In late May, Australian publisher News Corp said it would soon block ad-block users. While it’s only a trial, these things have a funny way of becoming policy, as has happened at another small publisher you might have heard of, Forbes.
“Block our ads,” publishers are starting to firmly but politely say, “and we’ll block you right back.”
The 2,000-member Newspaper Association of America is less fussed about manners and recently filed a federal complaint against the ad-blocking industry. “Mess with our ads,” they’re saying, “and we’ll see you in court.”
Why the tough stance?
In a word, money. Newspapers rely on advertising revenue. Without it, they can’t devote the resources needed to hunt out today’s news stories and provide readers with a reliable, independent source of information about what’s happening around them.
News outlets have little to lose. People who block ads provide no commercial value anyway. As one UK publisher said, “they are coming into my house, they are opening my fridge, they're taking my food…”
But is there an actual upside? Richard Thompson, head of KPEX – set up last November to give advertisers a simple way to buy digital advertising from Fairfax, MediaWorks, NZME and Television New Zealand – thinks there probably is.
“It's certainly worth testing,” he says. “If you can explain to users that no adblockers means you can continue to provide quality content, then it’s a fair value exchange. Then, of course, it's important to ensure the ads you serve are relevant, add value, and are not disruptive.”
Advertising in return for free content is hardly radical. Spotify does it and its subscriber base is exploding (founded just six years ago, it is currently valued at over $10 billion). Even paid media “require” viewers to watch ads – think cinema, pay TV, magazines and, yes, printed newspapers.
We’ll watch this development with interest. It’s not just the interests of news publishers that are at stake; so too are the interests of anyone who values a robust, independent news industry. In our view, that should be everyone.