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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  • Known Human

    Pay? Why? Don’t mean to sound cynical here, but most users have gotten used to looking around ads. That or they have Greasemonkey or a Firefox addon which removes the adverts all together.
    It doesn’t seem like a very viable revenue stream.
    Guess that makes my answer a “No. I would not pay.”

  • greg

    Overcoming adblock means more interactive, annoying ads. At this point, I just find another site to get the content from!

  • Sidney

    I think the only way I might look at paying would be in a situation where the payment would cover several websites rather than a single site.

  • Darcy

    Ad-free is a ‘nice to have’ feature, not an essential one. Most people don’t even notice ads these days, hence banner-blindness being such a problem.

    I think you’d be better off asking for donations. The good will towards your favorite site might be more enticing than simply removing an annoyance.

  • TheDPQ

    I would never pay to have ads REMOVED. Someone might get me to pay for their actual content or service… but it still had to be powerful or unique enough for me to get to do even that. Paying to remove ads just isn’t worth it. If the ads are truely distracting you are more likely to drive users away with badly placed ads then drive them to pay you to remove them.

  • Tarh

    Why would I pay for ad-free content when I get ad-free content through NoScript+AdBlock anyway?

  • I pay for Last.FM which does give me an ad-free site but I mainly do it for the other little addons you get as a subscriber like being able to listen to your own personalised radio station.

  • AppBeacon

    Allen Stern over at CenterNetworks asks this occasionally. He’s talking about paying for RSS feeds. I always answer that I would in fact pay for the feeds. However, his suggested $1 per month is unacceptable as is the $3 suggested above.

    I subscribe to and fully read 63 RSS feeds. I’m NOT paying $63 or $189 per month for these. They simply aren’t worth that much. I do think the content is valuable. However, I think MICRO payments are more inline. $.05 cents per month is more like it. $.60 per year per feed. Let’s just round up to $1 per year.

    I RARELY ever click an ad on a web site. So, getting $1 per year from me and thousands of others like me is a hell of a lot better for the publisher / blogger than getting nothing and dealing with all those ads.

  • Rod Trent

    This is the OpenSource generation. This generation requires everything to be free, or at least accessible by a Google caching system.

    You can try charging, but folks will Google till they find the exact same information elsewhere, and you end up losing an audience.

    BTW: I’d write more, but crappy comment entry technology.

  • I think the survey also needed to ask if users would pay if it was really easy to do; and I’m also wondering if the questions were couched in terms of yearly, monthly or daily rates. eg. “Would you pay 10c/day for no ads?” is likely to get a different response than “Would you pay $36.50/year for no ads?”. I’d also have asked whether the same people paid for content offline (papers, magazines, etc).

    Just asking “would you pay to disable ads” is too simplistic to get to the heart of why people don’t value online content the same way as offline.

  • henrikblunck

    Absolutely not. It wouldn’t be worth it since it’s much easier to overlook or open ads in a new windows anyway.

    What generally happens is that once there is a large customer base quality drops, and consequently it would be rather risky to begin paying. Although I realize many would hope people would sign up, pay automatically and then forget to cancel so they could get lifelong recurring income…. ;-)

  • kumarei

    Yeah, I just can’t see paying for a lack of ads. On sites that I visit regularly, the ads are almost always tailored and fit with the content and look of the site, to the point that blocking them takes away from the experience. I’m actually interested in looking at ads on good sites, since I may find something I’d like.

    On sites where there are a ton of ads, or the ads are for things that I’m not interested in (these things often overlap), I just use adblock. They wouldn’t be getting my business anyway, so I don’t really feel bad about it.

    Just as a friendly note, I have sitepoint whitelisted.

  • glenngould

    I’m actually interested in looking at ads on good sites, since I may find something I’d like.

    Same here, so in any favorite site I enjoy visiting, I would not want to block ads.

    I know a few video/music portals in which you have to watch a short ad-clip just before the video you are going to watch. Maybe paying for ad-free content might work in such cases.

  • As it seems to be universal here, neither would I pay to remove ads from a site I visit. I’ve actually seen this offered before, and I laughed when I realized I couldn’t see any of their ads anyways because of NoScript.

    However, while not quite on the same page, I will pay to remove ads from a service I use on my site that I present to other people… if I enjoy the service. As a viewer I don’t mind, but I personally choose not to allow advertisements myself.

  • Ketira

    There is (at least) one exception to this “rule”: Gaia Online ( ). They have ads all over the site – but for US$2.50 a month (at least), one can have the ads removed for 30 days. So how do they get people to want to fork over their cash?

    A nice little incentive called “Monthly Collectibles”. You see, you get a nice little avatar to personalize any way you want. Each MC (Monthly collectible) remains ‘sealed’ in the shape of an envelope. On the 15th of the month (unless they announce otherwise), the letter ‘opens’ and people get their choice of two (sometimes three) items for their avatar. (If you want to see examples, go to , click on “dream avatar”. Then once the page comes up, click on the tail (it will highlight saying “monthly collectibles”.) Why are they called “collectibles”? Because they are only available during the month for that particular envelope, and the envelopes are all color coded to avoid confusion.
    Objective of Gaia? To have FUN!

    I just wanted to let you know that there are exceptions out there. One just has to read carefully to find them. ;>

  • Dave Lens

    I think this is fairly logical. It can have several reasons:

    – Those people value content over ads and got used to ignoring them

    – People refuse to pay yet another small amount for a small inconvenience in their lives, it is/has been a tough decade.

    – Smart people get their content through RSS feeds (and let’s pray those stay ad-free, that would be taking the piss)

    Actually, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the majority of the people willing to pay for it never heard of Google Reader or RSS feeds.


    I will not pay to have ads removed from my favorite content sites unless they use pop-up ads or the image ads seem dangerous advertising like “you are the winner of $1XXXXXXX”

  • Dilettante

    If we look at the history of other technologies like television, radio and print, it would seem that advertising is a revenue model that’s here to stay. In a medium like the Internet, that is for the most part free, ads are necessary. People WILL pay for specialized, niche content that isn’t available elsewhere. As for accessing the rest of the Internet, we already pay an ‘entrance fee’ every month to our service providers.

  • monton

    I prefer to see ads on sites because often it can complement content well. If I go to read content on gardening, I don’t mind seeing a few ads for gardening products. With Intenet spending increasing all the time, ads are here to stay.

  • monton

    I am not a fan of pop ads though. I like seening text, image or video ads that are in a state of pause and its up to the reader to choose to play it or not.

  • No I wouldn’t pay, not even for sitepoint which is where I frequent most often. The only thing that really bugs me about adds is when they don’t clearly look like an ad and appear to be an actual part of the page. or when they take over the entire page and make you click to proceed/remove.

  • If someone is expecting me to pay to remove ads from their site, they are effectively saying ‘I’m going to make my site so crap you won’t stay with it unless you pay to make it usable’. Well, sorry, if your site is so unusable, I’m not going to stick around to find out if there’s anything worthwhile there. If it isn’t unusable with ads, I’m not going to bother paying.

    Where I am willing to (and do) pay is to not have ads displayed on my livejournal account, but that’s my blog, and I want it clean.


    People will pay for added functionality, improved performance, not for an add-free service unless adds are really annoying and distracting in which case they might go away from that product/service completely rather than paying.

  • roosevelt

    To be honest with you; I would pay nothing to remove adsense/ypn ads.

    Because those ads are in most cases not relevant to a website at all.

    For instance, those ads are triggered by a mere keyword/phrase. But the websites that handle advertising themselves (e.g. sitepoint) have more relevant ads.

    Firefox extension is very useful, and I use it to block out ypn/adsense ads only.

    I also agree with milostopic.

  • Hierophant

    Advertising on websites doesn’t really bother me unless its blinking lights and noise. So I doubt I would pay just to remove advertising from a site. They would have to offer me a real benefit. I pay for HBO because not having commercials in an uncut movie is a real benefit.

    Not having advertisements on a webpage isn’t a benefit. I actually click on interesting advertisements on websites that I frequent a lot. Either to review products or they to see if they have something I might be interested in.

  • monton

    You have to remember, like TV and radio or conventional print media, if websites are not able to run ads and therefre unable to make money, people won’t spend hours and hours of their time creating webpages. Sure, 8-12 years ago there were people dedicated enough to create websites without expectatation of any revenue and therefore were driven by passion, more than anything. However, expectations have changed. With internet advertising taking hold and booming over the years, if people feel there is no money to be made now, they won’t create sites. Why spend hours creating content when you could do something more useful. Some of the people that created sites all those years ago without expecting to earn money, are actually making big bucks now because theuy rank well and some of them have become authority sites. The Internet as a medium wil dominate this century like TV and radio did the last.

