Weekend edition—The ad-block wars, dark-web drugs, 0.01% fashion

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If you’re like most people, you hate online ads, especially on your phone. But unless you work in media or tech, the brewing battle royal between ad-blockers and publishers (and the ad industry) may seem like a parochial spat.

It isn’t. The future of the news that we all consume hangs on the outcome. Can publishers and advertisers learn to devise ads that people don’t mind, even enjoy? (We think Quartz’s ads show they can.) Or will ad-blocking become so widespread that the ad-based business model that sustains so many websites collapses?

When Apple began allowing iPad and iPhone users to download ad-blocking apps this week, they sold like hot cakes. One of them, Peace, went straight to the top of the app store, until its creator, Marco Arment, took it down and offered refunds. Having that much power “just doesn’t feel good,” he explained. Expect plenty more handwringing to come.

Another little innovation from Apple this week, Apple News—which collects articles from a wide range of publishers into one app—poses a similar but different problem for publishers: Should they let themselves depend on huge platforms like Apple and Facebook, whose whims and algorithms change like the seasons, to get audiences? Do they even have a choice?

At Quartz, at least, we take the view that the only way to for quality journalism to survive is to publish on as many platforms as possible, and take none for granted. We’re on Apple News (if you’re on an iPhone or iPad, find us here) and we’ll be everywhere else we can be. See you there.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

So you want to be a drug lord? Allison Schrager brings an economist’s eye to the illegal online drug trade. She scouts “dark web” marketplaces, talks to dealers, and concludes that digitizing the drug trade makes it—or at least some parts of it—safer and more economically efficient. Plus, it’s really user-friendly.

Understanding the Fed’s rate decision. Many observers thought the US central bank would raise interest rates this week, and were disappointed. Matt Phillips explains why the Fed would have been deeply nuts (yes, his words) to do so, and why, when it eventually does, it will be undertaking what one analyst called “the largest monetary policy experiment in human history.”

The most crucial item for refugees braving the Mediterranean crossing to reach Europe is… A smartphone, explains Hanna Kozlowska. “Even more important than food,” as one refugee said. It acts as a map, guidebook, travel booking service, distress beacon, and camera to document the bittersweet joy of making it across alive.

Inside the world’s only sanctuary for exiled journalists. The Maison des Journalistes in Paris can be ”a grim place,” but it’s where members of the press persecuted in their countries seek refuge. Kabir Chibber visits it, and muses on the pathos of exile, the fate of so many distinguished writers down the ages.

Turning African slums into floating cities. In one of Lagos’s slums there’s a school that floats on the water. It’s the brainchild of a Nigerian architect, Kunlè Adeyemi, who has a vision of turning entire communities, now precariously balanced on the water’s edge, into fully-fledged, water-based urban developments, as Sibusiso Tshabalala explains on Quartz Africa.

A podcast we like, and think you’ll like too

This week, Actuality bites into Monsanto’s plans for a new, super-healthy breed of broccoli and what will happen if it dominates the vegetable market. Plus, the Blob invades the Pacific.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The end of Chris Chivers’ war. Mark Warren in Esquire profiles the New York Times reporter who, after 15 years as a Marine and 14 years covering war, abruptly decided to walk away from a life of, as he described it, “studying organized violence and combatants,” when he discovered the one thing that mattered to him more.

Can data be slimming? Paul Ford wanted to lose weight. So, being a programmer, he built a database to track his eating. He lost 100 pounds. That was four years ago. Now he’s gained them back. He still doesn’t know why. But his deeply personal account in the New Republic is a thoughtful reflection on our obsessions with self-image and the technology of self-improvement.

Anti-vaxxers and political discourse. Why did even Ben Carson, a medical doctor, give some credence to anti-vaccination prejudices in this week’s Republican presidential debate? Julie Beck in the Atlantic dissects how the belief that vaccines cause autism, despite being entirely unfounded, has leapt across the political divide.

Up close with Libor’s master manipulator. “It is unnerving to witness in high-definition the unraveling of a man’s life, even if that man is one of those pulling the thread.” A remarkable (and very long) account of the prosecution of Tom Hayes, the former Citigroup trader convicted of manipulating Libor rate, by the Wall Street Journal’s David Enrich, who had extraordinarily close access to him during the many months leading up to his trial. Also: Liam Vaughan and Gavin Finch in Businessweek ask if Hayes was really the Libor kingpin, or the fall guy.

Shopping with the .01%. While fast fashion and social media democratize access to fashion, one corner of the industry remains extremely exclusive: haute couture. The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead lifted the heavily beaded veil on Dolce and Gabbana’s unapologetically hedonistic four-day couture extravaganza on the Mediterranean, where the label’s richest superfans indulge in the pleasures of alta moda, and begins to answer the question: Who buys this stuff?

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, floating city designs, and haute couture to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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