Salon is likely the first publisher to ask users running ad blockers to either turn them off or make up for it by letting Salon use their computers' processing power to mine cryptocurrency in the background. The Financial Times (which has itself gotten creative with readers who run ad blockers) reported the news on Monday. The media world turned its head.
"Being a journalist, I knew it was going to be a big story," Hoffner says. "But that's not why we did it. We have a profound problem in the industry—ad blocking—and this was one way to bring light to it."
Without getting into specifics, anyone with access to a computer's processing power can earn virtual coins by solving complex math problems. Those coins can then be sold for cold, hard cash. And that's what Salon is doing—just with other people's computers.
The publication only draws on users' computer power when they're on the site, and doesn't require installation of additional software. (I allowed Salon access to my computer's reservoir of power and saw no difference in performance.)
The longer someone stays on the site, the more money Salon can generate.
"Think about it," Hoffner says. "This rewards good, long-form content and not clickbait."
Salon, which is a publicly traded company, is grappling with how to increase revenue every three months while also dealing with an audience that shows no signs of ditching ad blockers. Hoffner wouldn't say exactly what percentage of its users run blockers, but said the figure is inline with the industry average, which is about 30 percent.
"I have payroll to meet, and I have shareholders," he says. "I have to innovate my way out of this problem. I cannot wait for big players to do it for me. I just won't. Maybe this helps level the playing field just a tiny bit. It's a start."
As Hoffner points out, Salon is "doing everything else we should be doing." The company is about to introduce a paid app and sees a decent amount of traffic, among other things. "We can't give away our content," he says. "We can't do it. It's a product we work very hard to build."
The publication's efforts is an experiment, an attempt to try something different. "Another way to look at this is the way we have been progressing as media companies," Hoffner says. "Our progression is 20 years old and it is ripe for innovation."
Hoffner says the new effort kicked off Sunday, adding the publication has already collected a good amount of "full coins." Salon is mining a popular cryptocurrency known as Monero, which is currently selling for about $280 a coin.
"People in the industry are lining up to get behind this," he says. "I've already gotten a few calls from other publishers saying, 'This is great. How do we do this?' So, maybe we struck a nerve and created a new paradigm. We'll see."