Are European-style micropayments the solution for ad blocking? AdBlock Plus thinks so.
German-based Adblock Plus is the ad-blocking leader, with 300 million downloads. It recently announced it is available for the Anniversary Update to Windows 10. Users can install Adblock Plus for Microsoft Edge “and start blocking annoying advertisements in Microsoft’s new standard browser.”
Adblock Plus also is looking to develop ad blocking for Windows Mobile and XBox. That is a lot of ad blocking going on. But help may be on the way for beleaguered publishers and bloggers. Towards the end of the year, Adblock Plus will start an open beta test with Sweden’s Flattr, a system that actually automates micropayments, doling out cash payments based on usage to your favorite Web domains. The new service will be called Flattr Plus.
MediaPost’s Joe Mandese sounded skeptical about this concept last month. We have a different take.
According to Ben Williams, a spokesman for Adblock Plus, Flattr Plus could become a significant revenue driver for the Web. Flattr Plus will work this way: A person who installs the software would have a proposed budget for the month. He gives the example of a budget of $5.40. Based on visits to 42 domains in one month, a hypothetical user who viewed 30 pages of wired.com would pay Wired 61 cents. Users could indicate not to “Flattr” a particular domain if they don’t want to pay for it.
Sixty-one cents doesn’t sound like much, but let’s think some more about those 300 million Adblock Plus downloads. In Europe, where Flattr has been around for awhile, the average donation is 5 euros a month. But if Flattr Plus is embraced across the Adblock Plus install base, it could result in significant amounts — millions, even billions, Williams projects.
Why Pay For What’s Free?
Why would someone use Flattr Plus when the Internet is basically free? The Flattr Plus Web site puts it this way: “Journalists, artists, bloggers and other creators get your money, so they can continue to create great things. And you just made the Internet a little bit better” by using Flattr Plus.
It’s a little like philanthropy. Obviously, you don’t have to install Flattr Plus. This is not completely different from the Dutch-based Blendle concept that we wrote about earlier, currently in beta in the USA, in which stories from U.S. and European news media are offered at 19 cents each. The New York Times has invested heavily in Blendle, indicating either that they believe in micropayments, or that they’re desperate. Perhaps both.
At the re:publica conference in Berlin earlier this year, Peter Sunde, co-founder of Flattr, and Laura Sophie Dornheim, of Adblock Plus, introduced Flattr Plus. Sunde called it a “no-click payment system, honoring quality experiences rather than clickbait.” Sunde and Dornheim basically described an Internet payment system that is completely dysfunctional, and we can’t totally disagree with that.
But the USA is not Europe, not by a long shot. A lot of things that work in Europe tend to flounder here. Does this mean Americans are less altruistic than Europeans? I’m not sure. The USA is the origin of the “Internet wants to be free” mantra. Americans don’t really think much about who pays for all that content that floods the medium. It’s just there. But Americans also have proven, at least with television, that when somebody builds a better channel, like Netflix and Amazon have done, they will pay for it. They get a bill every month that is generally deducted automatically, and rarely think about it. Subscribe once, and it just keeps on coming. Flattr Plus could be like that, with the notable exception that you have to pay for Netflix, but you don’t have to install Flattr Plus.
Let’s look at this another way. Adblock Plus worked closely with Microsoft on its release for the Anniversary Update to Windows 10. Suppose the Flattr Plus concept catches on. Isn’t it conceivable that browsers could, some time in the future, come with this kind of software installed and mandatory? It would actually be a bit fairer system than cable packaging, in that with automated micropayments, users would only pay for programming they actually watch, while fans who care nothing about sports currently pay through the nose for programming they never view at all.
Programmatic Dominated By A Few Platforms
Why do I think this concept is being discussed somewhere? Something has to happen. Right now, programmatic advertising is so dominated by two, maybe three, huge platforms that thousands of publishers and bloggers are looking at as alternatives to advertising. Flattr Plus may seem utopian. But do you have a better idea?
Publishers dealing with ad blocking seem desperate these days. If you go to time.com with an ad blocker as we did, for example, you’ll see a weird message that proclaims “You Broke Time!” with material about imagining Time without ads. What then follows is a bizarre page with dissolving type. We’re not sure what this is meant to convey, but as a weapon against ad blocking it seems pretty lame. If this is the best that publishers can come up with, micro-payments don’t sound that crazy.
While we were writing this story, Facebook announced it would circumvent Adblock Plus and other ad blockers.
“Ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected,” it said. “Rather than paying ad blocking companies to unblock the ads we show — as some of these companies have invited us to do in the past — we’re putting control in people’s hands with our updated ad preferences and our other advertising controls.”
An anonymous commentator on the ABP blog quipped, “They are such idiots at farcebook. This will be a fun challenge. I am sure we’ll continue to be able to block all their ad drivel, no problem.”