The war on pop-ups has begun. Pop-ups, commercials, and advertisements are being defeated left and right as users install ad-blocking software in order to browse the internet free of this annoyance. However, these ads aren't just laying down and taking it. In a vicious battle that sees ads and ad-blocking software circling each other like panthers about to pounce, news sites and other online publishers have begun blocking the ad-blockers in big ways, small ways, and passive-aggressive ways.
The Washington Post is one of the sites fighting ad-blockers. The newspaper is testing out a new feature that stops readers with ad-blockers enabled from viewing an article until they agree to sign up for an email newsletter or subscribe.
According to spokesperson for The Washington Post Kristine Coratti Kelly, "Many people already receive our journalism for free online, and in the long run, without income via subscriptions or advertising, we won't be able to deliver the journalism that people coming to our site expect from us."
Publishers have a good reason to be nervous. A report from Adobe and anti-ad blocker startup Pagefair estimates that ad blockers could cost the industry $21.8 billion in lost revenue this year. However, that number could be an exaggeration based on faulty economic reasoning. Usage of this did, however, grow by 41% this past year.
To make matters worse, when Apple's iOS 9 software update hits iPhones within the next week, those using Safari (which is an estimated 50% of mobile web surfers in the United States) will have the ability to shut out mobile ads by turning on a setting and downloading an app.
According to Sourcepoint CEO Ben Barokas, the goal is to reach an understanding between the reader and the publisher. In a perfect system, users of ad-blocking software could opt to pay for their content in other ways, like viewing less intrusive ads or buying a subscription. According to a statement from Barokas, "We are entering this phase where the conversation is 'Hey, we're the publisher, we'd love to give you content, please choose how'd you'd like to compensate us.' We're in this era of transparency and an unlimited amount of options."
Unfortunately for Barokas, that style of thinking is never going to work...unless advertisers become more aggressive. "We have seen that this is very ineffective unless coupled with a content block and offering other choices," Barokas continued. It's few and far between that ONLY appealing to their good will is enough to modify users' behavior."
Last year, Ireland-based Pagefair reported that only .33% of the 576 different targeted appeals that it ran on 220 websites convinced readers to exempt the site from an ad blocker. Of the ones that did, 1/3 eventually reneged on their decision. A quick look on Twitter showed that many ad-block users don't seem to have any sympathy on these types of pleas. Some users see the software as an ideological stand against the irritating and, sometimes, malicious ads that plague the internet and these users know precisely what the stakes of their decision is without a plea from a website.
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