Business Of Art Fix #14: Ad-Blockers Could Force Most Indies To Consider Paid Content

Today In Independent Publishing…


Over at medium, Tyler Reinhard of Mask Magazine makes a case for how ad-blockers could save small publishing — and it’s a strong case. We’ve been talking all year about the benefits and drawbacks of switching entirely to an entirely reader-supported model (which would still include affiliate marketing and ideally, also make room for cheap and easy-to-set-up ad space for non-profits and other queer/feminist indie businesses), which is how Mask operates and which we could pull off if enough people sign up for A+ and our merchandise store keeps growing. I suppose we’re also fortunate, in some way, that our consistent failure to attract advertisers in the past meant we had to create a subscription model way before ad-blockers became ubiquitous to begin with.

Basically, the gist of Tyler’s piece is that the harder it gets for any publishers to make money off ads, the more likely it’ll come to a head that independent publishers can’t make ANY money off ads. The market is changing: we made more from advertising in 2012, when our traffic was a fraction of what it is now, than we did in 2014. In order to maintain the outrageous numbers now required to attract advertisers (numbers a site like ours could never reach due to the relatively small size of our target demographic), sites who can afford to will game the system in a whole new way: like by literally buying traffic, or by kinda-buying traffic through Facebook, which Tyler addresses at length. In order to show up on a Facebook feed, you either game Facebook’s algorithm with what I think of as “share-bait” (e.g., hot takes that controversially declare a thing problematic) or you pay for feed placement. Tyler points out that “since big publishers can afford lots of ads, you’re less likely to see the more obscure stuff from smaller publishers.” You may recall from a previous fix that in the first six months of 2014, Buzzfeed spent $5.8 million on “cost of revenue,” which “consists primarily of amounts due to third party websites and platforms to fulfill customers’ advertising campaigns,” like Facebook. Newer sites like Bustle invest heavily in boosting Facebook posts.

“As shameful as it feels to ask for money on the internet, it’s how you develop a committed community,” Tyler concludes. “People do pay for writing. They do all the time. They have always paid for it, since the first typeset books nearly six centuries ago. People tend not to pay for writing that exists for the sole purpose of holding our attention for just long enough for a page to load. But we actually have incredible stories to tell.”

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, on the other hand, believes that ad-blocking is “highway robbery.” Ben Woods at The Next Web disagrees, pointing out that “no one forced the IAB to survive on the sale of ads for a living; no one forces me to write; no one forces an adblocker to exist.” However, this:

…Think about it like this though: You know that museum, church, volunteer playgroup or whatever you love visiting? You know how they have a collection plate for donations to help keep everything up and running, so you can keep visiting? Using an adblocker is like not ever, ever putting money in there – you know it’s totally voluntary, but you should also know that if you don’t, one day you’re going to swing by for a visit and it won’t be there anymore.

Amy Vernon at Inc has another idea, namely that publishers should maybe consider making better ads if we want to stop people from blocking them. Unfortunately, those ads jut don’t pay as well as the obtrusive ones (which’s part of why our ad revenue is so minimal — we don’t allow obtrusive ads).

On that note, I’m gonna link you again to that Bloomberg Business Week cover story I briefly linked up top, which’s about how most of those gabillion impressions advertisers are paying for are actually robots. A lot of this is just crap — crap websites with crap content, just farms raking in income. But the Outbrain method is used by most major publishers, and I didn’t know exactly how that worked until I read this!

This Business of Online Media & Journalism

+ Huffington Post Highline is turning out to be pretty cool, as well as “sleek and uncluttered, the antithesis of its mothership.” Their aim is to be “a new digital home for an old journalistic tradition…a magazine that only runs cover stories.”

+ After an invitation to Alaska to tell a bunch of humans how to build a personal brand, Ann Friedman becomes increasingly confused about what ‘personal branding’ is all about, especially when she realizes that “the more time I spend defining my personal brand, the more contrived it feels when I talk about myself.”

+ The Daily Mail is suing Gawker Media and James King, the author of “My Year Ripping Off the Web With the Daily Mail Online,” for defamation. It seems that The Daily Mail will probably lose this one, because they are awful.

+ Want a peek behind the curtain of xojane’s first-person confessionals? Here you go: It Happened To Me: How I Became a First-Person Human Trafficker.

+ Lime Crime is the most hated beauty company on the internet, and Arabelle Sicardi is going to tell you why over at Racked.

+ She photographed the first major generation of children of LGBT parents as a means of exploring her own story and the results are diverse and fantastic.

+ This is scary: Facebook wants to be more like Medium.

+ Politico: also interested in taking over the world.

+ Reporter sexually harassed on segment about sexual harassment. NEAT!

+ If you’re a journalist talking to commenters on Facebook, your audience is judging you.

