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6:24 am on Sep 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Has anyone tried to have a optional fee for visitors to remove ads.
9:28 am on Sept 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm sandboxing this at the moment but haven't yet gone live with it. The 'remove ad' option will include some material not otherwise available, so it's kind of a premium membership. I'm looking at starting it in early 2017.

Got to say though that market research hasn't filled me with optimism. A few said they would consider it, only a handful said they would definitely take it up. People just expect free stuff, it seems.
12:54 pm on Sept 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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How are you implementing it. Do you have a login page for registered users. Once they log in do you have conditional logic around the ads?

Do you think lowering the price would make people more interested.

I am not really looking for 50% of people to sign up. I am more looking at 3-5%.
1:48 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm considering as part of a subscription level for some of my sites - it wouldn't just be ad-free, there would be a few premium features as well. I did a survey and there wasn't a ton of interest in it, but I can do it relatively easily so I'm think it to try it on one or two sites first and see if anyone salutes. My subscribed users would have to log in, yes.
2:41 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Conditional statements in PHP so that ads don't show for logged in users. I've already flagged a price point of $0.99 so I'm not sure how much lower I can realistically go.

Anyway it's impossible to know if it will work until I try it. And I'm quite a way off going live.
3:13 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If I could figure out a way to do this on the site so that people did not have to log in, I would do it in a heartbeat. We offer this for the "paid" version on our iPhone app and people do use it. $.99 for 1 year ad free with an automatic renewal. You can keep people logged in indefinitely on an app. Not so much on the web.

From a business perspective it would be great. My calculations show that the average individual repeat user on my site is only worth about $0.18 per year. When they pay me $0.99 not to see ads, I make a much better profit off them and they feel they got good value.

I think figuring out a long term way to keep people logged in would help in the long run with ad blockers.

Hmmm.. Now that I think of it, why the heck is AdSense not allowing publishers to do this? Alphabet (Google) has the technology to offer this. You would just use the Google Play interface to take payments (and renewals) and then not display ads on a particular site where a customer has paid up not to see ads. These days most people stay logged into their Google account on their computers and would give them even more of a reason to stay logged in. It would be a much better formula than that silly Contributor thing they tried. I would be more than happy to push this to my users if I knew I would get the $0.99 or, heck, G can keep a quarter per year so that I only saw $0.74 and I would still be happy. I suppose I would even be happy if I only saw $0.49.
4:59 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Yes, they could do it tomorrow and still retain a similar 38/62 share of revenue. The problem is that it would radically change the relationship between publishers, advertisers and users. I doubt they want that at Mountain View. Better to have publishers reliant on advertisers and vice versa, while Google sits in the middle hoovering up cash.
6:50 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The problem is that it would radically change the relationship between publishers, advertisers and users.

While I agree they (being Google) believe that, I am not quite sure that would be a problem. The industry is seeing issues on multiple levels that this could help with.

First, there does seem to be in the publisher space, way too much available space for the available inventory. Let the choir of "I don't make the kind of money I use to" people start on this one to show what I mean. Publisher side advertising has never been popular with advertisers. And yet it grows exponentially. Which results in lower CPM and unhappy publishers.

Second, it actively culls the visitor base that wasn't likely to click on ads anyway. Let's face it. The people who would pay $.99 to a site would likely have not clicked on ads anyway. So isn't it better to make something from them than nothing at all?

Second and a half, related to the above point, it now gives you a way to monetize people who would either like to use an ad blocker or would like to support specific sites while using an ad blocker. People use ad blockers because they don't have a choice. And when there are "choices" they are tedious and people forget to do them. It is why the $0.99 app model works so well. Nobody minds spending $0.99 and it automatically renews without you having to think about it.

Second and three quarters, again related, it would give low ad success platforms such as forums a way for members to easily support those sites in an ongoing fashion. Let's face it, some types of sites just don't do well with a traditional ad model. Forums leap to mind first, but I am sure there are more. I would lay the recent downfall of forums squarely at the feet of the fact that they are so hard to monetize. Sure, you can charge a subscription fee, but for the average web site owner, the fee you would have to charge to make it worthwhile is higher than most people want to pay. And the logging in and all that just confuses things for visitors and a confused mind says no. If AdSense had something like this, it would open up a whole new realm of people to get money from that they currently are not reaching.

