I Pay for News; Why Do I Still See Intrusive Ads?

I subscribe to a number of news publications on the web. I get some of my news from The New York Times, I read news and current events from The New Yorker, and there are a few smaller websites I subscribe to.

So why do I still see intrusive ads on these sites? And even more perplexing; why do some sites, like The New Yorker, ask me to subscribe, even though I’m a subscriber and I’m signed into my account?

Here’s an example of The New Yorker today:

New yorker

Above the fold is a massive Google ad, nearly as big as the featured article at the top of the page. I’ve blurred it, so as not to give that company a free ad on my site, but it’s something about building websites. Not the kind of ad I’d expect to see on The New Yorker, but, hey, that’s Google ads for you. Making the best websites look skeevy.

More perplexing is the ad for a New Yorker subscription at the top left; they know I’m signed in, it’s just stupid to display this ad.

Further down on the page – not included in this screenshot – was a big ad for Condé Nast magazines (the New Yorker is part of that group), but, as I was writing this article, it changed to an Amazon ad showing me products I have recently looked at. And it keeps changing, cycling through a number of ads.

The New York Times is only marginally better. A big banner ad for a luxury brand at the top of the page, plus two smaller ads for the same brand. And if I click through to an article, there’s a massive ad for a slipper (and I’ve seen this ad a hundred times), and several Amazon ads as I scroll down the page. But it gets worse, because those slipper ads are animated. These are the worst type of ads, the ones that distract you and make it harder to read the news you have paid for.

New york times

So, even though I pay to read the news, I still have to use an ad blocker. These companies are somewhat stupid, by subjecting readers to exactly the same intrusive ads if they subscribe as if they don’t. (Of course, you only get a limited number of free articles per month if you don’t subscribe.) They don’t make the reading experience as good as it could be, and they make me not want to use their iOS apps, because I can’t block ads if I’m not using a browser.

By the way, I could count on the fingers of two hands the number of times I have intentionally clicked on a web ad on a publication like this. They are rarely relevant to me.

We need good journalism, and I’m more than happy to pay for it; after all, I’m a journalist myself. But we also need to be treated like the paying subscribers we are, and not have crappy ads getting in our way and distracting us (and tracking us across the web). I had thought these media companies had learned something, but apparently they haven’t.

19 thoughts on “I Pay for News; Why Do I Still See Intrusive Ads?

  1. So, the only equivalent example that I can think of are actual paper newspapers. You would shell out $1 for the paper, but it’s still full of ads. Just like paper newspapers, I think subscriptions alone are not enough to pay the bills for the web versions. Basically, you’re paying for the privilege to read the articles. I personally don’t have any issues with this but I would have an issue with obnoxious ads that take up too much space or distract from reading the articles.

    • The difference is that newspaper on paper stay put. You can ignore them if you want to. They don’t jump out, flash repeatedly and engage in all kinds of unseemly behaviour to to get you attention.

  2. I understand you very well. I’m even more allergic to ads. Recently I tried the Amazon Prime test month a second time and at the very beginning I was determined to keep that subscription after the test month. But after being presented with ads between the tv episodes I got so annoyed that stopped using Amazon Prime – even before the first month was over.
    And the absolute worst case for this kind of stuff for me are Blurays. If you buy your discs correctly you are punished for it by having to watch forced trailers, FBI logos, and legal texts that threaten you with all kind of things. I find that outrageous.

    • While at the same time, people downloading ripped contents over internet is free from all of those ads and threatens.
      What a coincidence.

  3. All the publications, it seems, made a very poor bargain with the online advertisers, which now hurts them, and the customers that are willing to subscribe to online content. As MK mentions, ads have traditionally been a part of paper subscriptions, and that was a model that advertisers and consumers were comfortable with. The advertiser didn’t complain, if my first step on opening the newspaper was to toss the real estate and shopping sections into the recycling bin. The advertiser on a billboard doesn’t protest if the drivers flip their sun-visors to the side during the morning commute, thereby blocking the view of the billboards. No magazine ad buyer expected the reader to stop reading and make a purchase before finishing the article. The advertisers paid the newspapers, magazines, and billboard owners for the space, and those entities didn’t have any obligations to force their readers to look.

