Can you access your favourite news website? If you use an adblocker, you most likely cannot. Some of the top news sites in India last week decided to turn away net users who make use of software to block advertisements.
The sites say that since they do not charge for the news, they can earn revenue only by running advertisements. It is only fair, they say, that readers do not block these commercial announcements. (Scroll.in is not among these sites.)
This marks a big step by an industry that is increasingly finding it hard to sustain itself at a time when newspaper readership is falling across the world but revenue from web versions of publications is rising on the back of banner and native advertising.
However, not everyone is happy.
While media outlets like the Times Group and the Hindustan Times are now asking people to turn off adblockers, online readers are not entirely giving in.
People who read news online regularly know how annoying it is to be getting intrusive advertising jumping out at them each time they access even a short news snippet.
These kind of in-your-face ads are what led users to adopt adblockers in the first place.
In India, almost one in two internet users – or 122 million people – actually use some sort of ad blocking software so that they can surf the internet without having to view advertisements. A recent report by Pagefair said India is among the fastest growing markets for mobile phone adblockers.
The problem with online ads
If half of the net users in India are using adblockers, this indicates that there's something wrong with the advertisements being served online. Most news websites use roll-over advertising and banner ads which not only annoy users but also drain a reader's data.
The publishers' initiative set users of social media site Reddit’s India forum buzzing with discussion.
“Honestly, the ads should be non intrusive and better placed," user "thetuxracer" wrote on the thread. "It’s they who should fix the system rather than blocking access to articles.”
Others made suggestions about other ways for newspapers to earn revenues. “We can aim to have crowd-funding every 6 months and keep a target,” wrote "Kulcha_diva". "Based on this, we can try lobby on having more sites which don’t support ads or at least don’t block adblockers."
Internationally, some adblocking software such as the Adblock Plus are seeking to find “middle ground” by allowing certain kinds of advertising on the sites as long as it is non-intrusive. The service which is used by millions of people around the world has also published a list of criteria for “acceptable ads” and it has a community of users who vote and debate on the kinds of advertising that should be barred.
The company based this decision on the basis of a survey it carried out. It claimed that only 25% of its users were against all forms of advertising while the rest 75% replied that they “would accept some advertising to help support websites.”
The Indian publishing industry is going through a churn and there’s no clarity on which model will make it to the end but one thing is clear – websites can’t afford to take readers for granted.