Google has begun experimenting with a way for Web sites to generate income without showing display and banner ads on publisher sites in the United States. A service called Contributor allows Web site visitors to pay a monthly subscription fee to avoid seeing ads.
While it has not yet been determined whether native or content-related advertising will eventually fall into the category of an ad-free experience, the idea behind the subscription service is to support people who create sites on the Web by supplementing a publisher's advertising revenue. Part of the subscription price goes to the creators of the Web site visited. Google explains on the Contributor Web site that as a reminder of your support, you'll see a thank you message -- often accompanied by a pixel pattern -- where you might usually see an ad on desktop or mobile. The ads spaces possibly replaced with a "Thank you" message must be part of Google's auction.
A Google spokesperson describes the test as "a very limited experiment to gauge interest from publishers and users."
Contributor also has been called a way that publishers can crowdsource funds using a service other than AdSense. Initial partners in the revenue-sharing deal include The Onion, Urban Dictionary, ScienceDaily, WikiHow, Mashable, and Imgur. The invitation-only test costs consumers, which Google calls "contributors," between $1 and $3 monthly.
"The publishers participating in the initial test have a small, but highly engaged audience," Pivotal Analyst Brian Wieser says. "It will be surprising if there is any meaningful pick-up. Publishers will need to opt-into the program."
Wieser says there are other networks publishers can use if they want to continue serving display ads on their site. Google's ad network is likely the largest, but it's not the only one.
U.S. advertisers are forecast to spend $22.3 billion for digital display advertising in 2014 -- up from $17.6 billion last year, according to eMarketer. About 14% this year belongs to Google.
Overall, U.S. advertisers will spend $141 billion on online ads this year -- up 15% annually by 2016, per eMarketer. Google holds about 32.4% of the overall market, followed by Facebook with 8%; Microsoft at 2.9%; and Yahoo with 2.4%.
Google's move toward testing subscription services began recently with YouTube. Earlier this month, YouTube announced a subscription service that allows viewers to watch and listen to music ad-free, in the background or offline. YouTube Music Key will cost $9.99 per month. A promotional price of $7.99 per month is being offered until the service officially rolls out next year.