Adblock seems to be a controversial issue and, with the news that Google Chrome is clamping down on it, specifically for YouTube, and now seems a fairly good time to talk about it because, to be honest, fuck not using Adblock.
I think it’d be fairly strange for you to be reading this and not have an idea of what Adblock is or does but, to put it briefly, it is an app/extension for Google Chrome that blocks all ads. I mainly use it to block the intrusive ads that seem to pervade many websites now but, when I installed it and it took away the ads on YouTube, I just kept it going on the site instead of “whitelisting it” like many people seem to want you to do, and this is what I want to discus.
First of all, for those of you who don’t use Adblock, whitelisting a site means that it is allowed to run ads your computer when you visit it. I have done this for a few sites, most notably the Escapist, but have kept YouTube off this list. Getting the reasons out in the open: I don’t want to spend 10 minutes of my day watching adverts. I don’t want to spend even one minute of my day watching adverts, and so I use Adblock. I have, objectively, a better experience with YouTube when I use Adblock. In purely black and white, because we live in societies with free markets, the onus is now on YouTube to give me a reason to take away Adblock, but I know that logical thinking doesn’t always fly side by side with “the right thing to do,” so now I’ll talk about how YouTube works in relation to its creator.
There is no doubt in my mind that, from each advertisement watched, YouTube gets more money that then creator of the video. You can think of that however you want but, again talking in terms of economics, Google fronts the bills for hosting and streaming and, therefore, they deserve more money than the creators who have to pay nothing. They put time and work into their videos of course but anything they do regarding YouTube is entirely optional. If they want to put money behind their content then that is their choice. However, regardless of video quality, Google has to host it. I feel that I haven’t explained this particularly well but the crux of it is that YouTube, in order to continue providing its free service to everyone, has to cover their bills somehow.
This then leads us onto the big YouTubers. You can argue whatever you want with regards to whether being a professional YouTuber should be a job but, on the whole, I think it’s wonderful that people can make a living from YouTube. Of course there are people who make money just by uploading other people’s content and, in addition, people who make money by doing stupid, unfunny “pranks,” but these few people who break the rules or generally make content that makes some people uncomfortable don’t tend to become very popular and so don’t spoil things for people who make good content. The problem big YouTubers have, like Rooster Teeth and Game Grumps, is making enough capital to cover their costs despite the fact they are watched by more people than many TV shows and get a fraction of the money. Of course, there’s also people who do sponsored content which pays their bills. The Yogscast is somewhat infamous for this because they don’t disclose it. It’s fine if you disclose it, I feel, but if you don’t then, basically, it turns your whole show into an advert.
There are two sides to this. The really big YouTube channels, like those just mentioned, seem to prioritise selling merchandise. They have a big enough audience to allow them to cover their costs with this, and I like this approach a lot. Everyone gets something out of it. The customer gets a cool T-shirt or a poster and the content creator gets enough money (hopefully) to continue doing what they’re doing. It’s also worth mentioning that, by buying even the cheapest thing they sell, even if it’s only $1, you have given them more money than any amount of views with ads you can give them. If you buy a shirt, which generally seems to cost around $20, if only $5 of that makes it to the content creator then you have given them 1000s of views. A thousand views, at a guess, gets a YouTuber around 3-10 cents. It’s the nature of internet advertising as the entire web subsists upon it. It’s cheap and it’s targeted at small groups that are easily identifiable whenever they log into something, and so it’s really effective, and it can be everywhere. But anyway, moving onto the next thing: Patreon and crowdfunding.
Patreon has seen a dramatic rise over the last year. Jim Sterling of Jimquisition, among other things, is probably the most famous personality to use it but there are huge amounts of creators who get paid a decent amount for their work and the amount of people they entertain, all because people want to give them money instead of ads. I think most people who run a patreon have said that, if you can’t afford to give right now, then that’s fine and that you shouldn’t feel guilty for watching people’s content because of it. I love this way of doing business as it’s akin to “pay what you think it’s worth,” and it allows the really die-hard fans to interact with their beloved creator and those who have a passing interest to still watch it. I don’t contribute to Jim’s Patreon myself but I really enjoy his work and I’m very glad that the support of, in reality, a small portion of his audience has given me the opportunity to keep watching and him the opportunity to keep creating.
In many ways, YouTube has become too big to handle itself. It has no avenue of making money besides ads and people don’t like ads. It can’t adapt because all of its branding is tied up in the people who use it. I mean, you might want to wear a T-shirt with the youtube logo on it but I don’t think many other people will. Adblock is just filling a gap in the market and YouTube can’t blame it for that. Moreover, it has to be a lot smarter than just having code that bypasses Adblock on its site to get people to stop using it. The moral crusade to stop people using Adblock also, evidently, hasn’t worked. It gives you a clue as to how much people dislike adverts and the only other option I see is something like the Escapist’s own “publisher’s club,” an annual subscription service that removes ads from the site completely but, since content creators aren’t direct employees of YouTube, I don’t know how this would work. The only way I can really end this is by saying that any move YouTube marks to force ads in your face will be swiftly countered by Adblock evolving to stop this from happening. The more YouTube tries, the more bad press it will get, and it’s unfortunate that such a wonderful service might be ruined because the way it makes money feels, to many people, invasive and underhand.