In publishing, advertising has always had an uneasy relationship with editorial. Journalists and editors regard advertising as a commercial necessity, but one that has the potential to dilute the quality of their publications in ways out of their control. Audiences are also in two minds: many a publisher has inwardly winced when a reader commends a publication for not having so many of those distracting adverts. Yet the numbers show that readers do take notice and act on what they see -- the business model of advertiser-supported publications is by far the most common, and has driven the industry for hundreds of years.
Here as in so many places, going online threatens existing ideas. An executive at an online advertising network has resurrected the old worry that advert-blocking software will kill the market. With people not seeing the adverts there'll be no money to pay for the sites, he says, and online publishing will turn into the preserve of expensive, low-circulation newsletters.
It's a plausible scenario. But the onus isn't on the browser makers to avoid ad blockers, which in any case are widely available already. The advertisers must instead make sure that what they say is attractive and relevant, and delivers information in a way that the readers accept and find useful. Thinking otherwise is to fall into the same trap that injures so many industries, to see the end consumer as a revenue-generating unit to be manipulated on terms acceptable primarily to the industry.
It could well be that over time, the straightforward advertising-led business model will fail for reasons other than ad blocking. Increasingly, people acquire their information through blogs, RSS feeds and other filtered sources: they want to do this, and no amount of stern finger-wagging will stop them.
Yet advertising is not going away. People want to know about things they want to buy. The advertisers who spend time thinking about where, how and why effective communication will work online will be those who succeed. At the risk of mixing advertising and editorial, you can be very sure that good quality independent editorial will be part of that. It's the people who complain about the loss of the old who will find in the end that nobody wants to listen.