Consumer distaste for advertising within publishers’ subscription products is growing, according to recent Toolkits research. The finding suggests that consumer appetite for ad-free experiences from publishers could be growing as a result.
In an October study of 1,007 U.S. digital publication subscribers, 28% of people who were dissatisfied with the value for money they received from publishers’ subscription products highlighted “too many advertisements” as a key reason. That’s a significant increase from the 19% who attributed their dissatisfaction to advertising volume in 2022.
The shift in sentiment coincides with a difficult economic period for publishers. In an effort to prop up their advertising revenues despite weak demand, some publishers have opted to increase their ad loads and/or offer advertisers more prominent placement across their properties. In some cases, advertising has been introduced within previously “ad-free” products.
Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear that publishers can monetize paying subscribers much more effectively than other portions of their audiences, on average, thanks to the availability of powerful first-party data and their ability to track the behavior of logged-in users more effectively. Some publishers have stepped up their efforts to generate advertising revenue specifically from their paying subscriber bases as a result, which may also help explain subscribers’ growing distaste.
Consumers have not typically viewed “ad-free experiences” as a particularly valuable or desirable benefit of publishers’ subscription products to date. Some publishers that opted to provide them said they ultimately had little influence on consumers’ likelihood to subscribe or renew, and that doing so cost them the ability to monetize their most lucrative advertising audiences.
Data suggest this dynamic might be changing, however. Consumers increasingly say they’re averse to advertising and in many cases are attempting to avoid it more actively. Meanwhile, major streaming platforms and other previously ad-free services have dialed up their ad loads in recent years, and in many cases have begun charging additional premiums to remove them.
What consumers say and what they do often differs wildly, particularly as it relates to their tolerance of advertising. Self-reported data on such issues often has limited use as a result. But as ad loads increase and consumer sentiment toward advertising continues to sour generally, some publishers might reconsider the viability of ad-free options for subscribers and audience segments who might be willing to pay for them.