How to save online advertising

At root is an intrinsically toxic relationship between the three parties to the advertising ecosystem: advertisers, publishers and readers. Advertisers buy publishers’ inventory to sell things to readers, but publishers sell inventory to publishers because they want money, not because they want to help sell products. Readers want to read what the publishers are publishing. A tiny fraction of readers want to buy what the advertisers are selling, and this microscopic minority subsidises the whole operation. It’s easy to see the way this plays out for the worse. Unscrupulous publishers have made a practice of defrauding advertisers, spoofing the number of times their ads are shown in order to make more money from the same amount of readers. Advertisers have leaned on publishers to make ads more obtrusive – first with pop-up ads, then, after blockers became standard, with roll-downs, interrupters, pop-unders, ads that scroll with the page (eating your CPU in the process), and the whole parade of mutated attention-economy market-failures that fill your browser every day. Readers respond by installing ad-blockers, meaning that fewer readers are counted by the advertisers, meaning that the publishers get paid less and have to allow advertisers to serve more obtrustive ads in order to keep the money flowing.

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