Internet giant Google Inc is ‘experimenting’ with a service that will enable web surfers to block out all advertising for a small monthly fee of $3 or below (under Rs 200). The service is called ‘Contributor by Google’ and seeks to create “additional ways to fund the web”, which is currently financed almost entirely by advertising.
The service will do away with the perils of users being tracked across the web, as advertisers try to understand their preference and customise the campaigns or product listings accordingly. It will also do away with the many distractions of ads popping up on websites for the serious surfers.
However, it is yet to be seen whether the service will take off, with a large number of people signing up to get an ad-free experience. The success of similar initiatives in the past has been limited, as consumers are used to accessing the Internet for free, especially in India.
Rajat Kathuria, director and chief executive officer at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) said that while there may be no “market” for the concept in India, it “might” work in the US. “People in America are sick up to their gills of online advertising and are very concerned about their privacy,” he said. According to Kathuria, in India, the service will take some time to be popular because people are used to paying for access to the Internet but not for content. “But, it is worth trying in the developed markets and not something that can be discounted immediately.”
The service, initially via invitation only, is currently working with sites and publishers based only in the US. To start with, 10 publishing partners have been roped in, including Mashable, Imgur, WikiHow and Science Daily. Users can sign up for a waiting list to be invited. The way it works is that users will set their monthly amount, which can be between $1 and $3. “As a reminder of your support, you’ll see a thank you message — often accompanied by a pixel pattern — where you might normally see an ad,” Google said on the Contributor webpage. It added that whenever users visit the participating website, part of the contribution will go to the creators of that site. Google, too, will keep a cut of that contribution; however, the details of the split has not been clearly spelt out.
It is a traditional price-discrimination strategy where there is zero price currently but the trade-off is that one gets to view many things one doesn’t wish to see, said Kathuria, adding one can’t help it as publishers also need to make money. “Depending on how much the irritation level is – users might be willing to pay a higher price for a better-quality service, which is ad free, and ensures uninterrupted experience,” he noted.
In the past, there have been similar initiatives with mixed results. While media powerhouses including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and Time have put paywalls on their content to make money from subscriptions along with advertising, others such as Guardian allow users to pay to remove ads while browsing through a part of its content on smartphone and tablets.
A publisher called Next Web lets readers get access to ad-free content for $36.30. Earlier, Readability experimented with a similar model as Google’s Contributor but the service had to close in two years ago.
There are more. While Wikipedia entirely relies on reader donations, Reddit loyalists can also choose to skip the ads for a fee. Mozilla is currently running a campaign where it has put out a message on its homepage saying, “If everyone reading this donates $3, Mozilla’s fund-raiser would be over within an hour.” It adds that Mozilla puts public good and user privacy before profit. It is not clear how successful the campaign is turning out to be.
Experts are also arguing that from a future point of view, Google’s strategy to create an alternative payment mechanism to advertising might be useful as more and more users are accessing the Internet from their smartphones. And, advertising on smaller devices is not as profitable.
Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued in a recent essay that “users will pay for services that they love.” He said this model could help reverse the march towards “a web that is centralised, ad supported and heavily surveilled”.