There’s a new kind of person visiting web sites these days, I call them the web’s “welfare readers.” These are folks who feel deeply entitled to free content, without any sense of obligation to give anything back to the sites that produce the content they enjoy so much.
Who the heck are these welfare readers? I’ll explore that in this column.
Welfare Readers Versus Whitelisters & Donators
Welfare readers usually use ad blockers. Chances are that they’ve run into a site with obnoxious ads that they hated, and thus they now browse the web using an ad blocker. This has the unfortunate effect of penalizing every site instead of just the one with the obnoxious ads.
Please note that not everybody who uses ad blockers does so indiscriminately, and not everybody who uses an ad blocker is a welfare reader. Many ad blocker users are not welfare readers at all. They take great care to white list their favorite sites, and for that web site publishers should be grateful. I call these folks the “whitelisters.”
In my own case, I have readers who use ad blockers who have told me they turn them off while on my blogs. I appreciate that very much and I do my best to create content that they continue to enjoy. Whitelisters are smart people who use their ad blockers very carefully and respect their content providers, unlike welfare readers.
I suspect that those using ad blockers who white list sites simply don’t suffer from the entitlement mentality demonstrated by welfare readers either. They know that it takes time and effort and money to produce the content they enjoy each day, and thus they are happy to let ads load on their favorite sites.
Whitelisters tend to be more mature, and they respect the value of hard work…unlike welfare readers who simply want what they want, without feeling obligated to give anything back.
I also have those who use ad blockers who, instead of loading ads, make a donation to my blogs via the coffee cup in the sidebar. I’m also grateful and appreciative of their contribution, it speaks well of them that they are willing to “put their money where their mouths are” and step up to support sites they enjoy reading.
A welfare reader would never make a donation to a site that would break their code of taking and never giving.
My Experience with Welfare Readers
I’ve had to deal with a few of these people on my blogs.
I wrote an article about Apple’s Safari browser a while back, and I got an influx of people from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog. They bitched up a storm about web pages having too many ads, sucky web page design, etc. Of course, they never mentioned anything about contacting the sites in question and politely suggesting that they change things. Why do that when you can flood somebody’s blog with whining instead? After all, doing something positive might take some real effort on their part and most of these guys can’t be bothered doing that.
One guy actually said that I had an entitlement mentality by writing articles and having ads on my pages. Whoah! Talk about a backward perspective! This guy actually thought that I had no right to make a living by running ads on my content, and thus I felt “entitled” to something. I had to laugh because if I had the sense of entitlement he claimed, I’d just go on welfare for real.
I actually turned off my unemployment benefits, after getting laid off from my full-time job at Ziff Davis Media a while back. I could have collected for 99 weeks or more, but I turned them off before the end of the first round of unemployment. Instead of collecting, I wrote articles and put ads on my pages, so I could support myself directly instead of going to the government for a handout or relying on another company that might lay me off in this awful economy.
What a selfish bastard I am for saving taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars!
I had another guy who boasted about using an ad blocker, and also complained about the quality of the content. This guy was absolutely shameless in his hypocrisy and criticisms, and yet kept coming back to my blogs over and over again.
Fortunately, these folks are a tiny minority of my readers and I’m very grateful for that. Most of my readers enjoy my content, and have been very supportive of my efforts. I appreciate their support and I’m happy to keep writing for them.
Pushy Publishers & Annoying Ads
Welfare readers do have a point when they complain about some sites and their ads (even a blind & selfish squirrel finds a nut once in a while). There are sites out there that have tons of popups, landing pages and generally obnoxious ads.
Publishers would do well to be careful in their placement of ads on their pages, but some welfare readers are impossible to please. The die-hard welfare readers don’t want any ads at all, and they bitterly complain no matter what a publisher does to try and meet them half-way in terms of advertising or page design. When you have such an amazing sense of entitlement, you simply don’t care about anybody else’s needs or well-being.
Pay Attention Publishers
Despite the attitudes of welfare readers, pushy publishers should take note of how and where their ads are on their pages. Welfare readers and pushy publishers, unfortunately, tend to reinforce each other. The welfare readers block ads and the pushy publishers add even more ads to make up the lost revenue, it’s a vicious circle that goes on and on. Welfare readers often use pushy publishers as an excuse to block all ads, on all sites.
Yes, some ads are annoying; especially those with sound on by default. I personally don’t mind animation that much, but I detest ads that load with sound. This is a very poor advertising practice and advertisers should stop doing it, and publishers should pressure them to knock it off.
So beware, pushy publishers. If you’ve got ads that anger your readers, it could end up costing you more revenue than it generates over the long term. Still, as annoying as the pushy publishers are, it doesn’t really excuse the welfare reader’s sense of entitlement and constant complaining either. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right.
