For some publishers, email is a way to wring value out of ad blocking readers

Online publishers are finding a new way to extract value from freeloading readers: getting their email address.

In a test, Condé Nast’s Epicurious is asking users of ad blockers to register to keep reading the site. Forbes asks ad blockers to log in using Facebook or Google after they try to access the site multiple times. The Wall Street Journal has long let non-subscribers access limited content via their Facebook login.

In a related move, The Washington Post has started asking some online readers for their email if they want to keep reading the site without paying. (In this test, the Post is also automatically signing them up to receive its daily newsletter.)

These tactics are a response to the rise of ad blocking and the need to find other sources of revenue outside of advertising while deepening the publishers’ relationship with readers. Most people are unwilling to pay for news; asking for an email recognizes there are other ways of exchanging value.

“It’s saying, ‘If you’re not going to look at ads, then give us a data point that identifies you as a specific individual and we’ll be able to track you in a specific way — what kind of content you consume, viewing patterns and cross-device tracking,’” said Dorian Benkoil, founder of Teeming Media, which consults to publishers. “They’re saying, ‘We’re not going to force you to subscribe or look at ads, but we are going to ask you take this in-between step.’”

For Epicurious, the email request was a recognition that it should give ad blockers an alternative to stay on the site if they didn’t want to disable their ad blocker, executive director Eric Gillin said. He couldn’t quantify the results, but said traffic to the registration page has gone “way up” since the six-week test began in May.

“The options we’ve given people in our test were, you can give us your email address and access the site, or you can allow us to show you advertising,” Gillin said. “If you give an us email address or if you register, we can tell you what’s great about the site again. And if we don’t get an email, these people are lost to us. It’s been a great way to offer people choices of how they can access your content.”

Advanced publishers are using the log-in data to sell targeted ad campaigns, along with letting people bypass paywalls or enable them to comment on stories or get a more personalized reading experience, said Craig Ferrara, director of identity strategy and consulting at Gigya, which manages user authentication including via social login or email.

There’s risk, though. Any time you ask people to type in personal information, there’s a chance they’ll leave the site. Social log-ins reduce that process to a click, which cuts down on the friction. But then Facebook collects data on those users, to the benefit of the social network, Benkoil pointed out.

Publishers should also keep in mind that when they ask readers to sign in to their site, they may expect something in return — and it might not be what the publisher is giving them, as The Washington Post found when it pushed an email newsletter on people who gave their email.

“There’s an implication that you’re going to use this to improve your services,” Ferrara said. “You have to actually follow through and improve your users’ experience.”

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