Will Flipboard, RSS, etc. Kill Online Advertising?

Frédéric Filloux writes at Monday Note:

The social web’s economics are paradoxical: The more it blossoms, the more it destroys value. In recent months, we’ve seen a flurry of innovative tools for reading and sharing contents. Or, even better, for basing one’s readings on other people’s shared contents. In Web 2.5 parlance, this is called Social Reading. For this, the obvious vector of choice is the iPad: it possesses a (so far) unparalleled ability to transform online reading into a cozy lean-back experience.

Filloux goes on to talk about applications ranging from Flipboard to Instapaper that provide users with ad-free, highly curated experiences. (For the fellow non-iPad crowd, I recommend TweetedTimes with Read It Later.)

In other words, between RSS feeds aggregated by mobile apps, “Read Later” features, and ad-free web curators, you can enjoy the web without bumping into ads. Great for users, not-so-great for the publishing business.

This ad-free threat explains the bold move a few publishers just made. If readers (humans) loathe advertising and favor bare-bones reading interfaces, let’s see if we can make them pay for such. That was the idea behind Ongo. This official paid-for aggregator, backed by several news organizations, hasn’t shown a great deal of progress since I reviewed it in a previous Monday Note (see Ongo…Where?). Its nice look aside, it persists in putting on the same page a story on US troops withdrawing from Iraq next to an article featuring a murderer identified thanks to its tattoos. Some editing is badly needed here…

Monday Note: Read, Share and Destroy

At the moment, three things still hold true:

1) Very few readers use browser plugins that block ads.
2) The number of readers using apps like Flipboard and Instapaper is relatively small
3) Far from leaching traffic, social media like Facebook and Twitter (and not-so-social sites like Google News and The Huffington Post) still drive a lot of traffic to sites.

But this could change, especially as tablets become more common. I’m not yet sure what that’s going to mean for publishers. Filloux worries about reduced ad revenue, which is very possible. I think blogs and other online publications have overdone it with ads and sidebars in recent years, leading to cluttered distracted messes (I’m in the process of slowly redesigning my own sites to be less cluttered). But new devices and social sharing are important driving forces for change in how we consume digital media s well.

Some things I suspect we’ll see:

1) More ads embedded into the text of articles so that they’re harder to excise (In my interview with him, Richard Metzger also suggested we’ll see more online video that makes it harder to remove ads as well)
2) More ways of tracking reader behavior off-site to feed the data hoarders
3) More attempts at pay walls

Update: In an interesting twist of events, Flipboard competitor Zite (which received cease and desist orders from publishers) says it will stop stripping ads from content and work with publishers on monetization.

3 Comments

  1. Also, there are more important and modern methods of advertising that get past adblocking – relevant content and text links.

    Referrals, advertising blurbs, etc will get scraped as well. I’ve noticed much more of this method lately in my feeds.

  2. Yeah, sponsored posts and sponsorship blurbs are one way to do it – we do quite a bit of that at RWW. This isn’t fool proof, though. The sponsored posts need to be good enough that people actually want to share ‘em on social media, and it’s really not hard to train an ad-blocker to recognize sponsorship blurbs if the same one is always used in the same part of a post.

    Undisclosed text link ads may be in violation of FTC regulations – and disclosed ones are a good way to get dinged by Google.

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