Why are publishers suing AdBlock Plus? #notiif

In a recent court case, 3 German publishers sued AdBlock Plus — and lost. The argument was that AdBlock plus was providing software that was anti-competitive. So far as I can tell — the publishers shouldn’t have been suting AdBlock in the first place.

Discuss the Value Exchange with your website visitors

What should be happening is that publishers should be detecting when AdBlock Plus or other ad blocking and cookie deleting software is being used and to take the opportunity to have an open and candid conversation with their consumers.

Dear visitor.
We notice that you are using ad blocking software.
Advertising is one of our main forms of revenue and if you do not allow us to advertise to you, then we cannot earn enough money to continue to bring you great content. We would ask that you please whitelist our site. Alternatively, by following the link below you can subscribe to our site for a low monthly subscription.
Contrary to popular belief, nothing on the Internet is Free (#notiif). Please support us either by whitelisting our site or paying for a regular subscription.
Thank you,
The Publisher

I have been writing about the need to have a “value exchange discussion” for years. And yet it seems that publishers are positively afraid to have this open and candid discussion. Are they afraid that they will not be able to justify their advertising? Are they embarassed by the number of volume of ads displayed? Do they not want to setup a subscription platform?

There have been a few sites who have been willing to do this: Reddit.com does an excellent job of communicating with customers when they do not have adblock in place

Subscription Services — More complicated than just collecting fees

Configuring a site to use subscription services and to protect content behind a paywall is not a simple task. But there is a secondary issue that arises once you start segregating your content between ad funded and subscription based content:

The majority of your high value visitors will pay for the content and avoid the ads.

Yes — and this means the quality of your audience may go down and with it so go your advertising revenues. Paywalls can lead to a downward spiral in advertising revenues. And if you don’t have enough paying subscribers, then you can be in real trouble.

And there’s more: Now that you are charging for your content — you’ve really got to deliver. When visitors are not parting with their own hard cash and can block ads — it’s one thing. But when they have actively chosen to whitelist you through their adblock software and/or agreed to pay for a subscription — then you better come up with content that is more interesting than cute cat videos.

Both consumers and publishers have rights and responsibilities

Consumers have the right to maintain their privacy and to block ads. They do not have the right to free content on websites any more than they have the right to use Bitorrent to access free movies. Consumers have the responsibility of being a fair participant in this value exchange of either attention or cash for content.

And publishers have the right to earn enough revenue to satisfy their shareholders. They also have a right (and arguably a responsibility) to prevent theft of their content by consumers accessing their content with adblockers turned on. Publishers also have a responsibility to provide consumers with the best possible content — and a choice of how they exchange value for access to that content ( ads or subscriptions )

What do you think?

I’ve been talking with people about this ever since the EU Privacy Directive and the Cookie Law discussions of some 4 years ago. Why is it that publishers are still not willing to openly engage with their visitors and to have a dialogue.

Please do comment, tweet (@troy_norcross) or find me on LinkedIn (about.me/troy.norcross) and let me know your thoughts.


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