The FT.com claims that around 5% of Web users globally use ad-blocking software and that the technology is gaining momentum with installations rising 70% last year, according to Adobe research. Perhaps more worrisome for publishers, research study after research study has largely concluded that ad blocking is gaining traction in digitally developed countries, so global figures are not all that useful, and the practice is most prevalent among millennials. Effectively, people who have grown up with a free flow on information online see no need to consume the ads that pay for -- or at least subsidise -- the content they receive.
Most publishers have been concentrating their efforts on gathering as much useful data as they possibly can about people visiting their sites to ensure they are more attractive to advertisers who will bid higher rates to bring them a message. It's been a pretty successful strategy and in many areas, such as regional newspapers, this year or next is widely being predicted as the tipping point where print declines are matched with digital gains. The pie may be smaller overall, but at least it's not getting any smaller is about the only solace publishers can take from this process.
Which makes it all the more galling that a significant number of consumers are stripping out ads and threatening this recovery.
So how about this? Why don't publishers take to the front foot? There's a really simple way of dealing with the problem, and the more that join together, the better the solution will become.
It may only make sense in my mind, but why don't publishers use a simple piece of technology to detect whether their ads are being blocked? If they are, cease delivering the content. There could even be a polite message flashed up that points out the professionals who create and deliver the content deserve to earn a living and the web user should click "here" to disable their ad-blocking software to receive that content.
I can't see a down side to this. Some may well decide that the polite message makes a fair point and disable their ad-blocking software, some may not. Those who resist won't receive the content they wanted and may be annoyed but, let's get real, who actually cares? All a publisher will have done is ban the digital equivalent of shoplifters from its premises. If they go to a rival, that's fine also. That other publisher can get a boost in traffic that doesn't add a penny to their bottom line. Where's the down side?
Another idea might be for publishers to offer ad free versions of their Web site as one of their subscription packages. If they are totally free, then why not create an ad-free version of the site for a monthly subscription in exactly the same way as mobile app providers do. Hence, when someone tries to get content for free using ad-blocking technology, all the publisher need do is point them to a page offering all the content they could possibly require for a monthly fee of x pounds, dollars or euros. If they choose to move on, then so be it -- the publisher has lost nothing.
Publishers didn't pick this fight. It's one that came to them, and is gaining traction just at the time when many were expecting the long-awaited nirvana of digital gains making up for print losses for the first time.
If publishers don't get tougher, they really won't have anyone to blame but themselves when the content they give away free isn't even supported by advertising revenue.