Ad-Free Blog Sites: The Future or the Beginning of the End for Blogging?

Updated on February 22, 2018
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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In the earlier days of blogging, it was relatively easy to create a passive income stream by hosting advertising on a blog with programs such as Google AdSense. But those glory days are gone and not likely to return due to ad-blocking technologies and intense competition for blog content from every imaginable source, including social media.

Plus, some bloggers are fed up with the constant changes to social media platforms they’ve used to promote their content, especially Facebook. One of the most significant changes was a “demoting” of Facebook Pages posts in users’ News Feeds. In order to get a shot at getting placement in News Feeds, Pages would now have to pay for either advertising or “boosting” posts.

So today, bloggers are seeking new, non-advertising ways to monetize their content and gain web traffic. Ad-free blog sites usually involve some form of gated content that readers pay to consume.

Self-Hosted Blog with Gated Content

Bloggers with self-hosted blogs—blog sites where bloggers host, finance, and control all aspects of the site’s operation—may gate their content, inviting readers to “pay” for access with a subscription, or by providing an email address. The content is usually password protected. Sometimes to entice readers to subscribe, a limited amount of free content is offered to non-subscribers, with full access granted with a paid subscription.

This is the most challenging of the models because the blogger must drive traffic to the site through a variety of methods including SEO (another constantly moving target!), social media, and, ironically, paying for advertising! As well, there has to be significant value offered to entice readers to pay for the content.

Hosted Ad-Free Blog Sites

Bloggers could also park their content on a subscription-based, ad-free blog site which hosts the work of many bloggers. The advantage to bloggers is that their work could be exposed to a larger audience than what they could obtain for their own self-hosted sites.

How do these host sites make money? They retain a portion of the subscription fees for operations and profits. And, again ironically, these sites may need to do some significant promotion—even paid advertising!—to get web traffic.

On some of these sites, readers pay to access each individual blogger’s content. The site may determine the price, or it may allow each blogger to set a price (Patreon allows each blogger to set prices as of this writing). As with self-hosted blogs, the content must be pretty special to encourage readers to part with cash to read an individual blog on a regular basis.

Conversely, on sites such as Medium, readers pay a monthly subscription fee to access the entire site and the work of all participating bloggers, with payouts to bloggers determined by the popularity of specific articles. The greater the popularity in terms of views, likes, etc., the greater the payout.

Sadly, the popularity model can encourage bloggers to game the system. I have seen some requests from participating bloggers begging for mutual support to help them get more income. In other words, “vote for my articles, and I’ll vote for yours.” Is this genuine traffic? Hardly. And the never-ending quid pro quo situation this creates is tiresome for everyone and this manipulated support can be short-lived.

Challenges of Pay-Per-View Blogs

Another possibility is a system of just paying per article. Whether self-hosted or hosted, this can create a heavy blog site administrative cost with handling micropayments. Also, once readers hit the paywall, it’s too easy for them to bounce out to some other free article.

I have to confess to doing the bounce-out myself since it’s such a hassle for me as a reader. By the time I handle the payment, I could have read the whole article. And if the article was a disappointment, I’ll feel doubly cheated since my time and money got spent without value received.

These challenges are likely why I rarely encounter this ad-free model in the Internet wild.

But Will They Pay?

The biggest question with these ad-free models is, “Will readers pay?”

After spending decades of my career in advertising and marketing, I’m biased. But I think that these sites may struggle in the absence of advertising dollars.

Unfortunately, the Internet was built on an advertising model, just like broadcast television and radio, and newspapers. So weaning readers off of the “put up with ads so you can get this content” trade-off is going to be tough, just as it has been for mass media for decades. Even paid cable channels have to advertise because subscription fees collected don’t cover the cost of content programming.

Worse is that now readers are enabled with technologies, such as ad blocking, that can help them get good content without even “paying” for it. Plus, another free article or video on almost every imaginable subject is available with a couple clicks through a search engine.

So ad-free models will require that:

  • Bloggers’ content be exceptional and worth paying for, and/or...
  • Bloggers have a status as influencers with highly committed audiences willing to pay for this content.

Sadly, I don’t think many (most?) blogs would pass either of these tests, and it may not be bloggers’ fault. There is just too much good content available online, and readers have too little time and energy bandwidth to justify the investment.

Bloggers who have an elitist mentality might be most attracted to using ad-free blog sites, feeling that readers should be willing to pay a few bucks to regularly read their content. True, their content may be valuable.

