Forbes starts blocking ad-block users

The escalating battle between ad-dependent publishers and ad blocking has a new front: Forbes. The publisher last week started blocking access to the site to some users of ad-blocking software. Visitors using desktop browser ad blockers are greeted with a polite but firm message on the “welcome screen” ad page Forbes serves prior to landing on its site.


Once an ad blocker is disabled, users are promised the “ad-light experience” for 30 days. Forbes said the effort was one of a series of tests it is undertaking to see if it can convince ad-block software users to whitelist the site.

“It’s about doing something based on what our users are looking for versus not doing anything,” said Mark Howard, chief revenue officer at Forbes Media.

In one test, visiting pages through a browser that disabled an ad blocker does not show animated ads or autoplay video placements. The pages still have plenty of ads, however.

For instance, the top story on the site with the “ad-light experience” still serves a 730 x 90 leaderboard, three 300 x 600 pixels display ads, along with eight “from the Web” paid content placements. However, the ads do not include autoplay video or animation.

Howard said what constitutes an “ad-light experience” will shift based on the data Forbes collects.

Major publishers are experimenting with various ways to deal with the rise of ad blocking. Some are ignoring, but others like The Atlantic are requesting users turn off their ad blockers and some like Yahoo with its email service are experimenting with blocking some ad-block software visitors.

Forbes is on something of a traffic roll lately. In November, it recorded its largest ever comScore audience, including mobile and desktop, of 43 million. That’s up from 38 million the previous month and 30 percent year over year.

The Forbes approach is interesting in offering a different experience for users of ad blockers, but it also creates something of a moral hazard of rewarding people who install ad blockers with a better user experience.

“They’ve already chosen to install the ad blockers,” said Howard. “They’ve already chosen that Web experience. For us, is there an experience we can offer that they’ll whitelist us? It’s not all or nothing.”

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