Why don't more websites charge for ad-free versions of the site?

One of the things I appreciate about the Dope is that I can shell out a fairly modest amount of money (IIRC, it’s $29.99 for 2 years) to not have to deal with ads.

Why don’t more websites do this? As I understand it, Google and Facebook have managed to hog most of the ad revenues, and practically all other content providers are stuck with getting less money in exchange for running more ads.

You’d think that as the value of each set of eyeballs to the content provider continues to diminish, being able to collect money directly from the owners of those eyeballs would be a win for them, giving them a steady revenue stream that doesn’t get gutted as ad rates go down.

And it can’t be that hard to manage, I’d assume, if the SDMB does it. Yet Josh Marshall’s TPM site has been working up to rolling out an ad-free version for awhile now (they aren’t there yet), so maybe it isn’t so easy for them. (If so, why was it easy for the Dope to do this, but harder for them?)

There are sites I frequent where I’d cheerfully pay on the order of $50/year to not see ads. Between knowing that it would help support the site, and not having to deal with the more annoying ads, it would be worth it. And I haven’t exactly been quiet about the subject - I’m not any more of a shrinking violet elsewhere on the Web than I am here. :slight_smile: But I never get any response from the people running the sites.

So what gives? There must be good reasons why the option of paying for an ad-free site is a rarity. But what are they?

Because the vast majority of people aren’t willing to pay one dime to post on a website?

But they aren’t any worse off when that vast majority chooses to keep watching the ads. But for the minority that will, they can probably charge several times what the advertisers pay them to show ads to those people.

Say I’m running a website, and (totally made-up numbers follow) I’ve got traffic of about 1000 people a day. I get about $10,000/year in ad revenue. But if 100 of those people are willing to pay $25/year for an ad-free site, and I’m now getting $9000/year from the advertisers for the remaining 900 people, now my revenue’s $11,500/year. Which gives me some cushion in case ad revenues per pair of eyeballs continues to decline.

Because most of the experienced computer users have ad-blockers already running full time on their computers, and so never even see the annoying & intrusive ads. Why would they pay to remove ads when they already have them removed, at no cost?

For example, I use uBlock Origin, and don’t see any ads on the SDMB at all.
Not too long ago I was in a hospital for a few days, and found access to a computer there. I logged in to SDMB and was astonished at the ads that infested the website, and slowed it down. I hadn’t even realized just how much annoyance uBlock Origin was removing for me.

Let’s look at one of the biggest forms of web content: Porn. The trend has very much been away from pay-to-access smaller websites and more towards ad-supported mega websites. It’s probably for the same reasons. I guess you could say the same thing about a lot of equivalents of niche TV shows that are now on Youtube

As Tim says, more advanced users dodge them and less advanced ones just accept them like toolbars.

Well, enough of us must not be going the ad-blocker route to make it worthwhile for the advertisers to advertise, and to pay enough money to the site owners that it makes it worth their while to keep running the ads.

(Yeah, I’ve tried a couple of ad blockers. Was less than happy. Can’t remember why.)

I’ve used Ad Blocker Plus for several years, and it’s worked well for me.

That said, over the past six months or so, I’ve noticed an increasing number of sites for which, when I visit them, deliver a pop-up window saying (more or less): “We’ve noticed you’re using an ad blocker. Please whitelist our site, so we can continue to provide you with content.” On some of those sites, one can just close the pop-up and continue on. But, others won’t let you read more than a few lines of an article while you have an ad blocker running. So, at least some sites are trying to fight back.

My suspicion is that, for most sites, the average visitor doesn’t visit often enough for it to make financial sense (for the visitor) to pay a fee for a no-ads version, especially when ad blockers are available. The SDMB is much more of a community than most web sites, and while many Dopers who buy subscriptions are doing so just to avoid the ads, I suspect that more than a few are doing so as a way to do their part to keep the site going.

A number of the sites I visit have a community vibe to them. Take the Balloon Juice blog, if you’ve ever been there. While I don’t spend enough time in comments there to feel part of that community, it’s quite clear that a whole lot of people do hang out a lot in the comments sections, and have longstanding friendships there.

Maybe not as true in the comments at Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones, but Mother Jones itself is a nonprofit that depends on reader contributions in order to survive. (You’d think they’d be looking for new revenue streams. And they have the most annoying ads of anyplace I frequent, other than the ads inflicted on Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog, which isn’t a freestanding blog, but part of the Patheos borg, so there’s nothing to be done about the ads there. But fwiw, that’s another really strong community that’s been growing over the years. Most of the sites I’m talking about have a strong community of devotees.)

