I was at an industry event a few weeks ago when a senior sales executive decided that the time was right – under the late-afternoon sunshine – to tell me exactly what he thought of Campaign’s online paywall.
He isn’t a fan. In fact, it winds him up so much that he said he might encourage his rivals to pull out of the Media Week Awards wholesale if we didn’t open up campaignlive.co.uk to free access.
Never mind the fact that his tickets for the Media Week Awards pay for his dinner, wine, our awards team’s preparation, the set, the host and a whole heap of other things rather than the salaries of the journalists producing the stories he wants to read. Or that he values our content so much he’ll go to elaborate lengths to jump over the paywall to read it. And this is a grown man using our site as part of his professional job, not a student or graduate trying to get a leg up.
As The Sun’s about-turn on its paywall showed, it’s difficult to get readers to pay for content in the commoditised world of general news, showbiz and sport. But The Sun’s sister paper The Times has demonstrated that people who value quality journalism are prepared to pay for it. The Times and The Sunday Times reported their highest ever number of subscribers last month. The Financial Times was an early mover in this space and has had lots of success – it now has 805,000 paying subscribers, with 600,000 of those stumping up just for online access.
As we’ve written about before, a number of publishers have trialled ways of jamming ad-blockers in recent years – most famously The Washington Post but also City AM, Telegraph Media Group and Trinity Mirror in the UK.
Last week, the FT started to play with the people trying to block its ads, even though they’re a relatively small proportion of its readership.
In the FT trial, a control group will continue as they were; a portion will be blocked from reading stories if they have an ad-blocker; a third section will be asked to whitelist FT.com and its ads. Interestingly, for the fourth group, the FT will block out a proportion of words reflective of the percentage of revenue that comes from ads. In much the same way that Adam & Eve/DDB turned 74% of the FT blue for International Women’s Day to highlight the woeful share of women on company boards (26%), readers will see what the ads they hate pay for.
A little while ago, I was told the marketing and agency representatives on the Advertising Association Council had suggested to their publishing colleagues that they push back hard on ad-blocking. But publishers have shied away from co-ordinating efforts. Just as rogue marketers can find agencies willing to bend their usual contract demands, so some publishers hope to mop up readers from rivals.
Surely it would be far better to live in a world where the industry could work together in order to protect itself from damaging practices.