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Ad blockers have been one of the biggest topics of discussion among publishers in recent times, and while some publishers have taken action, by and large, broad, decisive action has yet to be seen.

But could that soon change?

Wired, which began publishing on the web in 1992, has decided to step up and take a bolder crack at the problem.

Soon, it will present users employing ad blocking software with a choice: turn off your ad blocker or pay $3.99 per month for ad-free access.

Those that don't answer the ultimatum one will find themselves unable to access content on Wired.com.

That could be a not insignificant portion of its traffic. In a letter to readers, the veteran publisher revealed that some 20% of its readers employ ad blockers.

Wired then asked them to join with it as it seeks to ensure it can continue publishing into the future:

At WIRED, we believe that change is good. Over the past 23 years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of media, from our print magazine to launching the first publishing website. We even invented the banner ad.

We’re going to continue to experiment to find new ways to bring you the stories you love and to build a healthy business that supports the storytelling. We hope you’ll join us on this journey. We’d really appreciate it.

Fear cited as a reason for inaction, but it's not all about fear

Wired certainly would appreciate it if a fifth of its website visitors opted to turn off their ad blockers or pay for an ad-free subscription, but will those visitors actually oblige?

According to MediaRadar, just 4% of publishers are confronting visitors using ad blockers and forcing them to take action the way Wired is. One of the big reasons cited: fear that ultimatums could push visitors away.

But are such fears warranted? As detailed by Bloomberg's Joshua Brustein, some experiments suggest that publishers might be exaggerating the risks.

For example, Forbes revealed earlier this year that it was able to generate 15m ad impressions that would have otherwise been blocked by offering visitors using ad blockers an experience with fewer ads if they turned off their ad blockers.

According to Forbes, some 42% of visitors presented with the offer took advantage of it.

Other publishers aren't as eager to poke their users, and they're not avoiding action out of fear.

Steve Feldman, the Senior Ad Ops Manager at Stack Overflow, a popular Q&A service, says his employer simply doesn't care about ad blockers:

The truth is: we don’t care if our users use ad blockers on Stack Overflow. More accurately: we hope that they won’t, but we understand that some people just don’t like ads.

Our belief is that if someone doesn’t like them, and they won’t click on them, any impressions served to them will only annoy them-- plus, serving ads to people who won’t click on them harms campaign performance.

According to Feldman, user experience matters most. "Anything that doesn’t speak specifically to the Stack Overflow audience is not permitted. We also don’t accept rich media like animated ads, expandable ads, or video, which are the norm for most publishers today," he explained.

"This strict policy means we leave money on the table, but our team wants to protect Stack Overflow from those kinds of ads, as they run the risk of alienating that established trust."

Despite the fact that Stack Overflow sets a high standard for its ads, and even lets users downvote or close ads they don't like, the company's ad sales seem to be doing fine.

Feldman says that Stack Overflow's traffic has tripled since 2012 "and sales have grown with it." The number of members on the company's ad sales team now stands at nine, up from two.

Different strokes for different folks

Obviously, publishers aren't a homogenous bunch, and what works for one publisher might not work for another.

Some publishers, like Stack Overflow, can probably thrive in an ad blocking world without a direct response to the phenomenon, while others, like Wired, decide that the long-term health of their business depends on taking action.

The good news is that as publishers make decisions about ad blocking, the industry as a whole will learn what works where, and publishers will be able to make better decisions about what they do and don't do.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 February, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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