A suggestion to WIRED on the occasion of their adblock-blocking

WIRED magazine recently started dropping an overlay on their articles whenever they detected an adblocker:

Here’s The Thing With Ad Blockers

We get it: Ads aren’t what you’re here for. But ads help us keep the lights on. So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Either way, you are supporting our journalism. We’d really appreciate it.

Ouch, it hurts to see such a good site take itself hostage like that -- and make exactly the same mistake as so many other sites in their approach and phrasing. I want WIRED to do well, so I sent in a letter to the editor. I present it here as well, adapted slightly for the web:

Dear WIRED,

I want you to succeed, but you're making a mistake in the messaging around adblockers that is being overlaid on every article.[1] I care about you, so I'm taking the time to write in with some advice:

Don't phrase it like you're holding your users' privacy and security ransom.

(I'll suggest some alternative phrasing, but first a bit of scene-setting.) I'm happy to give money to sites that provide value. I don't want to be a Free User and I have even written to sites asking them to please take my money. What I won't do is unblock third-party, targeted ads, no matter how tasteful and relevant; the malware risk is too high and the privacy damage is well understood. It's just not an option.

So when your page says "whitelist us or pay", what I hear is "pay up or we'll hurt you". I know that's not what you mean, so let me suggest a replacement. Instead of:

So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Either way, you are supporting our journalism.

I recommend something like:

So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week to support our journalism directly (and see an ad-free WIRED, of course.)

I'm never going to pay to get rid of the ads I never saw in the first place. I will happily pay to support journalism and other worthwhile endeavors. I think other users will as well.

Best of luck,

- Tim McCormack


Responses: 5 so far

  1. Third-World Techie says:

    Iwholeheartedly agree. I wish I wasn't a "free user", but I live in a third-world country with draconian foreig currency exchange laws where we simply don't have access to United States dollars. Advertisers are notorious trackers and their use of my personal data is unethical, to say the least. Wired will be bleeding visitors, much like the Fine Bros. lost viewers due to their policies. Wired never took into account every aspect of the advertising problem and shut me out. Too bad for them. Guess I'll be getting my tech news from SlashDot more often now.

  2. Third-World Techie says:

    Please excuse the typos. My fingers are a bit too big for a mobile keyboard.

  3. Tim McCormack says:

    Ah, that's an interesting problem! Sorry to hear about that. To generalize, it sounds like charging money for access limits the global scope of a website in a way they may not have considered.

    Do you know of a way they could charge money and still be accessible in your country? E.g. is there a foreign-to-you payment processor that could do the transaction at an acceptable rate?

  4. Leviathan says:

    I wholeheartedly agree as well. But the problem goes deeper than the impression of 'ransom'.

    I tried turning off Ad-Block Plus through the tools dropdown in Firefox. First, I turned it off for wired.com (No help) and then turned it off completely. Still no help.

    Then I went into the ad-on's manager and completely disabled it there. (I know it's off because I get ads on You Tube and the Ad-Block option isn't in the tools drop down menu any more. I STILL get the annoying "Here's the thing about ad blockers" message.

    So, they're smart enough to develop code to know an ad blocker is there but not to know if it's been turned off. OR that it's been completely disabled. It seems they can detect that Ad-Block is "installed" and that's enough to trigger it.

    Not a smart move. Especially for a tech-smart publication like Wired.

    For what it's worth, Forbes does the same thing. Exact same curtain comes down, and the same wording except it says "Forbes" instead of "Wired" and the price is different.

  5. Third-World Techie says: