Writers' block: Fiction site won't let Web surfers view content if they use ad-blocking software

Computer World –

People who aren't willing to put up with Internet advertisements aren't going to get their Internet content for free. That's the message that Mind's Eye Fiction is sending to its Web audience.

Industry analysts say they agree with the concept, but not with the tactic that the Houston-based fiction publisher is taking. Mind's Eye announced yesterday that a new JavaScript program on the company's Web server will prevent visitors with ad-blocking software from reading story endings for free.

If readers insist on keeping their ad blocking software turned on, they can access the site's new pay-per-view e-commerce system and pay 16 cents per story.

"It's a principle thing," said Ken Jenks, editor-in-chief of Mind's Eye. "I just don't like it when people pick my pocket." Jenks said his company pays authors by page view, and the company's ad agency pays Mind's Eye by banner impression.

"On the Internet you pay by paying attention," Jenks said. So it's not fair, he said, that between 3% and 4% of Mind's Eye's 2 million annual visitors use ad-blocking software.

"I applaud [Mind's Eye's] initiative to fire a shot across the bow of ad-blocking software," said Rich LeFurgy, chair of the nonprofit Internet Advertising Bureau in New York. "But ultimately, a pay-for-content model is not sustainable on the Web." Plus, he said, it's not warranted.

Until ad-blocking is a default feature on major Web browsers, LeFurgy said consumers aren't going to adopt ad blocking at anywhere near a meaningful rate. He said ad blockers have already been around for two or three years without gaining much headway. "And browser companies have too much of their own revenue streams tied up in advertising'' to ever add ad blocking to their browsers, he said.

Seamus McAteer, an analyst at Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York, said the new Mind's Eye scheme "seems like overkill. . . . Really they're just drawing more attention to the [ad-blocking] option."

McAteer said ad blocking is still only a "blip on the screen" of online advertisers in the U.S. because "it's very doubtful that consumers will download [ad-blocking] programs and then spend time getting them to work.'' He said most users in the U.S. pay flat rates for their Internet access and are already quite comfortable with advertising and corporate sponsorship.

Outside the U.S., ad blocking is much more of a problem, McAteer said. In Germany, for example, many consumers still pay for Internet connections by the minute. These users "do whatever they can do'' to block graphical elements that clog download times, he said.

One maker of ad-blocking software, Seattle-based WRQ Inc., defends its @Guard ad-blocking product, saying that it contributes to consumer choice.

@Guard's ad-blocking function "is very selective. It can be turned on or off with a single click'' said Anne Marshall, product marketing manager at WRQ. "Lots of users, me included, actually want to see ads on some sites. But if they move from a T1 connection at work to a dial-up connection at home or on the road, they may want to move faster," she said. Cutting out graphic-intensive advertisements, she said, can increase download speeds by 500%.

Tim Meadows, a vice president at NetRatings Inc. in Milpitas, Calif., said that most of the consumers his company surveys understand that the Internet depends on advertising in the same way that mediums such as TV and radio depend on advertising.

"I don't think people watching TV would expect to still get content if everyone blocked out ads," he said.

Jupiter Communications predicts that the U.S. banner advertising market will continue to grow in coming years, going from $3 billion in 1999 to $4.4 billion in 2000.

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