October 1, 2015 Last Updated 12:24 pm

Newspaper message to readers with ad blocker installed: ‘please disable ad blocker for our site’

StarTribune.com joins the battle against ad blockers with pop-up message to those with browser extension, but tech savvy readers are amused and easily defeat the website effort

The ad blocker wars are heating up. I was a little hesitant to believe that this would really happen (I would link to my story that says that, but think it is probably already outdated).

StarTrib-adblockerIs “war” the right term? Maybe it is “battles” because for every media outlet that wants to defeat ad blockers there will be a battle between the publisher and the reader. That’s a problem, isn’t it? After all, if it was a battle between the publisher and malware, or hackers, or someone else, it would be understandable. But this is a battle between the publisher and the person who wants to read their site but has an ad blocker installed on their browser. You never win when you battle your customer (OK, Comcast and a few other companies seem to be doing well in this regard.)

The latest website to start messaging readers with an ad blocker installed is the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper. Some readers quickly discovered this and began Tweeting the news. Then programmers looked at the script being used to find out what the paper is doing.

I don’t know, being told I’m using an ad blocker and that I must turn it off to access the site feels a bit like going to a site and getting a message that says “you’ve been visiting porn sites lately, haven’t you?” Hey, buddy, its none of your business!

Maybe it’s not that bad – and in any case, you can understand what the paper is thinking: being delivered ads is the price of admission. At StarTribune.com the site does not deliver obnoxious ads (at least none that I can see), and the site is clean and nicely designed (it might seem conservative to some, but I like it), so I am certainly sympathetic.

I think it is fairly easy to defend the newspaper’s efforts, but there are clearly lessons here: first, many web readers are not going to be on the side of the media, just as there are many who defend downloading music outside the normal retail chain, it’s going to happen; second, whatever you try to do from a coding perspective will be discovered quickly, far quicker than you think, don’t try to outsmart the hackers programmers. 😉

Just as it is pretty easy (if you are tech savvy), to avoid metered paywalls, it is easy to avoid these message scripts. It only took a few minutes of those who saw the original tweet to then tweet out a solution. This going to be a long and messy war, with lots of these individual battles played out. Maybe we should call for the peace conference right now.

  • William Morin 2 years ago

    Yep, just happened to me a few minutes ago. I don’t mind ads per se, but my experience with StarTribune has been that they have way more ads than similar media sites and very often they load slowly or not at all and slow things down considerably. More importantly, I already pay a hefty subscription fee for the site and on other sites I use that have a fee that means no advertising.

  • Adam Blades 2 years ago

    I think it’s perfectly the website’s business to know whether you are accessing their free content without being exposed to the advertising that keeps that content free.

    I would be interested to hear how you feel about readers using Ad Blocker on Talking New Media?

    • D.B. Hebbard 2 years ago

      I am confident that there will be readers using ad blockers and so will visit TNM with those ad blockers activated. That is why some of the ads here were placed as graphics without scripts so that they will display even when ad blockers are activated.

      I don’t blame any media outlet for trying to find a way to keep their ads visible, but they should be aware that the tech community is pretty crafty and workarounds will appear at a moment’s notice.

    • Jim Boyd 2 years ago

      But it’s not free content; my digital subscription to the Strib costs $150 per year. If It were a free site, I’d understand. But I had a digital contract with Strib that said nothing about ad blockers. Now — wham! — they unilaterally change the terms, and, by the way, just a month after I paid for the next year of digital, so I am on the hook till next August no matter what they do.

      • William Morin 2 years ago

        I complained to StarTribune about this yesterday, and got a quick e-mail back explaining their reasons and saying that they were just trying this approach and it could change later. However, if you have an actual subscription as I do, an e-edition is also available which I have started using several weeks ago. It is an Olive software app that provides an actual entire print issue. I find it very easy to read and includes news items not found in the StarTribune.com version. Of course, you do get all the ads and there are a lot of them, but they are simply there–no loading, no pop ups, nothing to slow things down. It’s exactly like reading a print version delivered to your front door.

  • RS Becker 2 years ago

    Came across this post right after reading The New York Times piece about the cost of Mobile Ads on 50 news sites. Seem that for your data about half of the news bites are over half ads and the rest news.

    I don’t mind the ad blocker blockers. They make me think twice about viewing the content and if I do un-adblock them and then decide they are not worth while, I re-adblock them and read on. (Think of the sites you’ve visited. How many ads are really just click-bate?)