Google's digital tip jar experiment lets users pay to avoid the ads

  • Advertising
  • July 15, 2015
  • Johan Chang
Google's digital tip jar experiment lets users pay to avoid the ads

Internet users’ unbridled—and growing—love of ad blockers is one of the biggest concerns for the advertising and online publishing industry. So Google proposed a new initiative – called Contributor, which launched last year – for internet users who hate ads so much, they would pay to avoid them. So does it have legs? 

Operating as a subscription service, users pay anywhere from $2 to $10 per month (and can set a maximum price), with that money going directly to websites that have partnered with Google on the scheme to replace the lost revenue from blocked ads. The more you pay, the fewer ads you see.

When it first started, Google asked people to pay $1 to $3 per month, but now that the service is starting to gain traction, the price has increased.  

According to Google, a thank you message or a pixel pattern will replace the space where the ad would normally be (Google says you could also replace it with another picture of your choice). So far, major partner websites have included UrbanDictionaryThe OnionWikiHowMashable and Imgur, as well as a number of other smaller websites.

It’s certainly an interesting move. After all, around 90 percent of Google’s revenue is derived from selling advertising through the use of Google AdWords and Google AdSense. Cost-per-click, Google’s modus operandi for charging its customers, has been steadily declining in the past few years, which may be why the tech giant is looking to expand its revenue streams.

At this stage, the service is invite only, though if you’re really interested you can sign up to be on the waiting list. Once you’re invited, you can see which sites participate, and then decide whether you join the scheme or not (at the other end of the payment spectrum, Ad Block Plus is also allowing advertisers who pay them to have their 'acceptable' ads shown and over 300 businesses are already signed up to the White List). 

As a recent op-ed in The New York Times said, consumers should have the option of paying online services like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to not be treated like a product. In some ways, it's already happening. Netflix's model is based on paying to remove ads (and watching content on your terms) and the data is gathered to make the experience better. Spotify's paid-for premium service also removes the ads. Increasingly, people seem more willing to pay for online services, whether it's music, SVOD or news, and as On The Media said, this idea is almost like the equivalent of a digital tip jar for publishers. It's also relatively fair, as it works on what the market is willing to pay for that space so readers can outbid advertisers. And the fact that digital content creators have been searching for alternative funding methods for years (and the fact that micropayments haven't really taken off because it's too finicky for consumers and the cost of the processing them is too high) means it's an experiment worth trying (if you like ads, but only want good ones, D&AD has created the Ad Filter). 

Of course, ad blockers are free, and that will be something Google will have to figure out a way to overcome. People have also grown accustomed to getting online content for free while still getting annoyed with the ads that help keep it that way. And a recent study done on the use of ad blockers found that not only did users see fewer ads, ad blockers also reduce data loads by up to 25 percent. So there are some rather large incentives. 

As one report has pointed out, ad-blocking software is hugely popular and growing exponentially, yet the marketing industry is highly invested in the display advertising model, regardless of user distaste.

And with mobile web browsing starting to supplant desktop browsing, Apple looks set to become the next great roadblock, providing, as it does, developers with easy-to-use tools to build ad blockers.

So maybe, just maybe, Google might be on to something here. But we’re just a bit afraid to hope.

  • This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared on idealog.co.nz

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The Last Post: Luck and Insecurity

  • Advertising
  • December 15, 2017
  • Damien Venuto
The Last Post: Luck and Insecurity

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