How an ex-Googler is hoping to solve ad blocking and other publisher conundrums

The key issue for many media companies this summer has been how to respond to the growth of ad blocking software. Sparked by a report from Adobe and Pagefair , which concluded that as many as 25 per cent of Germans and 20 per cent of Britons were not seeing display ads, or even in some cases native ads from content recommendation engines, publishers have been arguing about the best way to respond. We set out a series of approaches that some media companies have embraced, from ‘asking nicely’ through to jettisoning display ads all together. It remains a problem that is lacking a sensible and scalable solution.

One company that hopes that the rise of ad blockers will act as a catalyst to deliver a new era in publisher/reader relationships is Sourcepoint. Founded by industry veteran Ben Barokas, who previously sold his Admeld start up to Google, the company plans to use technology to provide real choices for readers as to how they compensate publishers for the content they consume.

Ben will be speaking at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, Germany, which takes place from 20-22 March 2016. Learn more about DIS 2016 here.

Long-term solutions

Although Ben is anxious to point out that Sourcepoint is considerably more than just a response to current trends he does concede that ‘ad blocking has become mainstream, especially with the way in which some technologies will now work with the latest version of Apple’s iOS,’ and that media companies need the tools to respond to it. 

He stresses that it is part of ‘an existential threat to digital content creation. The inability to fund content creation questions the long-term viability of many business models. Ad blocking has become an accelerant for Sourcepoint to help create user choice. If a user is saying that the standardised ad experience is not acceptable to them then we have to provide other choices,’

Ultimately Barokas believes that what is needed is a new degree of transparency in online publishing.

‘We need consumer choice in the way readers interact with content creators. How we interact with the digital world, and the brands we want to associate with. And we want that to be transparent.’

Some of those who argue in favour of ad blockers believe that they are actually doing the publishing industry a favour, in that they may consign to history a platform that they reckon to be intrusive, outdated and ineffective. It is not a view though that Barokas has much sympathy with.

‘It comes back to choice, one person’s trash is another one’s treasure. Some people like video ads, some people hate them, some people like display ads, some people hate them, some people like native, some people hate it. A person has to choose.’

‘The one choice that should not be available is to consume content without compensating the publisher. If the publisher isn’t compensated then they could go out of business. What is important is that there is a value exchange between the user, the publisher and the advertiser that is transparent. If the advertiser is not invited to subside the content for the user then the user must pay the publisher directly. If they are going to pay the publishers directly then it needs to be in currency, not love – no salaries get paid by love. I find it offensive when people say we don’t like advertising, but we don’t want to pay subscription fees.’

Three-way approach

What Sourcepoint offers is a way for publishers to communicate with readers and give them a choice – Barokas describes it as a three-bucket approach.

‘We let them know that they need to accept the standard ad experience, or create a customised ad or have the option to pay for subscriber services. We don’t just see this as an ad blocking problem, we see it as a ‘how do we create long term viability and sustainability for the eco system’ issue.

‘In the long run we hope to create a Spotify for content in which a single login will work for thousands of publishers and someone can pay £10 a month and they can consume all kinds of content including audio, video, text etc without receiving offensive ads and not hitting paywalls.’

Nevertheless Barokas is realistic about how some consumers might respond.

‘I understand that a lot of people won’t want to pay money. If they want to pay with attention then they can create global ad preferences that we would store and that we would use to  offer them advertising or branded journalism that would be appropriate to them and actually pay publishers what they need to be paid to deliver the content they create.’ 

Sourcepoint has already began to target mainstream publishers, but clearly hopes that its offering will scale across the web, and maybe even embrace bloggers who make a few pounds from Adsense.

‘We are very focused in creating technology for premium publishers, but hopefully we can get to Annie’s fashion blog one day. We have ongoing conversations with many large publishers, including the likes of Sky and The Guardian. In fact everyone in the Comscore top 100. The US, UK Germany and Canada are our first markets and then we will look to expand to France, The Netherlands and Australia. We are really focused on building a global company.

So might what once seemed like a huge issue for media companies actually deliver a new era of transparency, and hopefully increased profitability in publishing? Sourcepoint certainly hope that’s the case. 

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