This month my Scientific American column contemplated the new world of ad blockers. It’s a world where a huge percentage of Web visitors never see the ads that pay for everything they read and watch. Who or what, then, will pay for the Internet?
It’s a problem that has the media and advertising worlds tied in knots. How will we solve this? Native ads (articles sponsored or written by advertisers)? Micropayments (a few cents per article you read)?
There’s another idea floating around: Let visitors pay the Web sites directly in exchange for an ad-free experience. For example:
- Google Contributor: This experimental program lets you pay $2, $5 or $10 a month in exchange for seeing fewer ads on participating Web sites. The more you pay, the fewer ads you see. (You get to choose what image you’d like to see where the ads would have been—a solid neutral color, for example, or cat pictures. Yes, cat pictures.)
The ads you’re not seeing are ads that Google’s ad-distribution system would have posted. That’s good, because it means that millions of Web sites suddenly show you fewer ads, both on your phone and your computer. But, of course, ads dished up by other services aren’t affected, so even the top-end service will only cut ads by 25 to 50 percent.
- YouTube Red: Of course, YouTube is a Google product, so it’s not surprising that a similar program is offered here. You pay $9.99 a month to watch ad-free videos. (You can also download videos to play back later, and you get a membership in YouTube’s streaming music service.)
- WordPress Premium: WordPress is a popular service that lets you create your own blog without requiring any programming skills. “We sometimes display advertisements on your blog to help pay the bills. This keeps free features free,” WordPress says. Unless you’re willing to pay $99 a year for WordPress Premium, that is. This upgrade provides an option for small-scale Webmasters to keep their readers' experience ad-free.
- App upgrades: Lots of apps let you pay to remove ads, too. The Pixlr photo-editing app, for example, offers an ad-free version for $1.99. Microsoft’s newly enhanced Solitaire app (in Windows 10) shows 30-second video ads between games—unless you pay $9.99 a year.
Overall, pay-to-remove-ads services will be only part of the future. Add them all up, and you wind up with a Web that nickel-and-dimes you, a Web that’s far more expensive than it is now.
The answer to the ad-blocker problem will, no doubt, be a combination of approaches. Web sites and advertisers will come up with a wide variety of ways to keep online material available to its adoring public—including ads.