Not all publishers are pushy; some are quite judicious in how they display advertising. There are even sites like Slashdot that thank frequent contributors by offering to let them turn off ads when they are logged in. And Reddit, for example, sometimes displays a “thanks for not using an ad blocker” message to its readers. These are great ways to thank whitelisters and those who don’t use ad blockers at all.
Another trait of a welfare reader is the constant complaining about articles being broken into multiple pages. This is often part of a site’s business model (the more pages, the more ad impressions and thus more revenue for the site), but it’s also a practical way to deal with pages that contain lots of images such as screenshots of software, etc.
Some readers get very angry when they load up an article only to find it contains a ton of screenshots, especially if they aren’t on broadband. Can you imagine how angry some people might become if they load an article only to find out after the fact that the page contains 25 screenshots?
Welfare readers, unfortunately, don’t take a moment to understand these things or simply don’t care even if they do know. You can bet, however, that if articles with a high load of screenshots were suddenly changed to be one page, some of the welfare readers would be screaming at the top of their lungs that publishers were overloading them with images. It’s really a no-win situation for publishers when dealing with welfare readers.
Multi-page articles are an important tool for publishers, and I don’t see them going away unless the CPM business model changes.
The Advertising Business Model
As I noted earlier, most publishers get paid by generating advertising impressions on their pages. When one ad loads, it’s considered an “impression.” Advertisers generally pay per one thousand impressions (CPM). So publishers try to generate as many impressions as possible to maximize their revenue.
I can understand the criticism directed at this business model. It makes publishers think of impressions instead of other things. Unfortunately, this is the current state of the web’s main business model. Publishers are stuck with it, until something better comes along.
A few blogs are part of elite advertising networks such as the Deck, and only need to run one ad on their pages. They don’t get paid by the number of impressions; they seem to get a set amount for the ad regardless of how many impressions it generates. This is a wonderful thing, but it’s not available for most publishers. These elite advertising networks are generally by invite only and strictly limit the number of publishers.
What about subscriptions? Well for some sites I suppose it might work. But how many subscriptions can people afford to pay for? How many do they even want to keep track of? I don’t see the subscription model as valid for most sites. I suspect that readers will react very negatively to content placed behind subscription walls.
Will the CPM model fade away at some point? I surely hope so, but I see nothing on the horizon that’s ready to replace it. So, for the time being, we’re all stuck with it.
I know that some are going to read this column and flame me for bringing this topic up in the first place. Most publishers prefer not to talk about such things, lest they anger their readers.
Remember when Ars Technica wrote an article about ad blockers? There was an enormous amount of nastiness directed at them by some of the welfare readers out there, who felt entitled to Ars’ content without giving anything back to the site. These people had no shame whatsoever, and aimed an enormous amount of vitriol at Ars for publishing its article.
To those welfare readers, I can only say this: the truth hurts eh?
Fortunately, Ars also got a lot of support from whitelisters and those who don’t use ad blockers at all. It seems that the majority in the Ars community appreciates the site’s content and firmly supports the advertising based business model on that site.
Here Come the Angry Welfare Readers
I don’t mind bearing the brunt of the hostility of the web’s welfare readers. In fact, I welcome it because whenever somebody stoops to mindless flaming and vitriol, they’ve already lost the debate. In this case, the shameless welfare readers really don’t have a leg to stand on.
Here are some of the comments you may encounter once this column gets into wider circulation on the web:
1. I have every right to block your ads! It’s my browser!
2. Well I won’t click on your ads anyway, so it’s fine if I block them.
3. You’re an a**hole Lynch!
4. Your content sucks!
5. Your site sucks!
6. You suck!
7. All advertising sucks!
8. F**k you Lynch!
9. I want what I want the way I want it!
10. You put your content on the public web Lynch, so go screw yourself! We can do what we want with it!
11. I hate you Lynch!
12. Ha, ha Lynch! I’m blocking your ads right now! Bite me!
That’s a small sample of the kinds of comments generally directed at publishers who dare to confront the web’s welfare readers. It’s very telling and a sad commentary on the rather selfish nature of some people in the world.
Despite the hostility, I continue to believe that welfare readers are in the minority on the web and will hopefully remain that way. Most readers know that publishers are working hard for them, and they appreciate it. Letting ads load in their browser and even clicking a few occasionally is no big deal to them at all.
So to all you whitelisters, donators and others who don’t even use ad blockers out there, thanks! We value you as readers and we truly appreciate your support. Your good nature and your willingness to give back to publishers demonstrate the quality of your character as human beings.
To all of the welfare readers out there, it’s not too late to change your ways. Take a step back and think about the many people that produce the content you love; please understand that they have rent, mortgages, health insurance and other necessities to pay for…just like you.
What’s your take on the web’s welfare readers? Tell me in the comments below.