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The web’s welfare readers

September 27, 2010
By

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.

Ad Blockers
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.

Donators
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.

Paginated Articles
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.

The Elite
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.

Subscriptions
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.

Final Thoughts
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.


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27 Responses to The web’s welfare readers

  1. robert cooper on April 24, 2014 at 12:11 am

    the day’s of constant and subliminal advertising is over, It’s Darwinism now fight to survive

  2. Brian Kavanaugh on September 11, 2013 at 10:36 am

    This kind of drivel is definitely driving me to Sbux to get my first PSL of the year though. Have a great week out there in Internet Land everyone.

  3. Brian Kavanaugh on September 11, 2013 at 10:33 am

    By the way, when you so call “turn off your own” Unemployment Benefits, you’re not saving taxpayers any money, so don’t go around acting all Lancelot on us. If you put up a website and sell ads, awesome, you can do that in print version as well but how this even remotely relates to people’s insurance benefits is WAY over my head.

  4. Brian Kavanaugh on September 11, 2013 at 10:31 am

    The bit about turning off your own Unemployment benefits might be the funniest thing I’ve read this year besides Ricky Gervais’ Tweet of God ( hope I didn’t spoil it for anyone). Awesome.

  5. Arthur on July 29, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Lynch: “Welfare Readers”? Really? Entitled much? Entitlement is believing that people with less means than a tech worker are impoverished because they are greedy, stupid and unwilling to work. If you stepped outside your silicon bubble and checked out the lives of average welfare recipients you might choose your words more carefully. Your words are, after all, your bread and butter, and it’s like 2013 or something and you’re college educated, so, you know, think.

  6. JG on September 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Have you thought about making an app reader for your site? It might be another revenue option.

    I personally use flashblock and adblock. Love em both, as ads break my concentration terribly. (especially flash)

    I honestly had no idea blocking ads put such a squeeze on publishers. I still can’t tolerate ads, but now I know just how bad you need donations. I’ll toss a bit of coin in the pot for ya. :wink: Thanks for all your good work.

  7. Nacht on June 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    On one hand you have the right to post ads to gain revenue, on the other hand the creators of adblockers have the right to create adblockers, and on the final hand some people who use adblockers are merely objecting to being forced to guzzle advertizements like money cows. Perhaps some serious thought is required on all sides of the issue. Personally, I do not see information as a commodity for which compensation is needed or can be morally required.

  8. Tim on January 24, 2011 at 9:57 am

    @ JJ: Be sure to send Jim an email so that he can investigate. If you remember the date you saw it, that would be helpful in tracking down which ad network served it. Unfortunately, a few bad ads sometimes slip through publisher’s filters.

    Anyways, as I have said before Jim, I totally agree with you! :D I’m trying to model my, well, ad model after yours in that making sure they are not intrusive yet can still help pay for server fees and such so that I can keep do what I love (writing) :)

  9. JJ on December 31, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Jim.

    I would like to help you out by whitelisting your site, but when I see scam adds I get sick.

    http://i56.tinypic.com/2j1547n.png

    This is an add i saw on this article, informing me that I was the 99.999th visitor and that I could win an iMac, iPhone or an iPad… If I just download a couple of vira.

    I’d like to whitelist my favourite sites, but it seems that there are scam adds like these everywhere.

  10. Donut on November 15, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    All posters, this is interesting because none among you exonerate the imperialism feignly tossed about. Surely a few “welfare” denizens would concur at the most feeble of these investigations. Willpower and intelligent banter can not make the most prosperous of you comfortable enough to challenge the true handiwork of futility! None among you has described anything of the magnitude just laid before you! And I began using “ad blockers” because of inadequate bandwidth!

  11. Pete on November 13, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    While I might agree with the general idea of this article, I think it’s worth bringing up two points: firstly, how sad is it that on the internet, the only thing that comes above all others is the need for free movement of advertising? The HTML idea of a “hyper-text” surely wasn’t invented with the idea of delivering adverts to everybody, otherwise it might be Hyper Advertising Display Language.

    Secondly, I have to take issue with the use of “welfare” in your term for these people who demand free stuff. If anything, those that you term welfare readers are the pinacle of the laissez-faire principle: they can take your content for free, and they will. And you are powerless to stop them, whether you are running a small blog or a multinational film studio.

