How publishers can side-step ad blockers: 10 ideas

While b2b publishers can charge high prices for premium subscription services, or make money from marketing paid conferences, it’s always been harder for consumer publishers to extract as much cash from their digital audiences.

Most have until now focussed on advertising-funded models, but with the growth of online ad inventory from the likes of Facebook and the resulting collapse in CPMs, that’s no longer enough.  And now the next nail in the consumer advertising coffin is ad blockers – for large publishers this is reducing their available audience quite severely.

In the last year popular ad blocker Ad Block Plus has seen downloads grow from 200m to 300m.  And many online publishers are already finding that around 10%-20% and sometimes even up to 40% of their audiences are using ad blockers. This will have a severe impact on ad revenues and some publishers (eg The Guardian) are already trying to persuade their readers to switch them off, but so far this has met with little success.

Consumers use ad blockers mainly to speed up browsing and remove distractions from their reading.  And many are tired of the endless cookies and tracking of their online meanderings.  More worrying still, the lucrative Millennials (18-29s) are less tolerant of ads: in the US 41% of them already use ad blockers. Plus Apple’s ioS 9 will have built-in ad blockers, further squeezing the ad revenue potential on smartphones.

So consumer publishers must think laterally to drive digital revenues – I think the trick is to switch to monetising the audience, not just monetising the content.  Here’s a mix of interesting approaches being used by consumer publishers that might be worth considering.

1.    Native advertising

This is a way to offer advertisers more value and get round the twin evils of banner blindness and ad blockers.  Huffington Post is a profitable site that relies on native advertising.  Well crafted sponsored content, woven into the editorial, is appealing to readers, and is harder for ad blockers to identify – well at least for now.

2.    Sell tickets

Time Out has transformed itself from a paid-for print publisher to a free digital reviews service, with a built in ticket booking engine – and they make money from commissions.  So if a publisher provides reviews of products or services then they can directly link through to a transaction and take a cut.

3.    Sponsorship (web)

Sponsorship of whole sections of content or projects or micro-sites is hard for ad blockers to undermine.  The Guardian Witness citizen journalism project & awards was sponsored by EE.

4.    Sponsorship (app)

The Week launched its digital iPad edition with the support of a small number of sponsors, including Rolex, who received bespoke content in the app.  Dennis also charge print subscribers a modest upgrade fee to add digital content to their bundle.

5.    Create Premium subscriptions

Indie bike publisher Singletrack caters to different levels of mountain bikers with tiered offers:  free website, basic digital sub and premium digital sub with extra goodies, offers and access.  Adding special services can justify a paid subscription even when much of the site is free.  The Guardian has developed a membership scheme that revolves around exclusive events.

6.    Digital repackaging & ubiquity

Imagine Publishing ensure they have the rights on all their magazine content, and repackage timeless content in computer games and popular science into digital books and new publications, across every digital platform going.  Content that might have been free online can then be repackaged and given a cover price.

7.    Sell products

Immediate Media reach an affluent audience through established magazine Radio Times, have invested in data and DM and are now making serious money selling travel & holidays that link to their content.

8.    Launch live events

Future have used their photo website and titles to launch a new consumer event, The Photography Show, and work with their advertisers as sponsors.  No ad blockers in live events!

9.    Offer consultancy and training

Wired spotted a “prosumer” audience within their readers and now their expert journalists are running bespoke consulting sessions on tech innovation for companies.  The Guardian have built up a big portfolio of Masterclasses on creative writing, photography and web design.

10 .Create native content

Many consumer publishers are using their editorial skills to create custom content for advertisers that they can use elsewhere, not just in their own media properties.  Dennis has built a £4m turnover video business largely around shooting content for motoring advertisers.

So maybe the future beyond the banner isn’t quite as terrifying as it might first appear.  While these ideas are focussed on consumer-facing media businesses, they are equally applicable to b2b and professionals audiences.

If you have other ideas for creative digital revenue generation in a post banner world I’d be interested to hear more!

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media sector publishers and events.


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