviews could bring. So as long as their sites limit the abuses, I unblock ads on them.

If you don’t block ads, you might notice that a single ad now appears after each post here on Down the Road. I signed up for WordPress’s WordAds program and was accepted. You see, I’m a small-time Internet publisher who now wants to fund his site.

Down the Road costs little to run: $64.20 per year for a couple paid features and for the domain. My photography, which is this site’s focus, cost more than $1,100 last year, however.

I’m economizing. The bill for sending my older son to college is growing considerably this fall, and in 2017 my younger son starts college. I’m looking at a number of ways to save money to bear the college burden. If running ads here can offset the costs of running this blog in a way that limits the abuses of online advertising, I’m going to try it.

And as far as I can tell, WordAds does limit those abuses. My blog template allows exactly one ad per page. And WordAds allows no popups, video ads don’t automatically play, and my site seems to be as fast as ever. But I’m sure these ads are placing trackers on your computer. You can’t have it all.

Because ad rates fluctuate and you can’t predict who’s blocking ads, the WordAds people are cagey about how much this will pay. But I found a couple sites that run WordAds and have divulged their payouts, and used that info to do some quick and dirty calculations. It leads me to think that this should at least pay the blog’s costs, and maybe a little more. Any help I get offsetting the costs of my photography will be better than nothing.

And so I hope that if you block ads, you’ll whitelist Down the Road. But if you don’t, I’ll understand. Each of us has to draw the line somewhere.


13 responses to “Blocking ads on the Internet is ethical because the business model is broken – but I hope you whitelist Down the Road anyway”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Interesting. When I read the post through my email, I don’t get the ad, but when I actually go to the site (as I must to comment), there it is.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s right — the ads show up only on the site itself. Great thing about this ad system is that I get paid for impressions, not clickthroughs, so as long as you visit the site I get my penny or whatever it is.

  2. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    An ad for WordPress! That’s seems rather appropriate.

    Thanks for helping expand my understanding of online ads.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I see ads for WP all the time too. Makes me wonder how well they’re selling ads.

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I buy a lot of online ads for my clients and this is a huge topic of conversation in the ad world. People have come to expect free content on the internet. There is no such thing as free. Content costs money. Today, that content is paid for, in part, by sites selling online ad space and pay-per-click ads. The more people use ad blockers, the less money will be generated by online advertising. At some point, some sites will either shut down or start charging for content. It will be interesting to see how valuable content is to people when they have two choices: consume ads or pay a subscription. It’s a brave new world.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think we’re still shaking out the online content delivery and advertising model. It hasn’t matured yet. I think you’re right; some sites will shut down and others will go paywall before this is all sorted out.

      I actually pay for a few sites, ones that provide enough value to me to warrant me allowing them an automatic monthly debit. Some sites that I look at casually or infrequently, if they abuse ads or put up a paywall I stop going, because the value to me is too low.

  4. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    My opinion is that ads on a page are fine, but ads that delay or keep the page from loading cleanly will definitely get blocked.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yup. Totally.

  5. urbanhafner Avatar

    I use WordAds on as well. I get a really, really little money. I think it makes more sense to host WordPress yourself and run Google Ads on your own. I’ve done that for a different site and it works very well, but the downside is of course that it takes time to set this all up and keep it running. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve considered switching to self-hosted. But I really, really like having someone else do all the admin! So we will see how WordAds pays and go from there.

  6. Jason Wong Avatar

    Hi Jim,
    I am a wordpress blogger who is thinking of buying a domain name and applying for Wordads. However, I am not sure if I would be accepted. Would you mind telling me your monthly page view back then when you were accepted by the Wordads program? Thanks a lot!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m pretty sure the FAQs on the WordAds site explains the entry criteria but I have upwards of 20,000 views a month.

      1. Jason Wong Avatar

        Thanks you your information!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.