Third, it would result in better ads because with the ad space inventory shored up, those bottom feeder ads like "Do this one thing..." would not be able to flood the market sucking up as many low CPM ad spots.

Fourth, It gives a publisher a reason to only use AdSense or to stay with AdSense. How many "I quit AdSense" posts do we see these days? That can't be a fluke of just WebmasterWorld. I suspect that publishers are leaving in droves. And maybe Google is happy to see them go because they don't fit well with the current AdSense model, but if they could offer a good subscription model, they might get those publishers back and be able to again generate an income off them. Then for publishers like myself, who use a combination of ad providers on the site, it would make it much more attractive to only display AdSense if I knew I could monetize with a subscription no-ad model as well.
7:46 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Just playing the devil's advocate here...

1. The more authoritative/credible/popular the site, the more likely it would attract a large subscriber base. This would mean that larger sites lose significant ad-viewing traffic, reducing their value both to advertisers and to Google.

2. There is no evidence that paid subscribers do not click ads. Actually the reverse is more likely. Those who can afford website subscriptions probably have more disposable income. They're the demographic that advertisers like.

2.5. The impact on attitudes to ad-blocking would be interesting. Doubtless a lot of ad-block users would take up subscriptions. Equally doubtless that a few would find some reason to continue ad-blocking and harvesting free content.

2.75. In my experience where users get to choose between free and paid, they'll choose free almost every time. If given a choice between using a forum as paid subscribers and using the same forum free and with crappy ads, the vast majority will choose the latter.

3. I have strong doubts about whether a decline in ad spots would improve ad quality and RPM. But say it did, wouldn't this remove the incentive for publishers to go ad-free?

Splitting Adsense with paid subscriptions is generally a good idea. It's essentially a form of revenue diversification. But as I hinted at earlier, being good for publishers and users isn't enough. It also has to be good for Google. I can see the G bean counters panicking about the impact such a change might have on its advertiser base.
8:23 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Oh, I understand the devil's advocate. :) Debate is good.

This would mean that larger sites lose significant ad-viewing traffic, reducing their value both to advertisers and to Google.

Adveriser, yes. Google, no. As I said, I have calculated that the average visitor to my site is only worth TOPS $0.18 per year. Of course one site is not all sites, but I do know I make a higher than average CPM. Going from that, if we can just assume for this conversation that Google also sees a similar YTV (year time value) from visitors on publishers' sites, they would make a whole lot more from publisher visitors letting the visitors pay rather than the advertisers.

And there is precedent that visitors will pay. That is why apps make money hand over fist. The music industry has already broke this ground too. Heck, half of Apple's business model relies on this. People don't mind paying if they feel the price is low enough and the way to pay is easy enough. That magic combination does not exist for opting out of website advertising, but it does exist and work in the music industry and the app industry. Lots and lots of people don't mind paying $0.99 to accomplish some small goal (download a song, buy "gold" for a game, etc.)... as long as it only takes a few seconds to spend that $0.99.

I can tell you that even on my buggy as heck app (not my fault -stupid app development company, and working on fixing it) a healthy portion of people who use it still opt to pay the $0.99 a year to not see ads on the app. I am telling you, if I could duplicate that on my site (low price point with low action pain), I would do it in a heartbeat. And if I am making money, G would be making money too.
11:07 pm on Sept 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You are right about the profitability of apps vs. web content. The problem is that user attitudes to the web are already fixed. Users have had two decades of free content on the web. It's very difficult to change those ingrained attitudes. That's why newspaper paywalls haven't been as successful as they might. It's also why donate buttons and crowd-funding campaigns for content don't raise much.