+ The word hipster is supposed to refer to a specific subset of people. News outlets are instead just using it as shorthand for anyone who is under 40, has a college degree, and lives in or near a major city.”

This Business of Business

+ I hate it when you realize your life is being represented in a piece about a brand’s overwhelming success and therefore your life turns out to be a trend piece after all: Essie, my favorite nail polish, is a lot of salon (and people)’s favorite for its colors, its great design and also, apparently, its ease of use for manicurists.

+ “Here’s a tip: when you host a panel called “here are all the black people,” maybe make sure you actually have some.”

+ The Human Rights campaign got a bunch of companies together, like Google and Microsoft, to commit to “making workplaces around the world fair and equal for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees.”

+ Amazon enters the gig economy: “Let’s be accurate. There is not a “tremendous population of people who want to work in an on-demand fashion.” There is a tremendous population of people who want to work.”

Businesswoman’s Special: Advice On Working Better

+ How to fire someone

+ 30 Essential Books for Business, Marketing, and Social Media

+ 5 Email Templates For When Your Response Is Overdue

+ The Psychology Behind Successful Web Design


+ Bluestockings, a really important feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side, needs your help!

(No pitch suggestions today because Laneia is buried under her inbox. But I think there’ll be an exciting call up soon!)

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3177 articles for us.


  1. my thoughts on ad-blockers: use them. 1000% use them. but do it conscientiously. turn the blocker off for sites like autostraddle and your favorite webcomic etc. it’s not that hard.

      • I don’t think that is a fair solution. How good would an ad have to be to make you *want* to look at it? There are some funny commercials, but i think most of us have accepted the fact that t.v. entails watching commercials, and its easier to be funny if you have more than a picture on the side of the screen. I think the issue with web ads is (a) we don’t seem to feel that looking at ads is a reasonable exchange for otherwise free web content, and (b) we generally want them to be as unobtrusive as possible or don’t have the patience for watching something that could be funny, like a commercial.

        • But also is not fair the level of bandwidth you lose when you go to a website full of ads.

          Not everybody can afford a state-of-the-art computer, a high-speed IS or even have the knowledge to change the host in your browser, disable java-scripts and things like that.

          Just like any business marketing and publicity have risks. You can spent a bunch of money in an ad but if people doesn’t like it and your sales are not going up, you’re screw. Nowadays you can’t even know your customers because you have a bunch of bots and a great level of bought traffic going around.

  2. I am so glad you don’t allow intrusive ads and hope everyone with a decent income joins A+. I happened to wander over to another site for queer ladies yesterday and the ads were so obnoxious that I yelled ARRGGGH at my computer and closed the window.

  3. I was never a person who loved ads, in my old TV days every publicity break would end up with me just changing the channel, but we can’t do that around the web.

    Let’s use 2 places that, as far as I know, don’t have money issues: The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. I’m using ABP on those places and I’m just talking about the main pages.

    The Huffington Post: ABP is blocking 14(!!!) ads there.
    BuzzFeed: ABP is blocking 12(!!!) ads there.

    Chrome, Opera and Firefox let you see ABP in action. IE doesn’t and Edge doesn’t even allow you to use ABP (that’s almost a death warrant for Edge).

    So, nobody thinks that 12 and 14 ads are a bit much?

    • I installed an ad-blocker (which i turn off for 75% of the sites i read, obviously) specifically so that i could load articles on HuffPo without my browser freaking out, since sometimes I need to read HuffPo for various articles I’m writing here. I don’t know what they’re doing over there but it’s like a major assault on the eyeballs.

      • “MAJOR ASSAULT ON THE EYEBALLS”, best description ever use on this matter.

        And you know, I would love to see some real numbers about the success that this kind of advertising has. Some kind of “are your sells going up?” or something like that.

  4. Is it just me or does the front page no longer show article comment counts? Maybe this was better suited to the A+ insider but I’m just wondering why this decision was made.

    More on topic: do people hate ads that much??
    Also those email templates are super helpful.

    • Yeah, I don’t see them either. I hope it’s fixed. I pop in here regularly to see if there’s new comments on an article and seeing on the front page really helps.

    • I came to this article to ask the same exact thing! I like to see the comment count so I can jump back into discussion if I see more comments have been posted.

    • hi! we clipped the size of the front-page feature boxes ’cause the new events sidebar has made it so there’s a huge gap between the end of new content and the numbers that bring you back further into the archives, even without the you should go box or the store ad. so we decided to experiment with this solution because we also had noticed through this weird analytics feature that showed where people click that people click less often on things with less comments, which is really too bad because some of our most amazing stuff isn’t necessarily comment-friendly (now that commenting is down overall throughout the internet) and we noticed other sites aren’t showing comment amounts either anymore. so we thought okay, let’s experiment with this! thanks for the feedback though we will definitely take it into account.

