Salon has rolled out its own solution to the worsening adblocker situation that is depriving publishers of income. Salon chief executive Jordan Hoffner is piloting a scheme that gives adblock users an ad-free experience on the site - if they opt into mining cryptocurrency for Salon for the duration of their visit.
Adblock users visiting the site are greeted with a popup ultimatum to either disable their adblocker or ‘suppress ads’ – a feature Salon admits is in beta. If the user opts to do this, the site says it will “use your unused computing power”.
Salon assures in a popup: “You can support www.salon.com by allowing them to use your processor for calculations. The calculations are securely executed in your Browser's sandbox. You don't need to install anything.”
Sharing the logic behind the feature, former Google exec and Salon chief executive Hoffner told The Drum that the feature is part of the publisher's diversification strategy. In the coming months, Salon will start accepting payment from users. For now, there's three options for adblockers. Turn off, opt into mining, or leave.
On the diversification path, Hoffner said: "We started thinking more holistically, I worked at Google, we think a little differently there. Diversification of revenue could also mean different types of currency."
Since joining as chief executive in 2016, Hoffner rolled out the publisher's programmatic offering and is now looking at new ways to monetise its audience that numbers around 20 million monthly unique visitors. Many will use adblockers, contributing nothing to Salon income. At this early stage, Hoffner is unsure how big a revenue channel crypto will provide.
“I don’t know [how much we will earn but] we are making something when we weren’t making something though," he said. "We are providing it, and people can determine the value of that.”
Now that the model is built and released, the site is working to communicate with users about the value exchange of content for crypto. Hoffner explains that there may be further applications for the feature beyond mining crypto. For example, the computational power may be used to aid in research calculations.
Hoffner said: “It is certainly innovative, we built the code to make the innovations, and we will build upon it.”
From the crypto mining perspective, due to the mass of computing power required to acquire feasible income, this feature is largely best available to publishers of scale. Crypto mining may be also be optimal for long-form video and text publishers with high reader retention and time on page. Simply, the longer the user is on the page, the more data that can be processed. At scale this makes a substantial difference.
The launch precedes Google launching its own native adblocking product in Chrome later this week. Hoffner, a former Google executive himself, said: “I wasn’t waiting for those big tech guys to come up with a solution.”
Twitter criticism for the scheme was shrugged off by Hoffner: “It is disruptive and some people don’t like it. The way the media business is going, it needs new path. I think we are the first to actually make it as first of the business model in publishing."
The process, which is powered by CoinHive, may ramp up computational stress and accelerate computer fans users are warned. But users are assured the opt-in lasts for 24 hours before resetting - and only runs on Salon.com.
Websites are increasingly opting to mine visitor CPUs for crypto – although many of the players in this space are less transparent than Salon. Pirate Bay is one famous example. In the UK, hackers altered government websites to mine users machines - this included the Information Commissioners Officer. The government was naturally unaware of the infiltration.
Further subterfuge has sullied the reputation of crypto mining for legitimate brands. For instance, Starbucks came under fire when one of its hotspots in Buenos Aires was found to be infecting visitors with mining malware without the consent of users. Stories like this may put the public off opting into Salon's adblock compromise.