Google’s Contributor product is an interesting experiment in how much I value my own attention. For $10 per month, I’m zapping a good portion of the banner ads that used to disrupt my daily web browsing. The implementation is dead simple, streamlines my online experience, and improves publisher economics. But it forces me to consider how much I really value an ad-free internet. More specifically, do advertisers value my attention more than I do?
Google’s Micropayment Experiment
In late 2014, Google quietly released a product called Contributor. People who sign up for Contributor pay Google a few dollars per month, and in exchange, Google removes some ads from the websites that they visit. Each time Google removes an ad, it delivers a subtle gray image in its place and pays the publisher for the unutilized ad space. The product is still in closed beta, but you can request an invite here. Publishers can also request to be included in the program by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Based on the lack of a press release (or really any coverage at all from Google), Contributor appeared to be a fringe experiment in processing micropayments, but the fact that it’s still humming after 9 months suggests it may be gaining traction with consumers and publishers. I’ve now spent 2 weeks taking Google Contributor for a test drive, and I’m starting to understand the value. The change is noticeable, and the stats back it up. Google has blocked over 200 ads, and it is paying publishers an incredible $21 CPM for the privilege.
Behind The Scenes
So how is the little bit of marketing magic happening? Google hasn’t disclosed much about the way Contributor works, but based on my experience with the product, here’s what I think is happening behind the scenes:
Google creates a Contributor ad campaign that is targeted to just one user — me. When Google’s ad exchange conducts an auction for my ad space, the Contributor campaign bids aggressively to win the impression. Other bidders continue to participate in the auction, but the Contributor campaign’s high price often wins, and when it does, it serves a subtle ad that thanks me for being a contributor. Google pays the publisher for the ad spot just like it would for any other campaign.
This same experience happens across multiple websites and even follows me across multiple devices (as long as I’m logged into my Google account). But it doesn’t happen everywhere. In particular, it seems that only websites powered by Google’s ad exchange get the Contributor treatment. To be clear, Google’s buy-side products allow advertisers to deliver ads across the entire web, including websites whose inventory is powered by a non-Google ad exchange. But Google prevents its Contributor product from accessing this non-Google ad space. It’s an odd choice that arbitrarily restricts Contributor’s ability to create a truly ad-free consumer experience.
Name Your Price
Renewal time is fast approaching, and I need to decide whether I’m ready to pony up another $10. Even assuming Contributor had full access to all websites, I’m not sure I value my attention enough to justify the cost. I’m competing with advertisers to buy my ad space, and I’m just not willing to pay all that much. I’d rather keep the $10 and have an ad-supported internet, and I suspect most people would agree. Advertisers seem to value my attention more than I do, and that’s fine by me. Advertisers, you can have my attention. I’ll take the free content.