iPads and the Ad-Free Internet

Remember hearing about those adblock plugins for Firefox? My favorite was the one that replaced web advertising with art photography. As a user, I thought this was great. No more distracting video trailers in the sidebar! But of course for many sites, ads are their only source of revenue; this was a major disruption to that system.

Welcome to Stage Two, brought to you by tablets like the iPad.

Jenna Wortham at the Times surveys the suite of apps that enable ad-free web viewing through a spartan UI of text and images. This is something of a godsend, as most content-rich sites now look like an MSNBC screenshot with a hundred infographics, leaderboards, and roadblocks obfuscating the original content. (And no, this doesn’t “enhance” anything. It’s clutter.) I much prefer to read articles using Goodreader, which streamlines these sites down to the bare essentials.

The simplified web, as configured by Readability.

Big win for users, and bad news for the websites, right? Sort of. Readability‘s apparently paying 70% of a $5 monthly subscription service back to the sites, split into micropayments based on usage share. If this sounds familiar, it’s pretty much like Spotify’s approach with music. What will be interesting to see is if the sites’ loss in ad impressions is offset by Readability revenue. My guess is “no, not even close,” unless it scales way, way up.

As someone dubious about the efficacy of online advertising in the first place, I’m all for switching to a subscription-based reading experience for websites if it means fewer ads. But with competitors like Pulse, MobileRSS, Flud, and NewsMix, users may just keep hopping to the next subscription-free option.

What do you think? Would you pay a monthly fee for an ad-free internet?

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Filed under industry, magazines, mobile, reading

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