Dutch publisher Voetbal is trying to convert ad-block users into subscribers

Dutch football magazine publisher Voetbal International kicked off its first ad-blocking campaign six weeks ago and will use the results to inform changes to its subscription model.

The publisher is seeing roughly 20 percent of its desktop traffic affected by visitors with ad blockers enabled. It had 554,000 monthly visitors on desktop in December 2015, according to comScore, and the publisher claims between 30 million and 40 million monthly pageviews, across mobile and desktop.

Voetbal International currently gets the bulk of its revenue from advertising and sponsorships, with subscriptions accounting for just 5 percent. Even with ad blocking on the rise, the publisher still pulls in a decent revenue, but its model is dependent on advertising, so it wants to bump up subscriptions.

The information it’s gathering from the ad-blocking campaign will help it determine what its new subscription-pricing structure will look like, according to the publisher’s yield and ad tech manager Jeremy Noya.

The publisher started serving ads with the kind of message that has become common practice among publishers addressing ad blocking: telling them how advertising funds its journalism, noting that it doesn’t run unpopular “interruptive” ad formats on its own site, and asking them politely to whitelist them. The message links through to another page which gives a more detailed description about its advertising strategy and showing them how they can whitelist the publisher.

Interest in the initial message has been high. In fact, the click-through rates have been higher than the majority of its actual ad campaigns, said Noya.

However, the actual number of people whitelisting the site as a result of the message has been disappointingly low: 1 percent. “I’d hoped it would be a lot more, though it’s higher than conversion rates some advertisers see from some of their campaigns they run on the site, and which they would be content with,” he added.

The message directs people to a page where they’re asked why they’re blocking ads and whether they would be willing to pay a small amount per article instead of viewing an ad. So far 500 responses have been gathered, but it wants more and so will continue the campaign for another few months. The ad-blocking forum has so far attracted 1,000 unique visitors.

Once it has finished gathering information from ad-blocker users at the end of the campaign, it will use the feedback to gauge if its attempt to educate ad-blocker users on why they need to disable their blockers on its site has made a difference and if they’re willing to pay a small fee to access content without the ads. A current subscription is only €5 ($5.60) a month for access to both online and the print article. The publisher is weighing a number of options including reducing the price or introducing a lot more video content and additional articles sole for subscribers.

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More publishers are starting to use micropayments as an option for ad-blocker users — offering to unblock content if people pay a small amount to view an article. GQ is doing this, and Newsweek is currently picking a vendor that can help it do the same.

Yet Voetbal would prefer to reform its subscriptions in lieu of introducing pay-per-article options. It already makes all its articles available on micropayment platform Blendle but hasn’t found this to make a huge difference to the bottom line.

“We’d rather go for one proposition rather than break it out into multiple options. We may lower the subscription price or provide more original content for our subscribers like video. Micropayments would work if a bunch of other good publishers also did it, but on our own, it wouldn’t work.”

Last December, 37 percent of Internet users across 34 countries in Europe had used ad-blocking software. In the U.K., the figure was 38 percent, while in the Netherlands it was 27 percent, according to GlobalWebIndex. As approaches to ad blocking go,Voetbal’s falls on the soft side. Others that have taken a harder line and banning ad-blocker users outright include Forbes, GQ, Bild, and City AM. But Voetbal International isn’t a fan of the bad cop approach.

“Banning won’t solve anything, people will just get their news elsewhere,” said Noya. “We wanted to have a more clear view on what’s going on, and given ad blocking isn’t a problem we have caused ourselves, we wanted to get more insight into why people are using them to help us adjust our approach.”

Image: courtesy of Twoo.com