Adblocking: how should publishers respond

Are you annoyed by online adverts Does the sight of a 30 second unskippable video make your heart sink Are you frustrated by flashy banners It seems for many people, the answer is yes.

That's why a growing number of them are opting to block adverts completely, according to Adblock Plus' main investor Tim Schumacher.

Although he admits it will never be ubiquitous ('not everyone is annoyed by online adverts' after all) he believes at least half of online surfers could be using adblockers in the next several years.

There's just one catch. Publishers warn it presents a threat to their very survival, as it attacks the main revenue stream for many of them: online adverts (a necessary price readers have to pay for 'free' content, they argue).

Two weeks ago City AM became the first UK newspaper to ban readers who use adblockers, following in the footsteps of German tabloid Bild.

"Publishers are getting very worked up about adblocking in general and Adblock Plus in particular," Schumacher says.

It's an issue that has gone from niche to mainstream in recent months thanks to Apple's decision to include adblocking tools in its latest iOS9 mobile browser. Less than one percent of mobile phones currently block ads, Schumacher claims, though this figure is expected to grow.

Eyeo, creator of free plugin Adblock Plus, has fought off several lawsuits from publishers and expects to wait 'at least two more years' for a final supreme court verdict in Germany in a case brought by Bild's publisher Axel Springer.

"We're very confident. It doesn't make sense to ban them from a legal standpoint - will the user be allowed to see what he or she wants to That's the fundamental question at the end of the day. User autonomy needs to be core," he says.

Instead of battling them, Schumacher says publishers should work with Adblock Plus.

Thr team started creating an 'Acceptable Ads' whitelist last month, which will see an independent panel decide which adverts are 'acceptable' based on a number of criteria: that they are 'effective', 'appropriate' to the page, not annoying and clearly signposted as adverts, for example.

"We are the only adblocker which tries to force compromise between users, publishers and advertisers. It's not perfect but we are trying. It seems odd that people are trying to fight the one adblocker that, among over 100, is trying to build the middle ground," Schumacher insists.

However the five criteria seem a tad vague and subjective (who decides if an ad is 'annoying').

Publishers say it means Adblock Plus act as judge, jury and executioner - deciding which ads are allowed and which aren't, and making companies that do make it onto the list pay for the privilege of their websites not being blocked.

Schumacher defends the decision to charge publishers for inclusion, saying 90 percent of companies don't have to pay and only big, international conglomerates are forced to cough up.

"The whole exercise of monitoring is expensive and a lot of work. There might be other, better models but ours is that the big guys pay for everyone. We don't see how that's wrong," he says.

So what should publishers do to get around the potential for adverts to get blocked or being blacklisted

"We're not against advertising," Schumacher says slightly impishly.

"I think publishers need to think outside the box about other ways of monetising their audience, including about advertising," he adds.

One approach could be to publish clearly marked 'sponsored stories' or other forms of native advertising content, Schumacher suggests.

"Publishers should not let ad agencies, ad networks or their own internal sales department dictate how they make their product, that's the crucial point.

"They need to focus a lot more on user experience...we [Adblock Plus] really just see ourselves as the guardian of the user," he says.

How worried is he about the threat of more lawsuits from publishers

Schumacher is ebullient on that point: "Adblock is self-funded, no VCs [venture capitalists]. We are profitable. We're earning enough money to feed a staff of about 40 and finance all the nasty lawsuits...we could have another five of them and it still wouldn't kill us."


By Charlotte Jee

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