Mozilla, steward of the open-source Firefox web browser, has teased the outcome of a partnership with Scroll: A $4.99 a month subscription which provides access to an 'ad-free experience' - at least, when browsing sites that have signed up to the programme.
Many websites - including the one you're browsing right now - are funded by advertising. Bad actors in the digital advertising space, privacy concerns, and even security issues with malware being pushed over otherwise-trusted advertising networks, however, have led to an explosion of interest in ad-blocking technologies, including many browsers integrating at least partial blocking as standard. If everyone blocks adverts, advertising-funded sites can no longer keep the lights on.
There have been a range of suggestions for how to balance the security, privacy, and patience of site visitors with the need for an income on the site side, ranging from sites offering paid memberships - either disabling adverts for paying members, or locking content behind a paywall - to microtransaction 'tipping' systems. Medium, as one example, offers a model where readers pay a monthly subscription which is then shared out amongst the authors they have 'applauded' that month. The Brave browser, by contrast, has a more controversial model where it replaces sites' adverts with its own then keeps the revenue for itself unless a site signs up to receive a cut - which also allows visitors using the Brave browser to tip the site using Brave's Basic Attention Token (BAT) cryptocurrency, which users can earn by watching adverts in a wonderfully circular setup.
Mozilla, maintainer of the Firefox browser, is looking for something closer to the Medium model but applicable to a broader range of content: Following a partnership with Scroll, the company is looking to launch an 'ad-free experience' subscription service at $4.99 (around £4, though likely to be Anglicised into £4.99) a month.
'We’ve partnered with some of the world’s greatest publishers to bring you a better journalism experience,' the company's early landing page reads. 'We share your payment directly with the sites you read. They make more money which means they can bring you great content without needing to distract you with ads just to keep the lights on.
'No matter how you find an article, Mozilla’s ad-free experience is there. Whether you discover content in blogs or on apps like Twitter and Reddit, whether you’re on desktop or mobile, it just works—because who needs another thing to check in the morning? ubscribers also get access to audio versions of articles, bookmarks that are seamlessly synced across devices, exclusive top recommended reads, and an app that helps you find and finish great content, all without the distraction of advertising.'
The issue with the model, of course, is that websites will have to choose to partner with Mozilla in order to receive revenue; users, meanwhile, will only have the promised ad-free experience on sites that have chosen to partner, with non-partners retaining their existing advertising - which could lead users to install ad-blockers then question whether the other advantages of the subscription are worth the $4.99 payment.
May 15 2020 | 11:00