GQ ramps the adblock war in a clear demonstration of defeat

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy January 7, 2016
Ads and subscriptions co-existing is the latest effort by GQ to solve the ad-based business model conundrum. Does it work?

Over the holiday period, GQ quietly revealed that it is offering its readers a simple choice: see our ads or pay for the content. This from WNIP:

When a user with ad blocking software clicks on a GQ article, a popup comes on the screen with an image of Amy Schumer as Princess Leia with the message: “Support GQ’s award winning journalism! Turn off your ad blocker or purchase instant access to this article, so we can continue to pay for photoshoots like this one.”

There is some confusion about how much GQ want for their content and what readers actually see. Some are reporting 50¢ per item, others report 25¢:

Elsewhere, other experiments are underway to get readers to turn off adblockers. The argument is the same. Our stuff is ad supported, turn the blockers off or you don't get to see the content. Or you phony up. Either way, we get paid.

Reports vary but it seems that at least a portion of those who use adblockers (I'm one) will give in to publishers (I won't on principle but I might pay for something if it appears to offer value.)

The Guardian talked about a CityAM experiment which is claimed as a success. The conclusions are interesting:

Martin Ashplant, outgoing digital director at City AM, told the Guardian the site has since recorded no noticeable change to its exit or bounce rate, while at least one in four readers turned off adblockers.

He said: “What we’re reading into that is that the people who’ve come to the page with the adblocker on and don’t decide to turn it off for whatever reason seem to be the people who only come for one page visit anyway.”

The problem with Ashplant's analysis is that it is making a set of assumptions that may turn out to be false.

Bounce rates - which give an indication of the percentage of people who tip up for one page only - are a source of angst among publishers. We look at those rates all the time to try figure out what is happening. One conclusion we've reached is that people fall into a number of 'types' one of which I call the 'gadfly.'

These are folk who come to pick up a tidbit of information in which they are interested now but only now. They may file that information away, copy and paste or whatever as part of their topic research. We see those actions as representative of a data point for something bigger. The fact they click away is not necessarily an indication they found the information of lesser value. Simply that they're using time as economically as possible. Those same readers may well come back at some point in the future but without extensive analysis, we cannot know.

Elsewhere, we see a number of so-called heavy hitters attempting to undermine the value of the link. I shall have more to say on this tomorrow but the thumbnail version is that those who are abandoning links are tacitly trying to wall us into a single point of view that forces either an ad or subscription payment.

That's dangerous on many fronts but entirely predictable for those attempting to defend an ad-based media model and who are scrabbling to find a viable alternative. From the reader's point of view, it's like reading texts without having a reference section. Would you do that on a routine basis?

It's no surprise to our readers that we consider this a zero sum game that smacks of a failed business model that has firmly moved into zombie mode. GQ's effort looks exactly like that yet I perfectly understand why they take this course of action.

Where it goes, nobody knows, but it seems to me that GQ needs to decide what its business model needs to look like. Perhaps it is the case that GQ cannot predict how many people will pay versus those who are willing to put up with ads and what that means for revenue. Trying to have it both ways as they are at the moment is not a viable model in my view although it might inform them about future reading patterns.

More broadly, this business model gyrations are a worry in the context of brand. You would think for instance that GQ's brand is enough to carry it through, even if the underlying model is being hollowed out. But then we know media can be an ephemeral business where what you have today goes up in a puff of smoke tomorrow.

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