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Trepidation Over Mobile Ad-Blocking

Photo Credit: Newsweek

As usual, Apple’s annual September event evoked feelings of excitement from users looking toward the future of mobile. However, this year, digital publishers and other ad-dependent companies are experiencing a different kind of feeling in response to the presentation: trepidation.

Apple announced that its iOS 9 operating system will allow third-party content blocking extensions to be added to Safari to block certain types of content from being downloaded — including cookies, images, pop-ups, and more. In short, ad-blocking technology is now fair game on mobile devices and digital publishers need to adapt by finding new ways to monetize their content.

A new report from Adobe and PageFair, one of several startups helping publishers to fight ad-blocking, shows that 198 million people globally are now blocking ads, up 41 percent from 2014. Many digital publishers looked to the growth of mobile — where ad-blocking plugins either did not work or were too cumbersome to install — for continued revenue.

But according to data from Parse.ly’s own network of more than 400 digital publishers, 39 percent of all article views in August 2015 took place via mobile (versus desktop or tablet). That means mobile audiences are growing, and digital publishers are left with a familiar problem. The rise of ad-blocking threatens the entire digital media industry because press cannot be free and independent if no one is willing to pay for it.

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This topic came up at Parse.ly’s recent Summer Series event (“The Economics of Digital Media”), where panelists from Yahoo, Medium, Apartment Therapy, Gawker, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation discussed some ways that digital media companies can monetize.

So far, native advertising has been a popular avenue of exploration for online media outlets. Compared to more traditional banner and pop-up ads, native advertising presents a much milder inconvenience to the reader. Ideally, the sponsored content appears naturally during the course of a user’s on-site experience. Many times, it allows pages and apps to load at a faster pace without interference from other types of ads. Native advertising is a way for publishers to generate ad revenue while actually improving user interaction with ad partners.

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Other publishers are going a different route. For example, The Washington Post recently started redirecting some desktop users to a subscription page if it detects they are using AdBlock software. Twitter, which is planning to unveil its content curation project, “Project Lightning,” later this year, is starting to wonder how its readers (80 percent are mobile) will access paywalled content through its new model.

Although there are no clear answers, it is encouraging to see digital publishers carefully considering next steps in monetization — especially in light of this week’s announcement from Apple.

Are you planning to block ads on your mobile device? Tweet your take to @parsely.