Remember when iPhone ads supported journalism? Me neither.

Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

If Apple Blocks Ads, Who Would Notice?

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Dollars in print, dimes on the Web, pennies on mobile. That's the grim calculus of media ad dollars once described to me by a media executive. The smaller the form factor, the less effective the ads are. "Have you ever clicked on a mobile ad?" that same executive asked a group. (Consensus at the table: nope, no one had.) I have heard journalists hopefully speculate that America's obesity epidemic could bail us out, as the nation fat-fingers its way to a profitable media.

QuickTake Apple

So much for that hope. The brutal calculus may get even worse. NiemanLab is reporting that Apple's new mobile OS will support ad-blocking extensions for its browser. America can't fat-finger ads that it doesn't even see.

The author of the Nieman piece tweeted: "Maybe I’m being alarmist, but this seems like really terrible news for publishers." Let's set aside for a moment whether it is really terrible, and accept that the effect on publishers, if any, is irrelevant.

Consumers will like this feature, and it won't cost Apple anything; the company makes its money off of it's outstanding hardware, not ads. Meanwhile, it will hurt one of their main rivals in the primordial battle for dominance between Silicon Valley's tech giants: Google. Which does make money off of ads. For Apple, what's not to like about this development?

Related: Why Apple Wants to Let You Block Ads

Journalists really have no right to complain about this. When we print a story that exposes malfeasance, knowing the story could end a CEO's career or send a company into a tailspin, do we think "No, let's not, because this is going to be really bad for them"? Nope. That's our job: We print the news, and that affects other people. Well, Apple's job is to make products that please its customers. And this one will certainly please the customers, however bad it is for the media business. Gadget makers don't have a civic duty to hobble phones and tablets in the interest of supporting high-quality journalism.

And frankly, I can't imagine that keeping ads on mobile is going to be the difference between a healthy media industry and one that spirals into financial ruin. For one thing, Apple doesn't make all the phones out there. More importantly, the thin margins of mobile ads might add up to enough to support Google, where most of the work of delivering content is done by computers. But the pennies never looked sufficient to support journalism, which is mostly created by humans who need to buy food and shelter and iPhones. (That was Maslow's list, right?)

Because I'm such a pessimist about the financial underpinnings of journalism, I can't react to this with more than a tired sigh. Yes, this makes it slightly harder to make money off of journalism. But it's just one more straw atop a load that was already too heavy for the camel's back.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net