The argument around whether online publications should be free of charge has been raging for years. Back when I worked for a newspaper, the discussion started heating up in the early 2000s, when more and more people started consuming online and the money raised by subscriptions started dwindling. In order to avoid charging readers for website access, the paper chose to go down the line of advertising.
This route was taken by most online publishers as a means of earning money from their websites, long before services like Spotify came along and made the public get used to paying for access. Because publishers are so desperate to get as much income as possible, they resort to forcing adverts down everyone’s necks: in many instances, making people see adverts in “pop-up” fashion instead of letting the visitors see the content they’ve come for. This provides a negative experience, annoys their customers (readers), and leads to failure.
Apple took charge against this degradation of user experience last year and implemented technology which allows phone users to block adverts altogether. As you can imagine, this move has been very unpopular with those businesses which rely on ad income to keep afloat. If you have an ad blocker installed on your phone, you’ll often see messages pleading with you to turn them off in order to support the website you’re visiting.
By doing that, you’re turning ads back on for some sites so that you can help them afford to continue publishing their content. This means that you see (and probably ignore) their ads: which in many cases leads to them still being rammed down your throat. Ads are, in the main, innately bound to fail, so publishers and with their ad companies try in vain to force the ads on you so that you react to them. Obviously, this doesn’t work.
Lifting the blocker for your favourite website is only a temporary fix for the publisher. You see the ads, but you don’t click on them: the advertiser sees that their ads aren’t successful and so they stop supporting the publisher.
Now that the public is used to paying for content, why not make a better and better effort to migrate the principles of services like Spotify to news media? Allowing global, free, public access to a reduced service, then allowing subscribers to access the full content.
This has always been the best solution, even though it’s taken quite a few years for people to get used to the idea that the internet isn’t always free. You wouldn’t expect to get a paper copy of an extensive publication like The Guardian or Wired for free, so why should the online version be free? Switching more seriously to a subscription service would ensure that the publications people actually want remain successful and profitable, whilst letting the lesser-wanted dross disappear. This would, in turn, provide the publisher with more of an incentive to provide high-quality content… which should be the goal of every publisher anyway.