October 20, 2015

Last week, German publisher Axel Springer announced that they would enact a paywall for all visitors who use ad blockers. Now a UK newspaper has erected an even higher barrier to blocking users.

City AM, a free business-focused paper based in London, has a new policy that bars certain ad block users from view content beyond the homepage. An intercept is presented midway down the article page obscuring the text and imploring the visitor to disable the blocker. The program starts with Firefox users and will expand soon to other browsers. Company officials reported that about 20% of its 1.2 million monthly visitors use ad blocking.

These moves, likely to be followed by others, mirror the trend a digital generation ago when publishers attempted to erect content paywalls, only to be pushed back by users when traffic plummeted for all but the most premium sites. As margins have become tighter in recent years among legacy print medium, paywalls have seen a resurgence, but their effectiveness still is mainly limited to sites with premium brands or high-value content (such as business-to-business publishers).For ad blocking, the move strikes at the heart of publishers’ economic models. Perhaps they were somewhat content to trade analog dollars for digital dimes, but further erosion of ad revenue threatens even this conversion. Smaller publishers with the low millions of monthly uniques are particularly susceptible, since they live on the cusp of viability even under the prior ad environment.

Axel Springer and City AM will comprise interesting experiments to see who blinks first this time around.  As the advertising world continues turning programmatic — with 61% of mobile and 40% of desktop ad buys transacting this way in 2015 — there will be an increased emphasis on buying individual audience members. Publishers who are successful at persuading visitors — through whatever means — to disengage their blockers or whitelist sites may have a new competitive advantage of being able to reach this hard-to-deliver segment to advertisers.

Mezzobit continues to follow these trends with our on-going series of Publisher Ad Blocking Response Best Practices. Also, our program to offer publishers a 30-day free trial of ad blocking analytics also will help media companies gather better data upon which to base their emerging strategies.