It’s a polite but firm message to consumers who use ad-blocking software. Following in the footsteps of other major publishers, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal recently instituted a marginal tolerance policy against software that cuts into their advertising revenue.
The WSJ says that only some consumers in the United States and Europe see the message, and it’s anything but rude. But as of now, it only applies to paid content, which some view as an interesting, if confusing, move. Free articles are still free, no matter what software you use. This is only one punch in an ongoing battle to win the revenue war. Major publishers around the world are still in search of the right combination of techniques that will convert freeloaders into paid subscribers.
Subscribe, Whitelist or be Gone
The Wall Street Journal’s message to people using ad-blocking software is tactful and clear. “We noticed you’re using an ad blocker,” it says. “We rely on advertisements as well as paid subscriptions to support our high-quality journalism. Please turn off your ad blocker and consider subscribing today.”
The message differs from the one the New York Times is running. Equally polite, it asks consumers to turn off ad blocking software and subscribe or whitelist the publication. Whitelisting would enable NYT content and ads to make it through ad blocker filters unscathed. Some publications pay to be whitelisted, but that’s not the organic approach.
The WSJ’s Unusual Target
The WSJ’s message is direct, but its placement is a bit unusual. It targets non-subscribers who try to access paid content. Their message effectively blocks access for people who are already blocked. Free articles might have a message later, but the publication hasn’t expressed any plans to do so.
Lucia Moses for Digiday says, “The move is interesting since the Journal is blocking articles that already require a subscription, making the case that not only should readers pay $200 a year for access but also take the ads (and tracking) that come with the package.” Go big or go home, they say.
This Isn’t the Only Measure to Block Unpaid Access
The ad blocker message is next, not first in a line of measures to secure its content. The WSJ already has a paywall, but people figured out how to skirt it. Then at the beginning of 2016, the publisher launched a strategy that sealed off the well-known and abused Google loophole. Until then, it was possible to paste a link to an article in Google, which then acted as a paywall work-around.
Moses says many publishers are “alarmed by the rapid adoption of ad-blocking software that reduces the number of eyeballs they can sell advertising against.” But it’s part of the free Internet culture that Gen Xers cultivated and Millennials were raised on. They use ad blockers freely, and they’re who publishers need to reach. A hard line approach might not work and could even have the opposite effect. After all, there’s news around every corner, whether or not its quality compares to the WSJ and other powerhouses. When ad blockers expand into mobile, expect a new battle to emerge.
Ads bring in revenue, and consumers hate them. Ads pay for higher quality journalism, and they interfere with the user experience. The effort to monetize content in one way or another is getting better, but it’s still got a long way to go. As long as ad blockers exist, it will remain an uphill battle.
The sweet spot is where publishers offer consumers something that’s so important and so valuable that they’ll pay good money to get it. But The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other major players already have high-quality journalism on their side. Right now, they also have advertisements. It’s a standoff where each side controls something that the other wants: access to content and the eyes that read it. As usual, the ads and the revenue are trapped in the middle.
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Wall Street Journal Mobile, by Unripe Content, via Vimeo