The FT’s ads on paywalls

By Felix Salmon
February 3, 2010
Ultimi Barbarorum, doesn't have an FT subscription, and as such is prone to running into its paywall. Recently, however, he's noticed something odd: when he visits the FT after having reached his quota limit, the page loads fully -- including all of the ads on it -- and then the paywall popup appears, preventing him from reading it. He wondered: does this mean that advertisers are being charged when the FT serves up impressions that can't be seen?

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Bento, from Ultimi Barbarorum, doesn’t have an FT subscription, and as such is prone to running into its paywall. Recently, however, he’s noticed something odd: when he visits the FT after having reached his quota limit, the page loads fully — including all of the ads on it — and then the paywall popup appears, preventing him from reading it. He wondered: does this mean that advertisers are being charged when the FT serves up impressions that can’t be seen?

I asked FT.com publisher Rob Grimshaw about this, and he said that yes, that has been happening since “the final few weeks of last year”. The fix, he says, is going to be a two-stage process. First, he’ll “take temporary steps to ensure that all campaigns on the site receive a full quota of unobscured impressions”. Second, he’s going to move the paywall popup, “so that it only obscures the portion of the page below the ad position”.

You’ve got to admire the chutzpah here: the FT is happy to prevent would-be readers from seeing its stories, but it’s going to make sure those readers can still see its ads — the equivalent of giving magazines away if you’re happy to read a version where all the editorial content is redacted and only the ads remain.

The problem, of course, is that the FT’s advertisers are buying inventory based on the idea that their ads are being served up against high-value FT content, as opposed to a negative-value paywall popup. Does any advertiser really want to send a message of “this paywall is brought to you by IBM”? It seems, if they’re going to continue to buy space on FT.com, that they might not have any choice in the matter.

5 comments

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Will the blogosphere soon need a smart paywall icon that appears automatically next to any URL to tell the browser that he can access the story because he is a subscriber or not? Perhaps even indicating how many views are left from his “free quota”.

For example, if you use Seesmic to view Twitter feeds it already decodes the short URL and shows you the real destination in a bubble popup (and thumbs of images at Twitpic or active Google Maps from geotags) so the technology looks very doable. I’m surprised this bubble is not yet used for ads (opt in or not).

Maybe users might even pay for such a time-saving and irritation reducing feature:-)

Posted by polit2k | Report as abusive

Regarding the FT paywall popup. Once the desired page has fully loaded immediately click “stop loading this page”. The paywall popup never gets loaded and you are thus free to peruse the article at your leisure. I have a mac but I assume it would work the same on a pc.

Posted by fluent | Report as abusive

Seriously guys. FT is about $100 USD a year for home/office delivery. That allows you online access as well.

The FT has the right idea for a paywall. Get a subscription and support this paper.

Mr Jumbo Mortgage
http://www.thegreatloan.com

Posted by MrJumboMortgage | Report as abusive

Pretty sure the FT would rather concentrate on finishing the site redesign it started two years ago!!
http://www.articlesbase.com/health-artic les/smoke-relief-review-does-free-trial- work-1697939.html

Posted by winthropp | Report as abusive

@MrJumboMortgage

The $100/year is a teaser rate. My last renewal notice was asking $349/year. Pretty steep. Although I agree in general about supporting good papers with a paid sub.

Posted by reader89 | Report as abusive