A Question about Advertising

I want to say a word about advertising on the Internet. And then I want to ask you a question. I know that Tuesday is typically the day I post a book review but, unfortunately, with all the home repair and renovations we’ve been doing these past couple of weeks, my reading time has not been what it usually is. I hope to have a review later in the week.

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In the meantime, let’s talk advertising. I realized that I added advertising to this site without ever explaining my rationale . Let me do that today.

Some time ago I added a few ads to my site. I generally run about three of them, though this week I’ve got a couple more than that just because I got a bit disorganized and overbooked. Generally, though, I keep a few ads running at the top of the site and keep one running in the RSS feed. I did not begin running ads lightly but thought about it long and hard. I was fearful that, if I started running ads, I would begin to think about the site differently. I worried that I would begin to do things or write things purely because of the potential economic value. I feared it would be a temptation to view the site as a business rather than as a hobby or ministry or whatever it is now. I actually don’t know what the site is now and I kind of like it that way; it is what it is and I want to keep it pretty much the same.

I guard against this because I’ve seen what happens to churches when they adopt a marketing mindset. Every church markets; the moment a church places a sign outside or puts an advertisement in the phone book or the local newspaper, it is marketing. But some churches go far further, adopting a kind of marketing mindset that makes the church functionally not much different than a business. After a while every decision comes back to the bottom line, whether that is a dollar figure or an attendance figure. This quickly sends churches into a tailspin, a downward spiral that draws them further and further from the Bible. It is inevitable, really.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a commercial blog. Most of the really popular blogs out there are businesses (think Lifehacker or Engadget or sites of that nature). They bring in revenue through advertising and pay people to do their writing, all while turning a tidy bottom line. These sites, then, have to think as businesses; with the heavy costs involved, they need to appeal to an audience so they can sell lots of ad spots so they can cover their costs and make money. It’s just a typical business model. It’s a model that might work for a Christian blog as well, but it’s one I’ve been committed to avoid.

So my goal was to offer some ad spots while maintaining my integrity. I’ve sought to do just that. These ads help cover the costs for the site (which are considerable compared to what they were when things started out!). I do not let ads or advertisers influence my writing; I try to choose advertisers very carefully to ensure nothing is advertised here that I’d out-and-out disagree with.

So that’s my rationale. I want to talk for just a minute about ad-blocking software. This is most commonly in the form of Firefox’s ad-blocking plugin but there are other options available as well. I am not bothered much one way or the other if people block the ads on my site. However, I have wondered about the morality of blocking advertising. After all, many sites depend on ads for support. We can use a blog like Lifehacker as an example. I do not know much about their business model, but let’s assume that advertising is the sole or at least major source of their income. They must incur massive costs with hosting, development and writing; they recoup these costs by putting ads on their site and by getting you to rest your eyeballs on those ads (and, of course, they hope, by getting you to click the ads). Now if you use software that blocks the ads, you are effectively getting a paid service for free, are you not? You are enjoying the benefits of the web site, enjoying the benefits of a site supported by advertising, while cutting yourself out of the revenue generation. I know that television advertisers are wrestling with similar issues related to their commercials; PVRs are ubiquitous now and most of them offer commercial-skipping functionality. As with web sites, people are getting a service but without “paying” for it by watching the ads.

So I’ve wondered if this an ethical issue? Speaking personally, I stopped using ad blocking software quite a long time ago for this very reason. I just couldn’t reconcile reading the sites while blocking all of the ads; I also became aware of the irony of using ad blockers on other sites while selling ad spots on my own.

I am open to the idea that I am wrong here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Is there anything wrong with using ad blocking software?