You are neglecting the added expenses connected to adding and maintaining a secure payment system, which might outstrip the added revenue from paying customers. And 10% willing to pay to post at a website is probably vastly overestimated. More like 1 out of 1,000 willing to pay, I’d guess.

I would not mind at all looking at ads on every site I visit. As long as the ads aren’t also looking at me. Don’t have trackers and I will see the ads.

Think of it as a range of websites from a single user’s point of view: ranging from high use to low use.

For a site that a user visits rarely, the idea of paying money is absurd.

For a site that a user visits often, it may very well be that a lot of other people also use the site a lot so financing via ads is reasonable.

It’s the sites that have users that visit often but don’t have a lot of users that are going to have a problem. (Sound familiar?) Ad revenue is going to be poor. If you force users to pay it’s going to go downhill. Etc.

Grouping would help. You pay $20/year and you get an ad-free experience at a long list of various websites. That ain’t going to happen. Even the online news thing is done idiotically. Saw a thing at a news site today: “only” $2.99 a month for full access. For a paper a 600 miles away? Right. But $2 a month for full access to dozens of news sites including some of the big ones, that’s more reasonable.

So you get ads. And terrible ones at that. So there’s ad blockers. So they make the ads even more intrusive. And the ad blockers get better. Not exactly an upward spiral.

Hard to believe it costs that much, given that the Dope does it.

According to the front page, we’ve got 3,474 “active members,” however they define that. I’m willing to bet that more than 3 or 4 of us pay for the ad-free site.

The ones that bother me the most are the ones with movement: either video, or still pics that change every several seconds, or that move when you scroll the page, etc. (Pop-ups are even worse, but I rarely encounter those, thank goodness.)

Not sure how grouping would work, since everyone probably has different websites they frequent.

Anyhow, take Mother Jones as an example, since their 990s are on the Web, and they’ve got a quick summary of their finances here.

Advertising is 14% of their revenue - but advertising sales constitutes 6% of (lower) expenses. So it’s really more like 9%, net.

Roughly 3/4 of their revenue comes from reader support: subscriptions (13%), member giving (21%), leadership giving (38%), and other reader support (3%). (I’m not sure what they mean by ‘leadership giving.’) They also get 11% of their revenue from foundation support.

But basically, they depend on the generosity of their print and Web readership - mostly Web these days, I assume - for their revenue. Seems that an ad-free site would give people one more way of contributing, while feeling that they were getting something in return.

Part of the problem is ridiculously obtrusive ads, and overloading to the point that it slows page loading. I turn off my adblocker selectively to see what happens in order to support content providers, but unfortunately the result is often so atrocious that I turn it back on again. I think there’s a reasonable middle ground for an ad revenue model that could be achieved if it were easier for content providers to tightly control the ad experience that their readers get.

Ad Block Plus has a thing where they can pay the creator of the blocker some money to have their ads vetted and be able to be passed through the adblocker so long as they aren’t annoying (and the user agrees to see non-annoying ads). Most sites probably won’t pony up for it, but a few do.

I agree on the whole occasionally turning off the adblocker to see how terrible things are. My machine is not all that old, although not nearly top of the line when I bought it, but pretty much any website that runs ads that ABP doesn’t let through will make my machine ground to halt. It’s truly disgusting.

I think the biggest roadblocks are lack of resources for initial programming and ongoing support. With adverts it’s easy, you subscribe to the service, plunk some code snippets into your website’s main template, done. A small bit of work for some decent revenue. To allow an ad-free version, a website owner has to (1) modify the site’s backend to accept payments and conditionally display adverts, (2) respond to support calls when a subscription doesn’t work somehow, and (3) watch for hackers and people sharing accounts. That’s a lot of work for an uncertain amount of revenue. Caveat: I’ve been out of the loop for some time, so there may be some plugins or services that do most of this work for you.

I always thought what might work is if the ad-service implemented the subscription service for the websites. I.e. people pay, not the website, but the ad-service to suppress adverts, and the ad-service passes the payments on to the websites. Then again, ad-services might be reluctant to offer this feature, so a separate service that acts as a middle-man. Of course this has the usual issues of centralization and privacy (usage tracking), but it looks like the average person doesn’t care too much about that.

The one I’d prefer is a tipping system. No adverts, just an easy way to tip websites.