Digital publishing platforms, from the Gray Lady of Journalism (aka the New York Times) to new media upstarts like Gawker, are struggling to convert online traffic into real-world revenue. Facebook recently began experimenting with publishing content directly on its platform, betting that consumers want to consume content through apps.
That puts Apple in a unique position, as arguably the most influential Silicon Valley titan. With a single update to its homepage, for instance, Apple could change the way millions of people find content altogether. And that’s why many digital publishers are nervous about an announcement buried beneath the news about the new iPhone and Apple TV.
Coming soon, Apple users will be able to block advertisements when using Safari on iPhones and iPads. Already, many web users use ad blockers on laptops and PCs. Such software and browser extensions may improve the user experience when browsing the web, but they also deny many companies crucial advertising revenue.
“If you are a medium or small-sized website operating on very tight margins, this could make or break the business,” said Stephen Chester, with the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the United Kingdom. “Particularly news organisations — whose revenues are under fire at the moment as their print circulations diminish but online audiences grow. Those organisations are having to reshape to adapt to the digital world and ultimately this could break them or put them at risk.”
Chester is hardly the only tech writer criticizing Apple’s ad blocker announcement. In USA Today, among many, many other sites, columnist Michael Wolff said that ad blockers “impair digital media.”
The move could also have ripple effects beyond advertisers and digital publishers. About 65-70% of consumers have visited a brick-and-mortar store after seeing a local advertisement online. Plus, many users are more likely to purchase or research a product after seeing it in an advertisement online.
Apple will not produce its own ad blocking software, but rather allow iOS users to install third-party browser extensions. Proponents of ad blockers say that websites clutter their screens with too many advertisements, video ads, and pop-ups. And although that’s often true, it’s just another indication of how desperate publishers are to monetize content any way they can.