City A.M. has become the first UK publisher to bar users of ad blockers from viewing its content.

The trial will only affect readers currently accessing the site on desktop via Firefox, where users employing ad blocking extensions will be greeted by blurred-out text in articles.

The move follows Axel Springer’s announcement last week, which saw the group ban users of blocking software access to its Bild tabloid, offering an ad-free subscription service in its place.

City A.M. takes a similar stance to the German publisher, informing users that the site ‘relies on advertising to fund its journalism’, and asking users ‘having trouble seeing adverts on the page’ to deactivate ad blockers if they wish to view the content.  

Pending the results of the trial, City A.M. is reportedly aiming to roll out the model to other browsers and mobile ‘quite quickly’.

Fighting back

Commenting on the move, Richard Reeves, interim MD at the Association of Online Publishers, says that premium publishers are responding to challenges brought on by ad blocker usage.  

“As the creators and guardians of quality, independent content, they are steadfast in their commitment to providing an engaging, positive consumer experience,” argues Reeves.

“If that requires publishers to reassess existing business models to create new standards – that negate the appetite or deter readers from using ad blocking technology – then, that is what must be done.”

Lending thoughts from the programmatic advertising world, OpenX’s MD EMEA Andrew Buckman believes it’s only a matter of time before other publishers follow suit, calling the increased coverage of ad blocking a “wake-up call” to the publishing and advertising industries.

“Both publishers and ad tech vendors have a critical role to play to not only enhance the user experience by providing non-intrusive ad formats, but also to educate the consumer on the consequences of the proliferation of ad blockers – which could ultimately signal the end of free content.”

Future model?

A spotlight has been focused on the publishing industry in recent months, with debate stewing over where the industry will derive revenue in light of reported increases in popular ad-blocking extensions, such as AdBlock Plus.

While City A.M’s decision to stop serving articles to readers who are boycotting ads is a reasonable response, says Lee Henshaw, founder of digital ad network Silence Media, it’s not one that addresses the longer-term problem of ad blocking.

“People are using blockers because of the ubiquity of rubbish looking, intrusive ads that are tracking them without their consent and degrading their internet experience by slowing download time.

“Until we find a solution that enables people to feel that they’re benefiting from the advertising experience they’re receiving, they’ll continue to find methods of avoiding our industry’s work.”

Will City A.M inspire a wider movement across the UK publishing landscape? Share your thoughts below.