With the release of iOS 9 less than a week away, online advertising (as well as the many ways to block it) is on everyone's mind. That includes The Washington Post, which is now experimenting with a drastic response to ad blockers.
Buzzfeed reports that The WP is testing special nag screens that only pop up for visitors that are using ad blocking plugins for their web browser:
It starts with a gentle nudge and ends with a hard block and a demand for cash. The Washington Post has begun intermittently redirecting desktop users to a subscription page if they are using the popular AdBlock software, some readers have reported.
In one case, using Chrome with AdBlock on, the Post had a dialog box redirecting users to enter their email for a free six week subscription. The anti-AdBlock measures don’t seem comprehensive just yet — we were able to view articles after clicking through from a search results link in Firefox with the ad blocking software turned on. But when we clicked through to another article on the site, the redirect screen popped up.
I think Buzzfeed is misinterpreting some of what's going on here, but not all. Like many sites, The WP is pushing people to get subscriptions, and they're also trying to get you to sign up to a newsletter.
That is a common activity, and The WP's metered paywall (with its limit of five free articles each month) is also fairly common.
But this is not so common:
Nor is this:
While I have not seen these pop-ups myself, I can add that this kind of trick is simple on a technical level. I've looked at adding similar popups to this blog, but passed because they were too annoying.
The Washing ton Post has a different view, and the paper has confirmed its attack on its readers.
"Many people already receive our journalism for free online, with digital advertising paying only a portion of the cost,” a The Washington Post spokesperson told BuzzFeed. "Without income via subscriptions or advertising, we are unable to deliver the journalism that people coming to our site expect from us. We are currently running a test using a few different approaches to see what moves these readers to either enable ads on The Washington Post, or subscribe."
In short, The Washington Post is thinking about going nuclear on its readers, just like the advertiser trade groups want them to do.
Apparently those changes include fighting with the newspaper's customers rather than changing the newspaper so its goals were the same as readers' goals.
Given that Amazon is a customer-centric company, this comes as a surprise. This is more of a tactic I would expect out of the RIAA, and not Jeff Bezos.
The Washington Post won't be the first web publisher to go down this path. Other publishers are turning ad-blocking into an arms race, and some have taken to blocking ad blockers.
There are as many responses to ad blocking as their are web publishers, and going to war against readers will prove to be the least effective in the long run.
Blocking users just because they won't look at the adverts is not going to work, not when the adverts are as annoying as the ones used by The Washington Post.
There are simply too many sources for news, and not enough hours in the day to read it all. So unless The Washington Post can repeatedly come up with compelling content that gets casual visitors to either subscribe or drop their ad blockers, this tactic just won't work.
image by PeterJBellis