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Readers are right in using adblockers, so are publishers in refusing them access


Some Indian publishers are now asking users to turn off their ad blockers to read their stories on their websites. Currently, this is active on the websites of the Times of India,  Economic Times, Live Hindustan and Hindustan Times.

Times of India wants users to completely delete ad block extensions from Chrome browsers and does not allow readers to view content even after they have whitelisted a page.

The Indian Express, The Hindu, Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala and other news publications would also be joining in asking users to disable ad blockers, as indicated by this Factordaily post.

However, websites such as Livemint (part of HT Media) and Navbharat Times (part of TOI Group) have not started prompting users to disable ad blockers.

India has more than 122 million users ad blockers according to a study by conducted by PageFair. To put that in context, this is almost half the number of Internet users in India (306 million users as of December 2015). India stands second among the 17 countries identified by the study. India was second to China, which had 159 million monthly active users with a built-in ad blocking browser on mobile.

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In March, a number of French media publications decided to run a week long trial which would stop users who use ad blockers from accessing content. The publications involved include Le Monde, Le Figaro, RTE, Le Parisien, L’Equipe and music platform Deezer.

In Sweden, 90% of its publishers plan to take on ad blockers during the month of August. The IAB Sweden, which is spearheading the effort, is also trying to improve advertising by standardizing formats. Other international publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Telegraph and Trinity Mirror and City AM have take similar approaches.

Why the readers are right

Following the move by Times of India and Hindustan Times the move was predictably met with backlash from readers. Many have even found workarounds for the block.

Reader’s ire for the move is understandable as the ads on these sites are intrusive and hamper the reading experience. Here’s Hindustan Times website with an ad blocker on:

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HT without ads

And here’s the website with the ad blocker off:

HT with ads

Users are also concerned that their mobile data bills would shoot up mainly due to video ads which autoplay in a website. About 25% of Indians in a study said that they somewhat aware that their mobile bills are increasing due to ads and upset by the brands consuming data through video adverts.

Not to mention the privacy issues with the number of trackers news websites use. Motherboard reported in May that news sites track users across the web with more third-party tracking code than any other type of site. A study from Princeton showed that websites which publish content and are dependent on advertising revenue use trackers the most.

Why the publishers are right

We’ve pointed out that publishers are right too. Digital advertising is commoditised to a level where it attaches little value to the quality of the content or the publishers brand. In order to sustain, publishers end up trying to sell as much advertising as possible and increase the number of impressions served or clicks on links. Publisher brands are increasingly becoming less important, and not many advertisers are looking at a positive rub-off that brand affinity might bring.

To this end, some online news sites such as Catch News resort to splitting stories into multiple parts to improve stickiness and claim more ad impressions (a sample story here shows they sliced a 1,000 word story into eight parts).

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While readers have the right to use ad blockers (their browser, their prerogative), publishers will be forced to block users who use ad blockers (their website, their prerogative).


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