No news, bad news

guardianI was reading the news this morning, and I found this one: Yahoo restricting Mail accounts if it detects Ad-blockers. Well, it’s understandable: my guess is that the second revenue stream for sites like Yahoo! or Google is advertising (the first one, by far, being our data), so I expected some kind of reaction to the raising popularity of Ad-blockers (thanks to Apple recently allowing them on their mobile devices).

But I found what The Guardian international is doing about Ad-blockers much more interesting. A few days ago I installed a free one on my iPad, and the only website that seemed to notice was The Guardian’s. At first it showed me a footer saying something like: “We’ve noticed you’re using an Ad-blocker. Perhaps you’d like to support us in another way? We have a support subscription starting at 5 €”. I found this to be a tempting offer, as I can see their point: you read for free something that costs money to write, so we have to get this money back (and possibly make a profit) one way or another. (Side note: this is also why I’ve been against “free” browsers for years, but I’ve lost that battle: browsers are all free – also free to do what they want with our data.)

While I was considering the Guardian’s offer, something else happened: a whole part of the Guardian’s page (the often interesting In Depth section, with long reads) disappeared. For a few days I thought they were reshuffling their home page, but then I had an illumination: I disabled my Ad blocker, and the In Depth section came back.

Again, interesting approach: you can read the news for free (I mean without ads), but not the long reads. It makes sense in a funny, religious sort of way: the news are seen as a free “service”, while the longer reads are “fun” (or perhaps more expensive for the newspaper), and you should pay for that. Or, if you like, it’s the Porn solution: you get three minutes clips for free (perhaps serviceable, but hardly satisfactory), for longer content you gotta pay.

But there’s something about this that bothers me. Over the years, I’ve come to trust the Guardian (although removing a whole section without saying it is not very classy), but I can imagine very different scenarios elsewhere*: advertising hard-coded into the news, articles sponsored by companies, or even entirely different news for Ad-blocker users. One thing is certain: we all need our news to be independent and possibly free. But to provide us with independent, free news costs money. Where should this money come from?

* See also this very explicit piece by John Naughton (who blames Apple), also in the Guardian: The rise of ad-blocking could herald the end of the free internet.