Wired Offers Ad-Free Website to Appease Ad Blockers

Will Charge $3.99 for Four Weeks of Ad-Free Access

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Wired's website on Monday included prominent advertising, the kind it will soon let people pay to avoid.
Wired's website on Monday included prominent advertising, the kind it will soon let people pay to avoid. Credit: Wired.com

More than one in five people who visit Wired magazine's website use ad-blocking software. Starting Feb. 16, the magazine will give those readers a choice: stop blocking ads, pay to look at a version of the site that is unsullied by advertisements, or go away. It's the kind of move that was widely predicted last fall after Apple allowed ad-blocking in the new version of its mobile software, but most publishers have shied away from it so far.

Wired plans to charge $3.99 for four weeks of ad-free access to its website. In many places where ads appear, the site will simply feature more articles, said Mark McClusky, the magazine's head of operations. The portion of his readership that uses ad blockers are likely to be receptive to a discussion about their responsibility to support the businesses they rely on for information online, Mr. McClusky said.

There are legitimate reasons that people use ad blockers, according to Mr. McClusky, like a desire to speed up web browsing or not wanting to be tracked online. But Wired has bills to pay. "I think people are ready to have that conversation in a straightforward way," he said.

The magazine's editors are explaining the move in a note to readers:

"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."

This idea didn't originate with Wired. Many publishers have been flirting with a subscribe-or-see-ads model. Google has even offered a way for websites to accept donations in exchange for ad-free experiences, although it hasn't gotten much uptake. So far, though, the fear of alienating readers has outweighed the fear of losing revenue to ad blockers.

MediaRadar, a company that makes software for advertising sales departments, recently found evidence of anti ad-blocking activity on only 4% of large online publishers. Conde Nast, which publishes Wired, has been conducting gentle experiments with anti ad-blocking approaches for months with a small percentage of its readers. This is the first time that everyone who visits Wired will be subject to the actual rules of ad-blocking. Mr. McClusky couldn't say whether the subscription price would offset the average monthly advertising revenue Wired brings in from each reader, but subscription services generally generate more revenue per user than those supported by advertising. Mr. McClusky describes the $1 weekly subscription price as an opening volley, and says the magazine may tweak it as it sees how people respond.

The tricky part for online publishers is that they've been offering their content without directly charging for it for long enough that readers aren't accustomed to the idea that they should pay for it. Newer companies like Pandora and Spotify have offered a choice between subscription or advertising with little blowback from users. "Making it apparent to the customer that there's a choice is a good thing," said Todd Krizelman, the chief executive of MediaRadar.

While ad blockers have raised the scary possibility that the public may be rejecting advertising altogether, the experiences of the music services point in the exact other direction. Their biggest challenge has been convincing enough people to pay to go ad-free.

-- Bloomberg News

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