      • That’s funny, I definitely notice I don’t really want to click as much on things with fewer comments. It’s some weird psychological thing! Even tho I love underdogs! So odd.

        I feel like any shortcut to the comments for each article would work from the main page — maybe a little icon?

  5. Have a pop up websites that spots you are using adblocker and give you choice of perusing with it off or on. Then remembers your choice for future. Obviously pleading with them to keep it on for the sake of good writing….

    • There was a site that tried this, but if you block the javascript component of the site that detects if you have adblock+ or not then it’s still possible to get around this (i.e. if you are using noscript for Firefox).

  6. Speaking of A+/the store, I have a question for AS staff! I have a hunch that my gf might be getting me the scissoring v neck tee for my birthday in a month, but I’m worried the XS might sell out. Any chance that you’ll restock after all the sizes are sold out? I also really want one of the black scissoring tanks, but I’m afraid I’ve missed the boat on that one. On another note, it took me a while to find the store because it doesn’t seem to be on the drop-down menu at the top left? I finally found it at the bottom, but just my two cents that it should be at the top menu too! Hoping to buy some merch after my next paycheck so ya’ll don’t have to rely on ads in the age of adblock. For what it’s worth, I’ve enjoyed some of the sponsored posts/series in the past more than I thought I would. Thanks for all that you do!

    • Hi! I’m not sure what our inventory is right now because we’re waiting for the new shipper to finish inventorying everything… which they promised would be done by yesterday, but isn’t yet! As soon as it is we’ll be putting a store button back at the top and I’ll let you know how we’re going on sizes!

  7. Adblockers (well Adblock+ anyway) already have an option that defaults to whitelisting ads that meet acceptable standards. This is why you still get some ads showing on a number of big sites.

  8. This post reminded me to add Autostraddle to my list of AdBlock-disabled websites. I don’t see as many ads because I’m A+, but the ads never made the site hard to navigate or got in the way of any stories.

  9. Making ads “better” wouldn’t work for me because I hate all ads equally and never look at them if I can help it. (Seriously, I never watch ads when I watch TV, I always mute them and when I go to a movie I listen to music on my earbuds until the actual previews start.) But I still turn off adblocker for sites I care about and are important to me like AS.

  10. Thanks for linking to my post on Inc – you raise a lot of interesting points here; and the problem is that the ad blocker “issue” is deeply complex, as you note.

    But right alongside that is the issue of tracking scripts, many of which relate to advertising. When I came here, my Ghostery app took note of 69 trackers running here on your site (for comparison, NYTimes has 48 on its home page, BusinessInsider 45 (though that may be less because of the shooting – I counted 82 the other day), BuzzFeed 27 and Jezebel 29. Feministing has 11, Gradient Lair has 5. Most of yours seem to be advertising based, but I have gotten *really* curious about website tracking scripts, because my own website has no advertising, yet has 12 trackers on it, some of which are advertising trackers – something I’m investigating at the moment.

    I’m not really sure if I have a specific point, except to say that this was a great piece and a really interesting subject, and in my ongoing efforts to figure out wtf is going on with trackers, I’d love to talk to you sometime – on or off the record, because I’m SO curious about how we’re being followed around the Internet.

    Anyway. Keep on keepin’ on.

    • Hm, I’m not sure what you’re talking about w/r/t “trackers,” but I just installed ghostery to see what you’re talking about and only 16 came up for me on this page and 19 on the homepage — all of which are pretty unremarkable elements of running a large website like this: tracking traffic, social media widgets, gravatar, the interfaces we use to host ads since we don’t know how to do it ourselves, like BuySellAds and Doubleclick. We barely make any money from advertising (it’s only 5% of our revenue), so I don’t see how it’d even be possible for us to have 69 ad-related ‘trackers’ running on our site.

    • Hey Amy!
      Would you be willing to email me at cee at this domain dot com with your ghostery results? I’m only seeing the same ones Riese is seeing, and those are all the ones we need for social media and traffic recording and ads. I’m curious to see what you’re seeing and I’d love to get to the bottom of it. I’m wondering if maybe you have some adware running on your computer which is maybe inserting tracking code from the browser, hence why you’re seeing it on your own site even though you don’t have any ads?

    • FWIW, I’m only seeing 13 trackers here today, mostly analytics. Which is making me wonder what, exactly, is causing some trackers to show up. I see different ones all the time, even on the same pages. There shouldn’t be THAT much of a fluctuation. Which of course makes me suspicious even of Ghostery and other such apps.

  11. w/r/t what Amy said above, I’m only seeing 16 trackers on this page, most of which are related to traffic and social media.

Comments are closed.