How newspapers voluntarily gave away their online income

Jonathan Irons
Nov 11, 2016 · 4 min read

And now it’s my fault

I am an avid newspaper reader.

I currently subscribe to three newspapers, online and offline. I spend over €40 ($44) on newspapers a month. I truly value good journalism and am happy to pay for it.

I use an ad blocker when viewing websites. I don’t want to be tracked. I don’t want to be distracted. The browser is technically a “user agent”. I choose what it displays. That’s how a web browser works.

The Guardian, the Süddeutsche, the NZZ, the New York Times and many others are now accusing me of robbing them, depriving them of their income, and by extension endangering the art of journalism.

They are wrong. Here are my reasons.

  1. The newspapers (with very few exceptions) bet all their online revenue on pay-per-click ads. They swallowed the promises of the ad companies, above all Google. They believed them, and they remarkably failed as a complete industry to come up with any more nuanced and niche alternatives. Now the revenue is falling away, and the newspapers are struggling. At the same time, the revenues of the likes of Google are skyrocketing. And now it’s my fault.
  2. They outsourced all their online advertising. They trusted the ad companies. They fired their own ad departments. Now all online ads look the same, whether you’re a hockey club, a cookery blog or the New York Times. If they’re now in trouble, then they’re welcome to call Google for their money back.
  3. They didn’t offer me any alternative except a full-blown subscription. After 15+ years of online publishing, none of them has come up with a workable micro-payment solution . Why is that my fault?
  4. They let the ad giants track me. Mercilessly. I’m bored with buying something online (or even looking at it), and then being followed for days and weeks with the same ads (especially the ones for stuff I’ve just bought). It’s broken. They don’t care. They outsourced pissing me off.
  5. They’re very bad at it. The Guardian has the best ever profile of me bar Google. And they keep showing me ads for the best attack helicopters and something called Kim Kardashian. The Süddeutsche is very very bad at coding. Their ads keep breaking and ruining the layout.
  6. They are diluting their brand. A 17 inch screen is as easy for a 10 buck start-up to design for as a 100 year old newspaper. They no longer have the monopoly on good text design. When they then decide to plaster their much-loved brand with ads that completely ruin the aesthetic, they are weakening their own argument.

And now they’re playing a vicious cat-and-mouse game to try to morally badger me into watching the ads. Instead of engaging with me as a reader and finding intelligent ways for me to support them.

Seriously, their only response to the ad blockers is to say “please turn it off”. That’s all they have to offer.

So my ad blocker stays on, the game continues, and their revenues continue to fall. I wonder when they’ll realise that I’m not the problem here.

Does anyone have a better solution?

Here are a few screenshots from my hall of horrors.

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This is the maximum width of my screen, with no ad blocker. The ad on the right is cropped (and keeps flickering), and the top one is missing.

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This is the Guardian wrecking their page with blood red nonsense from airberlin, just after I had bought a flight from another airline (free tip for advertisers: when I look for a car rental or flight online, I usually book one of them. Show me your ads in 6 weeks or 6 months — not now).

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This was an animated ad from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, who are generally very restrained with ads. No, I can’t read it either (even in the original resolution).

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This is the Süddeutsche going for the smallest ad in the world (on the right there). Whatever I did, I couldn’t get it to display properly. They coded it badly. They’re not good at what they do.

I wrote to them once to complain, and they answered that they only showed “fewer, well-made, high quality adverts”. They genuinely tried to rationalise why I should like their ads, after I’d told them I didn’t. Their advertisers are more important than their readers …

Finally, here’s one of their “well-made, high quality adverts”*

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* The product being advertised here (a savings plan for house builders) is not available in the country I live in or was browsing from, as was the case with several I tested. But isn’t it cute!

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