The ad blocker as disruptor? Don't Flattr yourselves

It feels like we've probably done ad blocking to death now. It's an extremely nuanced subject but I can't believe that any avenue or solution has been left unexplored.

There has been irreversible damage caused to our industry and there's no quick fix but initiatives like the IAB's extremely sensible L.E.A.N doctrine and forward-thinking publishers testing the elasticity of withholding content will begin to improve the situation.

Although the threat remains severe, inevitably some of the furore will die down and the free-market economy will begin to reassert itself.

So what happens next? I think the answer lies in the fundamentals of the phenomenon.

The ambition of the blocking industry is essentially to disrupt the advertising market in the same way many other industries have been disrupted. By placing itself as a technology intermediary between supply (advertiser) and demand (consumer) and taking a slice of the profit it is filling the same role for advertising has Uber has done for taxis and Airbnb has done for accomodation.

Of course the much-vaunted vision of Adblock Plus to make digital advertising better is a theoretical suicide note. If all advertising improved to the point that it was 'acceptable' to Adblock Plus then they could quietly go out of business with its mission satisfied. I think however we can all agree that this is unlikely to happen and somewhere in there may exist a profit motive.

It was perhaps inevitable then at the early signs of advertisers and publishers upping their games that Adblock Plus and their ilk might look to diversify and disrupt and intermediate the other half of the media equation: the relationship between consumer and publisher.

And so behold the launch of a product from Adblock Plus and its friends at Flattr which allow online readers the ability to make micropayments.

Flattr is co-founded by Peter Sunde of Pirate Bay fame who in 2009 said the following of the media industry:

“Even if I had any money I would rather burn everything I own and not even give them the ashes. They could have the job of picking them up. That's how much I hate the media industry."

Compare this with the press release from Flattr about its new partnership with Adblock Plus:

“The two systems share the same ideals, of making the web a cleaner place while making it financially sustainable for those who create the things we engage with."

Now it’s possible that in the intervening years Sunde & Co have found religion but I suspect more likely that they see a profit opportunity in disrupting the publisher/consumer dynamic and indeed the stated ‘take’ on every micropayment stands at 10 per cent.

Depending on how the model ends up working (it’s not clear yet) it is therefore wholly possible that the same publisher who is paying Adblock Plus 30 per cent of ad revenue will now be paying Flattr and Adblock Plus 10 per cent of a consumer micropayment.

The aim of this 'venture' is to reach 10 million users next year and while I suspect they may find this a hard target to reach (giving is a harder model than blocking) any publisher that voluntarily signs up is throwing in their lot with the enemy of a free market economy and the enemy of ‘those who create the things we engage with’.

Nick Baughan is CEO at Maxus UK

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