Google is experimenting with a way for users to pay a monthly fee to hide ads from some sites. The participating sites will then get a cut of the money.
Google Contributor will allow web users to pay $1, $2 or $3 a month to take part: it doesn’t appear the amount you pay makes any difference to what you receive, so it’s purely a way for users to choose if they want to give more money to the sites (and of course Google.)
If you pay the fee, then whenever you visit a participating site (and Google identifies you, likely via cookies) you won’t see Google ads. Instead you’ll see a thank you message, though it appears this will take up the same amount of space as the ad would have done.
However, some people who’ve had advanced access to test the service say that if you are using a mobile device, neither an ad nor the message appears and the page reflows as if the ad was never there.
To start off with, only six sites are named as taking part: Urban Dictionary, The Onion, Science Daily, WikiHow, Mashable and Imgur. Web users will need to sign up for an invite before they can start paying to hide the ads. That somewhat restricts the value of the testing as by definition anyone signing up for an invite is disproportionately willing to pay to hide ads, for the first month at least.
The obvious argument against the system taking off is that many people who really hate ads will use ad-blocking software. The question is whether such people who particularly appreciate a website and currently show that by switching off adblock (for which we at GaS are hugely grateful) will be willing to pay cash instead. Of course, it’s hard for users to make an informed decision given that Google isn’t publicly revealing the rates or system it uses to decide how much of the monthly fee a site gets.
Indeed, there’s already a conspiracy theory: Gregory Ferenstein of VentureBeat is speculating that Google has set the experiment up to fail so that it will be able to respond to future criticism by arguing that the public chose not to opt-out of advertising.