Axel Springer SE, among the largest of Europe’s online publishers, has instituted a block on viewers who are using adblocking software for its flagship news website, Bild.de. Adblocking readers who browse to the Bild site now are presented with a page which blocks the site’s content and asks the reader to either switch off the adblocker or subscribe to the publication for 2.99 Euros (£2.23 | $3.40) per month.
In a statement (German language) at the Axel Springer blog a spokesperson for the company said that journalism must be financed by the ‘two known revenue pillars’ of advertising or sales. The print edition of Bild has a daily circulation of 2,500,000.
If last autumn was about zero knowledge, this autumn seems to be about ad blocking, and in each case the arguments were started by new innovations in the Apple iOS operating system: in 2014’s iOS 8, the adoption of zero knowledge device-based encryption set off a year of governmental complaint, whereas this autumn’s iOS 9 rollout has flared great ire by facilitating content-blocking in one of the world’s most important consumer networks.
There is redress on both sides; companies which are tired of losing revenue can turn to third-party solutions which either offer countermeasures or negotiated alternatives against adblocking, such as Dublin-based startup PageFair, which offers figures claiming that adblocking is rising by 43% per year. Interestingly PageFair has negotiated a controversial deal with Adblock Plus parent company Eyeo under which PageFair’s own advertisements are allowed through any adblocking that the plugin provides, assuming that the user has not disabled the ‘enable unobtrusive ads’ functionality (by default these ‘acceptable’ ads will still be shown after installation of Adblock Plus).
The plugin community has been at war with web-advertising for many years; during the heyday of the now semi-abandoned GreaseMonkey project, new scripts were issued almost daily to counter the advertisers’ countermeasures against adblocking software. But the better-funded side is likely to win most of the short-term battles, and the struggle has now fallen to larger players – even to the extent of including Apple itself in that category.
Perhaps one day the likes of DoubleClick and AdTech will finally come up with an adserver which can sandbox its negotiations with millisecond-critical ad auctions, so that all web advertising is served (from the website’s point of view) via localhost. This would mean that adblocking software would have no domain-based fingerprints to use as a hook for ad suppression. Alternatively ad platforms could begin to host meaningful non-advertising content from the publisher via its own networks, which would mean that the domain signatures would block content as well as ads.
The best of all possible solutions for the massively unfaithful consumer would be a global content payment platform to which all publishers could subscribe, because the fact is that some sites have some worthwhile news on some days – and so the internet has a massive ‘commitment problem’ with per-site subscriptions, such as Axel Springer is presenting to its readers today.
Some publishers, such as Time and the Financial Times, are succeeding in converting subscribers from print to digital, with – presumably – the ultimate aim in years ahead of abandoning print entirely. But this promises a digital version of the magazine world in, for instance, the 1970s, and offers no global solution that can accommodate both the ‘big names’ with budget to investigate hard-hitting stories and the smaller players which have become the mainstay of the daily ferment of news on the internet.