Editor's Note: Ads? What Ads

When content sites make the move to a pay to play model, they sometimes offer a no-ads version of the site to subscribers. Pony up $25 a year and you can access content till your eyes pop out, all with nary a punch-the-monkey hopping back and forth.

The motivation behind this kind of plan is plain to see. Banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, skyscrapers, whatever, have become the surfer's worst enemy—annoyingly inserted in front of or within the valuable content the surfer is trying to get at. Recognizing this, sites try to motivate users to subscribe to content by offering an ad-free utopia behind the subscription wall.

This is all well and good for those who are truly rankled by the advertisements—a reaction I find remarkable since it's the ads that are enabling the user access to free content in the first place. But what about those of us who, over the years, have managed to develop a talent for ignoring advertisements? Heck, two flicks of the mouse wheel and that top banner is a distant memory. And a good story is a good story. I'll read around a skyscraper without ever knowing what I was just pitched. Pop-ups? Just close the window and get on with your life. And pop-unders have to be the dumbest, most desperate play for your attention of them all. What fool thought an ad that stays hidden from view the whole time you're on the Web was a good idea? A vendor can't even target the ad to fit a certain vertical. An experienced surfer might recognize the brief flash of the ad's window before it settles in behind the main browser window, but by the time they've moved from the site that served it, the ad is out of context and forgotten, only to be summarily ignored and closed when the Internet session is over.

All of this does not require an incredible force of will. I'll readily admit to being easily distracted—if only you knew how late this editorial is! Yet I find it easy to move around the Web without gnashing my teeth and shaking my fist at the screen when ads are inserted within content I'm accessing. This puts a serious dent in a site's value proposition when they offer a no-ads version of their content for a fee. I expect that most folks are like me, they've learned workarounds. Tempting as the thought may be, a no-ads version of a site will not be the reason I pull out my wallet. If I can get the same content for free with ads, then I'll tolerate the ads. However, pull content behind the subscription wall, or add new valuable kinds of content that's not available on the main free site, then I'll likely pay up.

This is all probably a moot point anyway. The clever sites have found ways to target ads—commanding a premium—to their content and users, and are squeaking by. Other sites attract such massive traffic that ads still support the bulk of the operation—though even these sites are now building in some fee structures. Still others have simply lowered the subscription wall as their last attempt to stay afloat. The rest are gone.

Fundamentally, the issue is black and white—if it's free and supported by ads then there's really no reason to subscribe. If there's no other choice but to subscribe, and the content is worth it, then we'll buy it. I think we're beyond the point now where content sites have to entice long-time users to subscribe. They understand now that good content comes with a price, that the ad-supported model is simply not enough to keep a site going.