    Now, the advertising content providers pay vastly less, and they demand much more of the New Yorker, New York Times, and other providers of meaningful content. Viewers are expected to read the ads first, and “click through” before they read the information that they visited the site to get. The sites collaborate with the advertisers, because the economic pressure on them is extreme. These websites now beg viewers to turn off their ad blockers, so that they can force more add content on the viewer. No one wins except the advertisers and above all, the advertising aggregators such as Google.

    At least two things need to happen, in my opinion, if meaningful journalism is to survive. Genuine news and commentary websites, like those under discussion, need to provide a better viewing experience to subscribers, where ads are no more intrusive than they were in the print era. And all content websites need to renegotiate their basic terms with the advertisers, so that they are not caught in an impossible squeeze that forces them into being shills for the advertisers, and enemies of their readers.

  4. Add The Atlantic magazine to the list of offenders. While I don’t object to more-or-less unobtrusive advertising on their site, like others’, I don’t understand why they can’t discern that I’m a paid subscriber already and thus stop serving me their own subscription ads.

  5. Newspapers are dying, printed and online. People have shown that we’re more willing to trust hearsay than ever before, so paying for news is… not on most people’s radar. I’m not advocating that, I’m just observing. As the margins that new organizations earn decrease, they will try ANYTHING they can to make money. The other day, I noticed the online version of a regional magazine has a “sponsored” section, where the articles look just like the “real” articles from the site. News is a mess, and it will continue to get messier.

  6. Try this site. It will kill a lot of advertising.


    Unfortunately, there’s a new advertising system that essentially blocks your attempts to opt out. I can’t think of the company’s name at the moment, but it’s been filling the spaces that used to be blank.

    • It’s called LiveIntent. I plan to call the company and insist on speaking to its founder. His secretary will say something like “He can’t be bothered.” No, but he can bother me with ads I can’t block.

  7. How about a Sky TV subscription? £60 / month and you still get the privilege of sitting through adverts. The first time I subscribed to Sky, in the 1990s, I was as amazed and disgruntled as you are now. Long since stopped subscribing BTW.

    I take the point that advertising income may be needed to supplement subscription fees. About 10 years ago I worked with McKinsey on a strategy which showed that 80% of newspaper costs were in the physical printing and distribution. I do not see the online subscriptions being 80% lower, however, either for news material or for e-books. The truth is, capitalism is rapacious unless it is curbed by intervention or market reaction.

    • There’s no way I’d pay for Sky. It’s way overpriced, mainly because of the sports. Even if you don’t want sports, part of the subscription cost is paying for it.

      When I lived in France, I had a TV service like that, but it never had commercials.

  8. The Economist sells their contents at premium price. But even you pay the premium, every time you read articles in the app, you will be served by ads in at least one occasion.
    I still pay because it’s price is just like bargain for me when using certain currencies. But I also don’t like ads within app.

  9. Incognito mode (after the free 1-3 articles per month) with an ad blocker. I’m always shocked when I see the absolute trash that most people see when they visit websites. I never see ads at all. Adblock+ and pihole are a great combo.

    • You can also delete cookies or website data in your browser for specific websites to reset those limits.

  10. I hope you do know how Google ads work, it is normally if not always based of your surfing history.

    “Not the kind of ad I’d expect to see on The New Yorker, but, hey, that’s Google ads for you. Making the best websites look skeevy.”

    The New Yorker would normally not have any control over what ads you see from Google ads, you get your Google ads based of your surfing habits.
    So, check your browsers history and your surfing habits before throwing blame.

    • The New Yorker chooses to use low value Google ads rather than serious ad campaigns. Since I use both an ad blocker and tracker blocker, Google doesn’t know very much about my browsing history.

      If it was using my browsing history, I would expect to see a lot more ads for technology. As a technology journalist, much of my web browsing is looking up information on new devices and software. I hardly ever see ads like that.

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