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Washington Post is Blocking Ad Blockers

4103169057_a01c048151_bWith 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:

the washington post ad blocker

Nor is this:

the washington post ad blocker

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.

When Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in the summer of 2013, he said he was going to make changes to the paper so it could thrive in the modern era.

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

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Ann September 10, 2015 um 1:02 pm

I saw the first graphic- "Your ad blocker is on" yesterday on my dad’s computer. He called me and was all worried about what was going on. There is a very good reason why I put that blocker on his computer, I have better things to do than clean up the mess he makes every time he clicks on something that he shouldn’t. He just doesn’t get it and I have to try to stay ahead of his clicking. It would be another thing if you could trust the ads to not infect your computer, hijack browsers, etc.

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2015 um 1:50 pm

And that, in a nutshell, is why ad blockers are good and fighting them is bad.

Frank September 10, 2015 um 2:25 pm

This is a bad development, I would if Adblock can block the block.

Seth Williams September 10, 2015 um 3:51 pm

Doesn’t Jeff Bezos already make enough money from the public? I mean I love Amazon and all but… He’s got enough wealth to pay hundreds of thousands of people a "normal" wage.

Paul September 10, 2015 um 4:34 pm

If magazines could have enough funding to survive without these tactics I would agree with you, but they need the funding.

Bill May 13, 2019 um 9:24 am

The problem is they are polluting and abusing the right to put adds on their page. When you want to just read the news but a simple web-page becomes close to a gig of nothing but adds before you see any text, then that’s abuse.

Karl September 10, 2015 um 8:45 pm

There’s an easy custom filter workaround on the Mozilla Adblock Plus forums for Firefox users. Not sure if it works for Chrome as well.

I understand news sites need revenue so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and loaded a story I wanted to read at the Washington Post site with IE and no ad blocking of any sort. The experience was not pleasant. Half the page was covered in obnoxious video ads which caused the browser to become ever more sluggish as I scrolled through the story. Eventually, it stopped responding altogether and IE actually crashed shortly afterwards. I loaded the same story back in Firefox with the workaround and it loaded up smooth as silk.

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2015 um 8:49 pm

That matches my experience with The WP’s website, yes.

Byrdie September 10, 2015 um 8:54 pm

Dear Washington Post:
Not only will I not look at your ad, I will not look at your site. And I am certain I will not be the only one avoiding you like the plague because of this latest fit of stupidity you are indulging in. What is more, any company, product or service that forces its advertising down my throat — or tries to — is one that, no matter how good it might be, I will go out of my way to never use, purchase or even recommend. In short, banning my ad blocker gets YOU banned. Now, how ya like them apples?

Frank September 11, 2015 um 3:50 pm

NoScript, a browser addon, can block the Post’s ad blocker.

Anne September 11, 2015 um 6:03 pm

I just saw this notice on the Steelers website-

We noticed that you may have an Ad Blocker turned on. Please be aware that our site is best experienced with Ad Blockers turned off.

It’s pretty unobtrusive as it sits on the top of the page but while it’s one thing to "comment" on my use of an ad blocker, it’s another thing to lie to me about it.

I did go to my preferred team’s website and didn’t see any such comment so this sort of thing may not be NFL wide.

Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2015 um 6:16 pm

The Guardian has a similar unobtrusive banner.

Feda September 11, 2015 um 6:49 pm

Adds are what makes money for a lot of these sites. They should block add blockers.

Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2015 um 8:52 pm

@ Feda I still think it would be more effective to address the underlying issue (shitty adverts) rather than fight with visitors. One is constructive, while the other is inherently destructive.

Chris Meadows September 12, 2015 um 12:29 am

Even when I have my ad-blocker turned off, I get an unremovable pop-up from Washington Post that asks me to enter an email address for a subscription. It’s a different one from the ones pictured above, though, as it doesn’t mention ad-blockers in it at all.

Jeff September 15, 2015 um 7:17 pm

Just another reason not to bother with the Washington Post.

David Lauri September 15, 2015 um 10:24 pm

I encountered this today and all I had to do was turn off Javascript and reload the page.

Rocket Scientist September 25, 2015 um 3:11 pm

Just add these to your custom filters. Works great.

Nate Hoffelder September 25, 2015 um 3:13 pm


Ares Mesa September 26, 2015 um 3:55 am

Ad blockers have taken away the meager revenue small website owners earn from their AdSense advertisements, and Google AdSense is doing nothing about it. Web owners prefer the Internet for publishing their content – free of charge – to the public; over publishing their work at ClickBank to be sold as e-book. IT LOOKS LIKE INTERNET USERS BENEFITING FROM THE BLOGGERS ARTICLES DON’T APPRECIATE THIS. Bloggers don’t mind users not clicking advertisement on their ads, but ad blockers deprive them – more importantly – of blocked impressions! Yeah, intrusive ads like popups are very irritating, reason why self-respecting bloggers, don’t use them.

If this ad blocking trend continues, Internet users may have no other choice but pay for what they need by downloading the bloggers e-book sooner or later.

It is high time that all website owners unite and fight this evil so Adblock users can go nowhere to search for the content they need.

Annie October 4, 2015 um 3:58 pm

Ares Mesa, ads are the number 1 cause of malware infections and computer problems. Adblocks are door locks that keep unwanted crap out. Are you really so arrogant that you think people need to remove door locks so door-to-door salesmen can barge in and sell things? That’s crazy.

How iOS Ad Blocking Will Affect Your Business (And What To Do About It) October 30, 2015 um 12:30 pm

[…] fighting ad-blocking can be construed as fighting the customer. In early September, the Washington Post put up a page asking ad-blockers to subscribe. That experiment lasted for just a […]

Mike May 19, 2018 um 10:53 am

Guess that means that Washingtonpost. com is now hosting malware, pornographic popup ads and redirects to porn sites infested with malware and viruses. need I say more.

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