Feb 12, 2013

Youtube and adblock

I make videos and upload them to youtube for two main reasons:
  1. To promote something that I like
  2. To create entertainment
I have good friends who do this for the same reasons as well, but they also have a third reason which I don't share:
  1. To earn money
Two seemingly unrelated things to note right off the bat: first, youtube is not their primary means of earning (or at least I hope it isn't) and second, they spend a lot more time making a lot more videos per week than I do (that's just in the interest of full disclosure.)

What adblock is (to me)

This whole topic came up some months ago when I mentioned that I use adblock so that I don't have to sit through or click through the various advertisements that youtube has.  On the face of it, it is undeniable that my use of adblock has infringed on ad revenue for my friends.  My response was simple: I'm sorry I won't watch ads, but if lost ad revenue causes you to stop making as many awesome videos, I'll gladly pay a subscription fee to your channel instead.

Now, I think ads generate revenue at the dear cost of societal health, and that is something I don't feel like supporting; however, I hope the above stance is not construed to be "I'm sorry, I won't watch ads and I have no problem going into your pocket and stealing dollar bills."  If you think that's what is really going on here, please keep reading:

What adblock is not

Someone I know wrote an article after we discussed adblock.  Let's consider my full position in light of it:
  1. I will continue to use adblock (which is only the tip of the iceberg of tools and habits available) to avoid consumerism.
  2. If me using adblock is going to prevent my friends from making their awsome videos, I will subscribe in whatever way possible to continue giving them that extra incentive to make these videos; I will participate personally in sharing feedback and positive experiences about their videos; I will cherish them dearly for making great content; but I will not stop using adblock and similar habits and will remain unconvinced by strawman arguments.
When I say strawman arguments I mean starting your article with stuff like: "rip the system, down with the man, kill your parents and hang the bankers..."  I'm not an anarchist, I just try my best to ignore the tasteless aspects of popular culture that we live in, marketing and advertising being a prime example along with stuff like reality tv, etc.  Nor am I an activist with a sign, laying down in front of traffic in demonstration, and I highly doubt most adblock users are any of that either.

Actually, it should be really easy to see that blocking ads while supporting the creator in other ways (even if they are not monetary, but if monetary is what you need, so be it) is at the very least not stifling their abilities.  Especially if you consider the fact that, after the initial investment in tools which is not covered by advertisement, content value is created out of thin air.  When you write a book, you are not spending anything material except ink, what you really are spending is creative talent - you are spending your time.  From antiquity till now, comission and subscription has put the price on time along with advertisement, and you'll just have to call me old fashioned once you recognize how I eschew the latter.

I can most obvioulsy be wrong here if ad revenue is indeed the primary mover for someone's youtube channel; If that's the case I can see it to be yet another tragedy of consumerism.  Either way, by blocking ads I have become no more a thief then when I have come to the movie theatre after the previews and ads have finished playing and the actual movie I paid 40 bux for starts (20 minutes late, I might add) and no more a stifler of creativity than when I do the same thing and every single creative person who worked on that movie - before it even ever got released to the theatre - doesn't notice.

Understand: I'm part of a group (could it really be 60% overall?) of people who have long ago replaced television with $8/mo netflix, radio with $4/mo pandora, who do not read newspapres, who do not watch news shows, who have over the years developed an automatic reflex that closes any sort of popup without thinking, etc., etc., etc.  Adblock is simply yet another tool in this long list of tools and habits.  To be sure, advertisements don't work in generating revenue like they should, and the solution isn't to force them to work through guilt trips, the solution is to understand why they don't work anymore.

And please don't forget the primal urges for creative expression by thinking too hard about lost ad revenue.

Perspective from 2007.


  1. Very interesting thoughts! Man, this whole topic can be unpacked to reveal a whole bunch of legal, ethical, cultural, and even philosophical questions. I'm glad it's being discussed.

    I also very much dislike advertising as a revenue scheme, simply because of its unpleasantness for the consumer. But I know that advertising does *work* as a revenue scheme, and it works so well that it's almost an act of foolishness to not take advantage of it, especially on a platform as popular as Youtube.

    But I'm not convinced there's an actual ethical issue here. This is the wild-west chaotic realm of the internet, where intellectual property laws are fuzzy at best, and the infrastructure of content distribution is simply not standardized in any meaningful way. We're not talking about legal issues here, just structural and commercial ones.

    We are encouraged to watch ads because they support our content creators. But they only support our content creators because we watch them in the first place! Do we have an obligation to perpetuate that cycle? If enough people were to break the "rules" by using Adblock, ads would become an ineffective revenue method. But wouldn't that in itself simply be a sort of natural selection? Why is a revenue structure worth keeping simply because it's the one we're already using? What if there are other, even more effective systems out there that are just waiting for the ad system to collapse so they can have a try? Who are we to argue with evolution? :)

  2. Sure take advantage of it. Just don't cry foul when savvy users use adblock, especially after your advertisers have repeatedly exploited their good will with annoying, malfunctioning, and outright malicious ads