If there's one thing that the internet age has proved – other than our love of videos of kittens doing amusing things – it's that we don't like paying for stuff. The web is a beautiful free-for-all, a 24-hour party with friends, discussion, music, gossip and much else besides. Some of the websites are maintained by altruistic souls, but most are provided by companies for free, causing them to haemorrhage cash as they try desperately to retain users, while wondering how on earth they're ever going to prise any money out of us. And thus far, the only way many have come up with is to show us adverts in the hope that we'll click on them, buy something, and that some commission will filter back to them.
It's a flawed plan for any number of reasons. We've always resented advertising – we put "no junkmail" stickers on our front doors, opt out of cold calls with the Telephone Preference Service – and for most online businesses the sums don't add up because a) we're in a recession, and b) we're so used to freeloading that we resent any attempt to get us to part with our money. Six million people browse the web using Firefox with an extension called Adblock Plus – it does exactly what it says on the tin – and for many users it has become a righteous, anti-capitalist stance. When a developer of another popular extension for Firefox dared last week to update his software so that Adblock Plus was disabled for visitors to his own website – because he fancied recouping a bit more ad revenue – the ensuing hoohah saw him forced into making a humble apology. Adblockers were furious that their eyeline might be invaded with marketing messages, and one stated, somewhat smugly, that bad business models dependent on web ads simply don't deserve support.
As someone who frequently ponders how creative industries might possibly be sustained in the 21st century, it would probably be hypocritical of me to use Adblock Plus. So I've uninstalled it. But I haven't clicked on a single advertisement since doing so, which underlines the whole problem. Perhaps I should altruistically click on a few ads and buy something – but I'm not sure that such a guilt-motivated act will do much for the online economy. I'd rather just give the websites I regularly use a bit of cash, instead. But I suspect I'm in the tiny minority.
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