    Reading between the lines, it seems to be that – in common with most creatives these days – what you really desire, Jim, is to be recognised as producing work worth funding. If the laissez-faire (lazy but unfair?) readers force all quality writing such as yours off the internet, all that’s going to be left are “top five tips for browsing” articles and adverts. Whilst the creative types are the ones on welfare.

  12. Jim on November 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Hi Adrian,

    Thanks very much! I appreciate that and also having you as a reader here and on DLR! :smile:

  13. Adriank on November 7, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Hi Jim,

    I guess I am in the same boat as danskkr. I started using an adblocker virtually as soon as I became aware of them. Back then they would save valuable time over a crappy dialup connection. Thankfully technology continues to evolve even in Australia. Downloading time is not a concern for me anymore but somehow I am reluctant to get rid of them all together. When I read your story about whitelisters however, I knew this was a great strategy to reward those who I regularly read.

    I have been reading your content on DLR and even back when you were at ET. Consider yourself un-adblocked, Jim. Sorry I haven’t done it sooner.

  14. Brian Masinick on October 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    danskkr wrote:

    @ Brian Masinick:
    Yep – when ad’s start freezing up my computer its a big annoyance so the effort is much appreciated. I’m noticing more and more that web ads are getting better than they were (even the new slide out ones I actually think look pretty cool) so I’m definitely go to pay more attention to which sites get blocked.
    I guess add-ons like adblock have served a good purpose but maybe now its time to start reminding people about the value of good advertising. A healthy debate and not just labelling people as welfare readers (I’m from the UK and to me welfare is a good thing). I’m sure (I hope) people would be more receptive if more was made to make them aware of the impact that blocking ads has.
    Anyway, I’ll have a little look around your blog now.. many thanks for warm response!

    Nice to have you with us, and thanks for your dialog! I hope you like the sites – this one, JimLynch.com, desktoplinuxreviews.com, and eyeonlinux.com. Each of these sites has plenty of good information about technology, and Jim tries to provide cross references to each of his sites and forums as well. Let us know what you think, and if you have constructive suggestions for improvement, I know that I am interested in them, and I am quite sure that Jim is too!

  15. danskkr on October 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    @ Brian Masinick:
    Yep – when ad’s start freezing up my computer its a big annoyance so the effort is much appreciated. I’m noticing more and more that web ads are getting better than they were (even the new slide out ones I actually think look pretty cool) so I’m definitely go to pay more attention to which sites get blocked.

    I guess add-ons like adblock have served a good purpose but maybe now its time to start reminding people about the value of good advertising. A healthy debate and not just labelling people as welfare readers (I’m from the UK and to me welfare is a good thing). I’m sure (I hope) people would be more receptive if more was made to make them aware of the impact that blocking ads has.

    Anyway, I’ll have a little look around your blog now.. many thanks for warm response!

  16. Brian Masinick on October 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    danskkr wrote:

    I suspect I am one of your welfare readers (not you personaly, this is my first visit to your site). I put adblock years ago because the number of spinning zappy ads and popups back then were given me migraines. To be honest these days I forget its there and I’m sure a lot of other ‘welfare readers’ are the same. I’m not intentionally trying to cheat anyone out of money, I’m just a bit lazy. If you (or any similar site) relies on the ad revenue just let me know and I’m more than happy to turn it off.

    I think in your case, it is not malicious intent, it is one of time and convenience. Some sites deserve to get their ads blocked because unless you are looking for the item, their stuff is just too intrusive. Here, Jim works hard to make sure his ads are, at the very least, not too intrusive. But beyond that, at least one of his ad search engines includes stuff that checks the context of the content on the pages and delivers up ads that are relevant to the conversation.

    When the advertisements are not too loud or large to block the content on the page and they consume moderate bandwidth, and may even be relevant, I have no trouble with them at all.

    From time to time, one of the ad servers will start “spinning” and consuming a lot of browsing resources. When that happens, I try to be a good citizen and let Jim know about it. I give Jim feedback on the ads and ideas he has and he listens to my input. As a result, Jim gets some revenue on his sites, I get information that I am looking for, and we help one another out. Now to me, that is quite fair and reasonable. I encourage others to give Jim feedback; I know he reads it and listens.

