The trouble with ad blocking and publishers

Ad blocking services are disrupting the business of content providers everywhere. In Australia, the adoption rate of ad-blocking software is staggering: fast approaching 4 million users, outnumbering Twitter’s base in the country, writes Linh Dao.   

It is a delicate position to be in. On one hand, you have readers clamouring for free, high-quality content. On the other, you have journalists and content creators who work hard for their paychecks. 

Try as they might, publishers are facing an uphill battle to underline the relevance of their ads in the year of the adblocker

Fighting the inevitable. 

There are a set of strategies publishers are using to defend their turf. 

The strongest reaction is to take legal actions against ad blocking companies. A recent report by Medianomics says “supporting collective legal action” is the most likely response among surveyed publishers. Interestingly, Adblock Plus – a big ad blocking player – has won all the five court cases initiated by media companies.

The spread of ad blocking is certainly a wake-up call…

Hence, the following statement sums up this strategy’s effectiveness nicely: “Publishers risk making the mistakes of the music industry, which used lawsuits instead of innovation to eventually move to a download and then subscription model.”

Source: IBTimes
Source: IBTimes

The next strategy publishers can pursue is asking readers for their understanding. News Corp Australia has displayed a message calling for journalism appreciation through allowing ads. 

This ties in with the next strategy. Publishers have tried deploying a technical solution, preventing readers from accessing content if they have ad blockers on. News Corp Australia has followed the footsteps of notable US sites such as Forbes and Wired in this regard.

…publishers need to put themselves in the shoes of their audience

Nonetheless, it is not just up to media companies to implement such technologies. Big tech companies that create internet browsers also play a part. In fact, Apple has long been known to support ad blocking on Safari; while Microsoft is about to create one for its Windows 10 Edge browser. 

Proactive Strategies

This set of strategies is about “winning in the court of public opinion” rather than just winning in a court. 

Firstly, publishers and media companies have started to realise the importance of improving the user experience. News Corp in explaining its move to block ad blockers has also admitted the need to work on ads’ quality as well as reading experience. 

“No one wants to lose, for example, 30% of your audience but the reality is there is a probably a bigger opportunity to monetise your existing audience,”  says. managing director of metro and regional publishing, Damian Eales.

That opportunity could come from an unexpected place – the ad blocking services themselves. For instance, Adblock Plus is looking to launch a feature allowing readers to pay publishers for content. Or it could come from other publishing platforms, particularly on social media. Facebook’s Instant Articles would be an option too big to miss. 

Then there is also a neat blend between content and advertising – native advertising or sponsored content. Done well, this strategy can result in serious benefits.

Rethinking the content business

Again, publishers need to put themselves in the shoes of their audience. When ads get in the way of consuming content, users might rebel. The ad-supported revenue model might need to evolve, or transform altogether. 

So far, analysts and commentators seem to prefer an active, multi-throng approach. For those who have not reacted, or reacted passively, the spread of ad blocking is certainly a wake-up call. 

Cover image via Eric Kessel

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