With annual advertising revenue exceeding $60bn, Google is one of the companies that stands to lose the most from the rise of ad blockers.
Recognizing that ad blockers are here to stay, Google is trying to make sure it has a seat at the table and can influence the ad blocking ecosystem. For instance, it joined the Coalition for Better Ads last year, and just announced it is preparing to build an adblocker into its Chrome browser that will remove ads that don’t meet the Coalition’s standards.
But that is just the start of Google’s efforts to ensure that it doesn’t lose out big time as ad blocking continues to grow. Last week, the Mountain View-based company launched Google Contributor, a new offering that allows users to pay to remove ads from the sites they visit.
Here’s what you need to know about it..
It’s an “ad removal pass for the web”
Google Contributor allows users with a Google account to load $5 onto a virtual “pass” and opt into paying a per-page fee on sites that they don’t want to see ads displayed on.
The per-page fee is set by the publisher. Users manage their pass from their Google accounts, eliminating the need to establish and manage accounts with each publisher. With a few clicks, users can opt out of paying for content and revert to seeing ads.
A range of publishers have signed up in beta
Google is going to help publishers deal with ad block users
Google is also launching a publisher solution called Funding Choices that works in conjunction with Contributor. When enabled, Funding Choices will give publishers the ability to identify users who are using an ad blocker and prompt them to either disable their ad blocker or opt-in to supporting the publisher through Contributor.
Google is beta testing Contributor
At launch, a dozen sites are part of the Google Contributor beta. These include Popular Mechanics, Business Insider (UK) and Townhall.
Google is, however, inviting interested publishers to apply to join the Contributor beta as it expands.
Google isn’t the first to try micropayments
Google isn’t the first company to try building a way for individuals to support sites through micropayments. Major companies like PayPal as well as startups like Flattr have tried to make micropayments a bigger part of the way consumers pay for content and services on the web, but none have cracked the code. Even so, entrepreneurs continue to launch micropayment schemes.
Google, of course, has some natural advantages that could help it succeed where others have failed, and coupled with publisher urgency to deal with ad blocking, the timing could be right.
Some see a conflict of interest
Some observers, however, are concerned that Google’s decision to include an ad blocker in Chrome could turn it into the “judge and jury” of online ads, raising anti-trust concerns.
Google Contributor could eventually factor into the debate. After all, the inclusion of the ad blocker in Chrome will logically exacerbate the ad blocking problem for publishers at the same time Google is pushing a solution to deal with ad blocking that it stands to profit from if it works.
This looks like instant antitrust to me. Restriction of competition through dominant position in browser. https://t.co/5tlPhLX0QE
— Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) June 2, 2017
It could still be a tough sell
Google’s size and position combined with publisher interest in micropayments as a solution to ad blocking won’t necessarily help the search giant finally solve the micropayments puzzle.
In fact, Google Contributor isn’t even Google’s first foray into the world of micropayments. In 2011, it launched Google One Pass, “a service that lets publishers set their own prices and terms for their digital content.” One Pass was shuttered in 2012.
While Contributor is not a carbon copy of One Pass, the harsh reality is that a large percentage of consumers are opposed to paying for content and don’t feel an obligation to view ads. Therefore, convincing them that paying pennies (or fractions of a penny) at a time for viewing content without ads is probably going to remain a tough sell, especially as ad blocking technology becomes harder and harder to detect.
Notwithstanding consumers’ appetite for micropayments, Google Contributor might not be so appealing to publishers, a number of which have turned to subscriptions to offset declines in ad revenue.
Unlike subscriptions, micropayments won’t necessarily offer a predictible revenue stream and with Google sitting between them and their users, they won’t have the opportunity to build direct relationships with the people who matter most to their business. What’s more, consumers have for years demonstrated a preference for subscriptions over micropayments.
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