  17. Jim on October 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Hi Dan,

    Welcome to the blog, thanks for dropping by. :smile:

    Yes, it would be great if you could whitelist it for your next visit. I would appreciate it. :biggrin:

  18. danskkr on October 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I suspect I am one of your welfare readers (not you personaly, this is my first visit to your site). I put adblock years ago because the number of spinning zappy ads and popups back then were given me migraines. To be honest these days I forget its there and I’m sure a lot of other ‘welfare readers’ are the same. I’m not intentionally trying to cheat anyone out of money, I’m just a bit lazy. If you (or any similar site) relies on the ad revenue just let me know and I’m more than happy to turn it off.

  19. Brian Masinick on October 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm
  20. DeeCee on October 13, 2010 at 7:55 am

    @ D:
    Don’t let the door hit you as you leave…
    ….gee, what a nice guy. :sick:

  21. Brian Masinick on October 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    D wrote:

    I’ll do and load whatever I want on MY Internet connection, and you have no right to insist otherwise. Your site sucks too by the way, dumbass.

    Please do not come back then.

  22. D on October 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    I’ll do and load whatever I want on MY Internet connection, and you have no right to insist otherwise. Your site sucks too by the way, dumbass.

  23. Jim on October 8, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Ha! That’s a great story, David. You handled him very well. :biggrin: :wink:

    Thanks for the positive feedback, I appreciate it. :smile:

  24. DeeCee on October 8, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Howdy Jim, and good on you buddy! My browsing habits are limited to just a very few sites and/or forums, so I don’t use ad blocking at all.

    I’m sure that it doesn’t help in the fact that most of the folks you target with your articles have likely come to believe that *everything* computer-internet related should be free. Free OS, Free Software, Free, Free, Free, by jiminey! It’s okay if YOU and the OTHER GUY work for free just as long as I don’t have to, right?

    If it’s any consolation, I’ll leave you with a story that might cheer you up. Similar problem from a different perspective.

    I too am paid to deliver content. Not so frequently with articles as you do, but with product content for a fairly popular online store. I spend a great deal of my time collecting data from many vendor sources, massaging it so that it can be displayed in the company store. We’re talking about 100′s of thousands of products…

    While checking out what our competitors were up to one day, I ran across a “new guy” who had several dozen listings on eBay, as well as the same ones in his regular store…. Problem was, he had *stolen* much of the content that I had diligently put together (and paid for), right down to using the same graphics that were HOSTED from OUR store! The guy just “went into business” using our copyrighted content and bandwidth!

    My solution was to download all of the affected graphics, rename them and make the proper changes in our business software. Next I found a very “provocative” image of a beautiful young model in a skimpy bikini, made copies and renamed them to match the images that were being stolen and uploaded them to our server. :)

    When the dust settled, he had several dozen “products” displayed that didn’t quite match what he was selling. Both on eBay and his main store…

    I then sent him a “cease and desist” type email warning him that we were getting ready to have our attorney contact both he and his hosting company about the violations.

    You’ve never seen a store and group of products get legit so fast!! Within 10-20 minutes of seeing the email and checking things out, the products were off line and problem was solved.

    Shoot, we printed some of his product listings and posted them on the company bulletin board… it was that much of a classic!

    -David-

  25. Brian Masinick on September 28, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Way to go, Jim! You have the right to create whatever you want; you have paid for the Internet real estate, it is your site, and others can choose to visit or not visit it. If anything, you are the one who ought to have the privilege to either permit or cut off responses. Knowing you, I know that you do not cut off people very often, but there is a limit to everything, and I’ve seen a few of those people who have pushed your limits.

    Personally, I only find advertising annoying and intrusive when it chews up inordinate bandwidth and screen real estate. As you have mentioned, there are plenty of ways to deal with such sites, and I’ve enjoyed working with you, especially over at the Desktop Linux Reviews Forum, where we’ve discussed ways to make the advertising both beneficial to our reading and research, yet while at the same time still allowing you to have a way to generate income to pay, not only for your sites, but to at least complement your other freelancing work opportunities.

    I like what you do, and I am pleased and happy to say that I frequently visit many of your sites. When I inadvertently have an Adblock package that is blocking ad content, I remove it as promptly as possible, then I take the extra time to generate a number of site clicks, and even visit some of the advertisers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I will purchase an advertiser’s product, but a good advertisement often speaks positively for the merchandise and for the intelligence of the marketing department, and I take that into account when I am shopping for products.

    Keep up the great work, Jim! I am certainly for the “Live Free or Die” mentality when it comes to software freedoms and that extends to advertising freedoms and journalistic freedom, too!

  26. tlmck on September 27, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Here! Here!

  27. Derek on September 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Well done, I concur.



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