What Ad-Blocking On iOS 9 Means For The Publishing Industry

There was much speculation ahead of the iOS9 launch around how popular ‘ad blocking’ apps for Safari would be with consumers. Well, we have our answer: very.

For the uninitiated, ad blocking software strips away anything deemed to be advertising content and presents the internet unadorned by these useful commercial messages / insanely irritating distractions (delete as applicable). It has already proved popular on the desktop, and now it arrives on mobile. The image below probably says more than all the words in the world could. On the left, a popular newspaper site without any form of ad blocking enabled. On the right the newly cleansed ad blocking-enabled experience.

Consumer uptake has been ‘enthusiastic’ to say the least, with ad blocking apps topping the Apple Store charts for the last week or so. And nobody should be surprised about that. On the mobile interface, controlled as it is with swipes of the fingers on a small screen, poor quality advertising is even more annoying than it is on desktop (if such a thing was possible).

So What?

It probably doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is going. For an awful lot of businesses in the publishing space, no ads (or fewer ads - a lot fewer ads) means no revenue. As on desktop, so now on mobile: ad blocking represents a real danger to the industry.

There are of course ways to work around this. The publishing industry as a whole can try to deliver less intrusive and distracting advertising. There is always the option to move to a subscription model. But the suspicion is that when it comes to the former the horse has already bolted, and as regards the latter, it may be hard to make work on mobile internet.

Conclusion: the online content industry is in trouble.

Enter The Mobile App

But there is hope. The mobile app - as distinguished from the mobile internet - has a couple of advantages as a home for these businesses. Let’s call them out.

  • Ad blocking does not work in mobile apps. Sounds, and is, incredibly simple. If you want to monetize content via advertising, you can do so in mobile apps in a way that mobile internet will increasingly struggle to do. For many, this is reason enough to make the switch into the app.
  • Apps are more effective when it comes to the subscription model. Payments via App stores are effectively frictionless, and can renew automatically. In addition, it is easier to avoid some of the pretty easy ‘work-arounds’ that make subscription-only content online hard to protect.
  • Apps provide a more curated experience. For publishers, apps can enable them to show the right kind of advertising - namely targeted, effective, relevant campaigns, as opposed to flashing animated gifs taking over an entire screen. The result is revenue that doesn’t rely on irritation.
  • Apps make it easier to build a relationship with the reader - understanding what they have done in the past, and will likely be interested in in the future. They support richer, deeper interactions like in-app and push campaigns, that are highly targeted and move readers along a journey rather than simply treat them as a single audience.

There are, of course, many more reasons to prefer the app experience. Consumers love them, because they deliver a superior and smoother experience to mobile internet. But perhaps for publishers on mobile, the clear desire of the consumer for relief from the ‘unregulated internet’ is a key motivating factor. Whichever way we view it, however, the move to apps should be considered an opportunity rather than a threat.