The Atlantic Moves Toward Banning Ad Blockers, Asks Readers to Pay for an Ad Free Experience

Oct 18, 2016


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Publishers are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. The use of ad blockers has been on the rise, cutting deeper into publishers’ already slim profits. And to add insult to injury, Adblock Plus shocked the digital media world in September by announcing it would be launching its own ad platform (though that launch quickly went awry). Now, The Atlantic is fighting back, announcing, “Visitors to our site who use an ad or script blocker will now see a message offering two options: Whitelist The Atlantic, or purchase an ad-free subscription. While we’re in beta, we won’t prevent ad-block users from continuing to read The Atlantic. But our intention is to soon ask ad-block users to make a choice.”

The Atlantic isn’t the first publication to fight back against those who seek to block the ads that support content. “Other publishers have made similar moves. Wired.com started blocking ad blockers earlier this year and others like Bloomberg and Forbes have tested versions of this strategy,” says Kim Lau, The Atlantic’s SVP of digital and head of business development. “I think many publishers share our concerns, so I do think we'll see more variations of this in the coming months.”

For $3.99/month or $39.99/year Atlantic readers will be able to enjoy the website's content without the burden of advertising.

One might wonder why even more publishers haven’t jumped on the anti-ad blocker bandwagon, but it isn’t as simple as you might think. “At this point, it would depend on the financial health of the particular media company, the community, or communities they serve, the size of the audience and, of course, the type of content they provide,” says Scott O’Neill, SVP North America, MPP Global. “Most importantly, it matters how much data and intelligence they have on their readers. Are they collecting enough data to create other streams of revenue aside from ad revenues?”

“With that said, I think you may see more brands try this idea and measure their return,” O’Neill adds. “I do not expect a rush from media companies running to create ad free environments just yet. Ad Blocking technology is pushing them to at least test the market temperature and the financial feasibility of a module like The Atlantic is currently testing.”

So why was The Atlantic ready to make a move like this at this time? “Digital ad sales are stronger than they've ever been at The Atlantic and we've been fortunate that our ad block traffic has not grown in the past year,” says Lau. “At the same time, reports indicate that younger audiences have a higher inclination to ad block.”

“This move is rooted in our commitment to put the user experience at the top of everything we do,” Lau continues. “In the past year, we’ve very much focused on optimizing the experience across our site, improving speed, performance, and now security with a transition to HTTPS. We felt it was essential to more clearly identify the value exchange with readers, and to offer them choices.”

O’Neill suggests that experimenting with micropayments may have been a better strategy for The Atlantic than the all-or-nothing one the publication is moving toward. However, micropayments are more often seen as an alternative to a subscription, and Lau is clear that paying not to see ads is different than purchasing a subscription.

“The subscription to the ad-free product is separate from a magazine subscription,” says Lau. “The print price of the magazine is heavily subsidized by print advertising; similarly, there must be a value exchange to experience TheAtlantic.com.”

For now, ad blockers are not completely banned from TheAtlantic.com, but they are living on borrowed time. Lau says the site will flip the switch on ad blockers “By the end of the year. Exact timing is TBD based on our confidence that we've worked through any technical kinks and ideally after we've completed the transition to HTTPS.”