In contrast, the app revolution established a new business model, a new marketplace and new consumer attitudes. Apps have been lucrative for a number of reasons. Apps were associated with new technology. Many apps could run offline. Apps were perceived as software rather than content. Apps, as you say, could be installed easily and they had a very low price point. The difference is that all this was relatively new to the consumer.
1:20 am on Sept 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Apps are being perceived as different from browsing and one of the points of difference is that from the beginning game (and other) apps included both one off and recurring requests for payment. I don't see that mindset shifting broadly anytime soon to browsing as the free browsing mindset is quite a deep rut. I can see a path forward where the synthesis brings mini-payments along - but it's not a given nor near.

That said, for those who want to improve their premium visitors experience by not requiring standard sign-in access consider
* using HTML 5 Local Storage to act as a key-value proxy for user-pwd. The server could automagically check or the sign-in page screen could offer a button for one click access.
Note: I would NOT suggest using this method anywhere that it's use could access user data. For info sites looking to offer ad free experiences though...
Note: Local Storage may be subject to unintended removal in certain circumstances especially with iOS. Which is why user-pwd access should remain as primary/failover access.

* use an app as the premium access.
Everyone gets free browser access complete with ads. Those who pay get the appropriate app for their machine whether mobile or desktop.

There are usually several ways to do whatever, it's just a matter of imagination, available resources, and current technology.
6:07 am on Sept 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I have offered an ad-free option for almost three years. I price it at £4.99 (US$8.99) a year. You get no ads and a few other features (though not exclusive content).

With 12,000 unique users a month I've now sold... 27!

I'm off to retire.
8:41 pm on Sept 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I did it. However, I also have premium members only content and other features to go along with it. Revenue has recently exceeded AdSense revenue. However, a niche specific advertiser I use still earns more. I charge $7.99/mo. However my site is an educational site and most people aren't in a buying cycle.
1:14 pm on Sept 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Users have had two decades of free content on the web. It's very difficult to change those ingrained attitudes.

They said they would never people able to get people to pay for music and movies too if it was free, and yet they do.

Research has shown that people will pay for things even if they can get it elsewhere for free as long as you make it reasonably priced (to them) enough and easy enough. Hence, sure, I can go hunt down a decent copy of my new favorite song on the web for free or I can pay Apple $1.29 to download it to my computer for me. In my head I think "Gosh, that is less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks - heck, I can probably find that in the couch right now and I have better things to do than spend 5 -10 minutes hunting for this song and not to mention risking my computer with a virus". I click a button, maybe put in my password. Bam. Done. I have treated (and that is an important word and mindset here) myself to avoiding the annoyance.

The stuff on my app is free, you just have to have ads placed in the same locations I have it on the mobile version of my site. And people happily pay $0.99 to get rid of the ads rather than make the effort to scroll past the ads. And that is per year. Chances are that $0.99 will renew and they will just pay it. And my info is available EVERYWHERE. While we do a great job of writing it and researching it, trust me when I say there are thousands of other sites where they could go to find similar information.

I price it at £4.99

See, for what I am thinking of, that is too high. In my head and in most people's heads that translates to more than a dinner at McDonalds and it is no longer a small treat or self indulgence. That is "real" money. And of course I am not going to pay real money just to avoid a minor annoyance.

I remember a long time (in internet time) ago people talked about how they could not wait until sites could take micropayments because they would change the landscape of how sites are monetized. And here we are, with the ability to do micropayments and I have not seen one single company even test the real feasibility of it. Everyone just knocks it off as not likely to work even though it does work very, very well in other areas. I am just saying, if Google was willing to test a blatantly silly idea like "Contributor", why have they not tested this?
10:29 pm on Sept 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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An app isn't a website - different rules apply there.

I think I'd see the same take-up at £0.99 that I do at £4.99 - the hassle of finding the credit card, typing in the numbers, etc, doesn't diminish no matter how cheap it is.

And in any case, it's a £4.99 tax on people stupid enough not to run an ad-blocker. Which, in the real world, is all it is.
1:27 am on Sept 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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the hassle of finding the credit card

That is why buy in from Google would be needed. They already have the one click set up for this and at least half the smart phone users out there are already set up.
5:02 am on Sept 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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PayPal, Apple Pay or Android Pay might cover some of that, I agree. I still think there is significant inertia to actually paying.