  • Tarh

    I’m not too worried about content producers halting operations because they lose their ad revenue due to those who block ads. As long as the majority of surfers remain ignorant to the fact that all of the ads could be removed instantly & for free, there will always be money to be made. Luckily, judging by the number of people still using IE6, there’s plenty of ignorant users waiting to buy from ads!

  • Leon Paternoster

    It’s the web, it should be free.

    I would never expect people to pay for my content (I couldn’t see anyone wanting to do so anyway!) The payback I get is interest in my work and the odd enquiry.

    Newspapers sell advertising on their websites. If they’re clever enough, they can maybe get through adblock – if they’re really clever, they can make their advertising good–looking enough to become an integral part of the site. After all, no-one objects to ads in print. Getting over reader resistance to advertising that forces them to look and/or click (pop ups, prominent banners etc.) is the challenge.

  • I’ve only paid to remove ads from one site I visit. And if I think about it, the payment was more to support the site and help it grow rather than to remove the ads specifically.

  • I think the subscription rates desired, to date, have been overly excessive. There was a blog that I really enjoyed, the owner put up a “donation” link, but the lowest donation was $10/month. It was a good blog, but not worth $10/month to me.

    I have said this for several years: micropayments would be key to monetizing websites. If I could get 5 cents per month from every unique visitor to my site, I would make enough money to work on it full-time. In fact, I’d currently even take 2.5 cents per unique.

    How many websites do people actually use in a given month? 100? 500 for more advanced users? At 5 cents, the decision becomes a non-decision.

    A lesson I learned while working for a dollar store (at corporate) is that when something is a buck, people don’t even think twice about buying it. Once it goes to $5, it can be the best deal in the world, a person’s “decision hat” comes on and they don’t make the purchase. But if it’s a buck, they buy it.

    I think this will have to come about eventually. Look at the content sites out there. They are not being developed like they used to. Why? Because people don’t see the pot of gold. Sure, there are a lot of free sites, but very few free sites exist for long without their owners getting something from them, and when sites start getting popular, remember, hosting can become a significant expense, running thousands per year. Not many people will shell out thousands to work for no pay.

    I suppose that once people have a mechanism to pay 5 cents per month to access a website, they might be amenable to paying higher amounts for more valuable content, or perhaps pay for a shorter period of time (5 cents a day?).

    Certainly no one will like paying, no one will volunteer to pay, but if done right, I think that people can be made to pay because there is most definitely value in what is being offered. The key is the ability to charge a very small amount, one that people won’t walk away over.

    If your favorite restaurant raised its prices by 1 cent, would you stop going? If your favorite website charged you 1 penny per day, would you stop reading it?

  • sitehatchery

    Looking at the reference for the AdAge survey, there’s no mention of this survey having taken place over the weekend. It doesn’t say when they ran the survey, for how long, to which target group, or how many people were asked. It only says, “we asked consumers”.

    I don’t think this article from AdAge is a reliable reference to support your position. I don’t have any argument otherwise, except that, it’s not in the best interest of any website to publish that a high percentage of people using the site won’t ever see ads. Few people would be inclined to advertise on their site. Also, those who don’t like the ads might leave before they give the website a chance – meaning that the majority of people using the site are already comfortable seeing ads. So, it’s probably not affective to poll only the small subset of people using the particular ad-filtrated site that is offering the ad-free version.

  • Web Commonman

    I think humans are given enough brain to avoid the ads and just pick the free content that is of use from any website. I wouldn’t pay even if I need to scroll a web page down past the ads for 10 minutes before hitting useful content.!!

  • I think the real question is; What price are people willing to pay for ad-free content? Certainly not any more than just a few dollars a month, if that. As most people have stated above, it’s just not worth it. They’ll just turn the other way if the ads are causing them an annoyance (which youtube and myspace seem to be doing as of late).

    I, like many people, have become desensitized to advertisements and simply ignore them, unless they’re very well designed or offer something I’m looking for.

  • Stevie D

    Unless your site offers a completely unique service that can’t be found anywhere else on the internet (which is pretty unusual), or is a zillion times better than all the other sites out there (which again is pretty unusual), you’ll be very lucky if you make any money out of ad-free subscriptions.

    People have got used to finding all the information they want on the web for free, and have been habituated into ignoring ads. With popup blockers available on almost every browser, and content blockers on the better ones, the only ads that some people will even see on sites they use regularly will be unobtrusive text ads, and very few people seem to mind these.