'NYT' Plans Ad-Free Subscriptions

In a sign of how seriously publishers view the threat to their businesses posed by ad blocking, one of the world’s most respected newspapers is planning to introduce an advertising-free subscription option.

The New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson revealed the plans during a panel hosted by the IAB at the Cannes ad festival on Monday, taking the opportunity to deliver a broadside against the ad-blocking companies.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Thompson said the company is planning to offer subs that cost more than a regular digital subs. In return, users will “opt out of advertising if they want to do that” — without violating the publisher’s terms of use agreement, as readers using ad blockers do.

Thompson didn’t give a price tag for the planned ad-free subs. The basic sub currently on offer costs $2.63 per week for the first year and $3.75 thereafter, for annual totals of around $137 and $195, respectively.



Along the way, Thompson condemned ad blocking software makers for “unfair and deceptive” tactics, adding that publishers must “expose these businesses to the public so they can see them for what they are.”

Thompson’s comments echoed others from across the media industry, most notably IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg, who said ad blockers that promise to “white list” certain publishers are effectively engaged in an extortion racket.

NYTCO hopes that offering ad-free subs will provide a simple, workable solution to an otherwise seemingly intractable problem.

While a number of publishers have experimented with more confrontational tactics, including blocking visitors who use ad blockers, these embargoes tend to be temporary measures, as computer-savvy news hounds can easily circumvent most of the defenses. The result is an endless game of cat and mouse, with the potential to drain publishers’ resources for scant benefit.

The NYT itself has experimented with counter-blocking on a small scale beginning in March, with messages asking ad-block users to whitelist the newspaper or subscribe. Thompson said that 40% of ad blockers shown the message then whitelisted the sites. In February, he hinted the newspaper might block ad blockers altogether, although that doesn’t appear to be in the works (at least so far).

Publishers are also considering legal action.

Last month, 17 members of the Newspaper Association of America, representing a total of around 1,200 newspapers across the U.S., signed a letter to a startup, Brave, warning that its plans for ad-blocking and replacement in its new browser are illegal.

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