Most People Still Won’t Pay for Ad-free Content, Would You?

By Josh Catone
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Over the weekend AdAge ran a survey asking if people would be willing to pay a nominal amount — $3-4 per month — to remove ads from their favorite web sites. It’s unclear whether the wording of the question was such that the offer was to pay once to remove ads from multiple sites, or to pay at each site to remove ads. We’ll assume the latter.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the vast majority of people won’t pay for ad-free versions of their favorite web sites. 84% of people said they would be unlikely or not at all likely to pay for ad-free content. Under 5% said they would be very likely to pay at any level.

That mirrors experience I have had in the past. Prior to becoming a tech writer, I wrote for a large political web site that offers an ad-free version for about $3.95/month. If memory serves, less than 5% of visitors were willing to pay for an ad-free experience, even though the site was plastered with ads like you wouldn’t believe.

There are very few examples of successful content web sites built around a pay-for-access model, and most are highly niche content sites such a science journals. The Wall Street Journal is probably the most successful pay-for-content operation on the web, with subscription revenues bringing in an estimated $50 million. For most brands, though, asking users to pay to access content has been a nearly impossible sell. The Atlantic dropped their pay wall at the start of this year, as did the New York Times. Both have seen traffic grow this year, though that could have been a result of heightened interest in the US presidential race.

The bottom line, though, is that getting people to pay for content is a nearly impossibly proposition on the Internet, especially for content that is offered free with advertising. As much as people seem to hate ads — consider that the AdBlock Plus Firefox addon gets 300,000+ downloads per week — they don’t hate them enough to pay for advertising-free content.

How about you? Would you pay to have ads removed from your favorite content sites? Have you had any success selling ad-free content to users? Let us know in the comments.

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