I bought Guardian Membership (for AUD$100 - USD$75) recently to remove the ads in their app, and to make me kind of justified in blocking the ads on their website. But ad-blocking is rather harder for mobile. At least, currently.
2:28 pm on Sept 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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They said they would never people able to get people to pay for music and movies too if it was free, and yet they do.

You're comparing apples and oranges. Most people have always paid for movies and music. They attach a commercial value to them. They have different attitudes about written and visual content on the web.

Research has shown that people will pay for things even if they can get it elsewhere for free as long as you make it reasonably priced

Can you provide a link to this research?
12:46 pm on Sept 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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So, these aren't specifically the research that I was talking about (do you know how hard it is to find actual research while using the words "illegal download? ; ) ), but they do support the same idea of what I was saying:
Study finds pirates 10 times more likely to buy music [theguardian.com]
Music Downloads: Pirates—or Customers? [hbswk.hbs.edu]

57M in US Still Acquiring Unlicensed Music [musicwatchinc.com]
While this one is mostly about the fact that free music acquisition is still rampant, I am posting this for the reasons stated on why people still do it - one being that they can't find the music or movie on the device they want it on so use alternative methods to acquire it.

Who’s Pirating Game of Thrones, And Why? [torrentfreak.com]
In this one, they go into detail about why people illegally download Game of Thrones, which is one of the most illegally downloaded shows out there. It has very little to do with it costing money and a lot to do with not being able to find it or watch it. And this info was pre-HBO Go, remember. You did not have to pay just for HBO if you wanted to watch Game of Thrones but you had to have a cable subscription, which is very expensive. I would lay money that Game of Thrones illegal downloads was a major factor in HBO Go happening. HBO also realized that if you make the price point not painful, people will happily pay for what they were already getting free through illegal downloads.

In one of the articles they mention the phrase "money poor and time rich" people (millennial) are mostly who looks for free music - which can be time intensive. On the other side of that phrase (which is not mentioned in the article but implied by the fact that there must be an opposite), you also have "money rich and time poor" people (gen x and boomers) who would rather click a button, pay a nominal fee and move on if it helps them avoid something they find annoying in the least amount of time possible.
2:02 pm on Sept 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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None of this research is in the least bit relevant, I'm afraid... because music piracy is very different to "I don't want any ads".

  • People know they should be paying for music. (They might not like doing so, but they know they should be).
  • People also know that if they fiddle around for long enough, and download enough audio links, they'll probably find a crappy rip of the music track they wanted, which probably won't be very good but at least it's for free.
  • But people also know that an hour's worth of fiddling around to try and download a copy of a song, or worse, an album, is a pretty poor use of time.
  • Torrenting is detectable and makes you liable to a civil court action or, worse, being cut off from the internet
  • Most people therefore are relatively comfortable with spending $9.99 on unlimited music a month, particularly since it does contribute - however small - to an artist's pocket.

Compare with ad-blockers...

  • People regard a web-page as being 'free', and attach no value to it
  • People don't understand how ads are sold, and assume that because they never click on ads, websites won't lose out on money if they install ad-blockers
  • Ad-blockers take two minutes to download and set-up.
  • Ad-blockers are mostly undetectable and aren't illegal to use
  • There are good reasons to run ad-blockers, not least security, speed of download, and data package use
  • There is no social stigma in using an ad-blocker

The only reason for anyone to take notice of a "pay $2.99 for an ad-free version" is if you're jolly nice, your website is genuinely unique, and you are personally appealing to people's better judgement.
3:03 pm on Sept 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Compare with ad-blockers

But your argument has a fallacy as well. You assume that they know what ad blockers are or how to install them.

The "money rich and time poor" people don't yet have the technological skill to put these things in or the time to learn about such things and where to find them. They simply do not, not as a whole. Only 10% of my visitors have ad blockers installed. If they are so darn easy to install, why isn't that number higher? Because people just don't have the time or foresight to seek them out and install them. Heck, Microsoft has a serious problems getting people to just update their browser and that is easy too. And yes, they may start to learn. But if you head them off by providing an alternative way to enjoy an ad free experience on the sites they like to use best and make it less of a hassle to do than installing an ad blocker, there is a good chance they would do it.

pay $2.99 for an ad-free version

You are still thinking too expensive. It would have to be what the person doing it would consider a throwaway amount of money, so under $1. Heck, I would still be making money off a visitor if I could ask them to pay $0.25 to have no ads shown to them for the year. I possibly might even make money if I could charge as little as $0.10, assuming that visitors who don't like ads and don't click on ads might now join the group of people who make me money.

People regard a web-page as being 'free', and attach no value to it

But that is not what they are "buying". They are buying a free website experience that has no ads. And that takes time to find these days if you can at all. That, they do attach value to. Especially if it is one they even think they might visit frequently AND assuming they never have to think about logging in specifically on that site again to experience the no ads.

I am just saying that we should not be so closed minded to the idea of it. There is plenty of precedent that this might have a chance to work. But there are a whole list of variables that would need to be included to even give it a chance to be tested and only Google (or possibly one of their bigger competitors) could pull it off.
4:48 am on Sept 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Repeating myself here but you cannot compare the sale or piracy of music and movies to the monetisation of web content. One is entertainment, the other is information. Consumers have a long commercial relationship with music and movies that they have never had with web content. They're quite used to handing over $$ for music and movies. They understand the costs of producing those commodities. They appreciate the talents of creators and want to reward it.

Their relationship with websites is significantly different. That's not to say the paradigm can't or won't change - but it will be a much harder row to hoe. As you suggest, micropayments may be the way to go. Things that work for some publishers won't work for others, given that we operate in different niches, with different audiences who have different levels of spending power.

It's not just Google who could run this either. Down the track we might see a CMS/webhost offering an integrated system for publishers, i.e. you sign up and host your content on their servers, and they monetise your content with (a) subscriptions or (b) ads to non-members.
5:03 am on Sept 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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What I've found interesting - just to move the debate on a little - is to test Patreon out for a newsletter I send. It's a free newsletter, anyone can sign up.

So this week I put Patreon links into the newsletter. You can sign up "to support" the newsletter for
  • $1 a month
  • $4 a month (I'll publicly thank you, once)
  • $16 a month (you get a namecheck and link in every newsletter)
  • $350 a month (I'll come and give a presentation for this too)
  • $1,000 a month (which is akin to newsletter sponsorship)


I've had five supporters so far - one $1, one $16 and three $4's.

Surprisingly effective for one week.
6:15 pm on Sept 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You can sign up "to support" the newsletter for • $1 a month

Now, imagine that you charged a "throwaway" amount.

"Hey, did you find this newsletter helpful? Would you give $0.25 to support it?" With a one-click option to do so.

OR

Send the newsletter out with ads and say "want to get this without ads? Give us $0.99 for a year's worth of no ads in the newsletter"

Smart marketers have been taking advantage of the "throwaway money" mindset for years. That is the driving force behind candy bars being placed at checkouts or "round ups" for charities where you round up your bill and the extra goes to a charity. Heck, the homeless guy with a cardboard sign at the highway on ramp is taking advantage of this mindset. "eh, what is the quarter/dollar in my pocket to me?".And there are all kinds of stories about how those supposedly homeless guys make a pretty decent income (not saying they all do but it is a thing).

Lots and lots of people don't mind tossing a small amount of change around as long as they don't have to think hard about it. I know, I know. I am harping. But I just want the big wigs out there to think about these things too. I would love to be able to test it someday. :)
8:53 pm on Sept 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You're clearly a massive fan of devaluing a product. If I'd have put $0.25 you'd have asked for $0.02!

The very fact that most people didn't go for the $1 price should be telling you something: that they believe it is worth more.

It also shows that I don't need to deliberately make a crappy product stuffed with ads to force people to subscribe. There is literally nothing it it for them, other than a single public thank you.

The psychology of having a very low but obviously cheapskate plan is interesting though.
 

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