But let’s do the math. Say a blogger wants to charge just $2 a month for blog access. That’s $24 a year for a reader to access that blog. However, it’s likely that this blog isn’t the only one the reader wants to read.

For example, I read about 5 blogs a day regularly in my RSS feed (plus several individual articles on other blogs and email newsletters). If each blog charged me $24 a year, I would be spending a minimum of $120 a year for just those 5 blogs. Worth it? Even if it was half that price, I’d really have to think twice, comparing it to my investments of time, money, and attention for other content such as books, online courses, etc.

I've also noticed this about my blog reading behavior. When I encounter a paywall, I'm less likely to share that link on social media. First, I'll need to pay to preview it so I know what I'm about to share. Second, I don't want to share a link that forces my followers to pay some money to view it.

There’s no doubt that many bloggers are going to experience survival challenges going forward. It’s sure to become expensive in time, effort, and cost when compared to financial returns. So, as I’ve gotten on my soapbox about elsewhere, know your reason for blogging and be realistic with your expectations!

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Donna, hobby bloggers are what built the blogosphere. But, as with anything, making a buck is always attractive, especially if you love your topic.

      Like you, I read a LOT of wonderful blogs, both hobby and professional. It would be sad to see them go. But I'm not sure how much I'm willing to invest in them.

      I hope there is a place for hobby blogs in the future. Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely week!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 months ago from USA

      I think I'm very naive when it comes to blogging. I assume (though I'm probably wrong) that the majority of the blogs I visit are just a hobby that might generate a little income for the people writing them. I wouldn't pay to read these blogs, nor would I want to give them my email address for access to read them. I'd miss reading these blogs, though. I hope the blogging future you describe still leaves room for the hobby blogger and the casual reader.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Ron, you're not alone! There are some things I'm more than willing to pay to consume in terms of content. Others not so much. And, yes, I would agree that most blog content is not worth paying for, especially opinion pieces. I'm more likely to pay to be informed or educated.

      Thanks for chiming in to the discussion! Have a great day!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Looking at my own online behavior, I very seriously doubt that any model that requires readers to directly pay for access to content will work for bloggers. I used to be a regular reader of the New York Times site, but since they put in their pay wall I rarely read it any more. Not that I'm not willing to pay for value, but I chose to subscribe to the Washington Post and I won't pay for both. WaPo is the only online content I pay for. I've never encountered a blog that I'd even consider paying to read.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, indeed, it's not encouraging. But if I was starting the whole blogging thing again, I'd sure want to know what my options were. I hope I've helped some new blogger wannabe figure out if it's worth the effort.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is interesting and thought provoking, Heidi. The information is a bit depressing, but it's important that bloggers read it and think about it.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, nothing wrong with you at all! You're aligned with your goals and your expectations are realistic. I wish I could say that for most bloggers and writers. Some are just hoping for the big, easy payday. So glad you're in my network! Have a great day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting, but not for me. Maybe there's something wrong with me. I'm just not interested in the revenue part of writing. I started out just writing because it made me feel good; I guess I haven't advanced that far. :) Happy Wednesday my friend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Mary, if I could make everyone understand "know your why," I'd feel like I accomplished something! :)

      True, there are some resources that are definitely worth the money and should be paid for what they offer. But I think we're very selective in these choices these days.

      I'm hoping I'm wrong, but I do think that blogging world is in a great state of flux. I can only hope that it's for the better and that it will weed out the junk.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion! Have a lovely day!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, I think everyone has an ad aversion... until they understand how the system works. Then the light dawns.

      As much as I want to support writers, I rarely pay for access either. Like I mentioned in the article, and you agree, there's just too much good stuff out there to make it worth paying for.

      Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful day!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Sally, it truly is getting tougher to make money from writing online. And being someone with your talents, selling on eBay might be an easier income path. Thanks for adding that aspect to the conversation! Have a lovely day!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Know your why for blogging is my take away. Like you, I beg off sites asking me to pay before I could preview. We subscribe to some like The Economist and BBC World Histories but sometimes, we can't access these online in the countries we work in. Anyway, I believe that authors have to paid just like photographers and I cough up once in a while.

      Maybe, you are right, this could trigger the end of blogging as it is now.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 months ago from USA

      This is excellent. Before writing online, I disliked ads very much, however now I see their value. Nothing is truly free. When I run into gated content, I don’t pay. I find something else to read. There’s just too much competition available and I will put up with ads.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 3 months ago from Norfolk

      It seems to be getting harder to earn an income from writing a blog. I often think it is easier to sell something on e-bay than it is to earn from writing.

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