Earlier today, for example, I was trying to use evite to send a message to invitees to a party I held last summer. The user interface is so chock full of ads that it's actually hard to make it from screen to screen and keep track of what I'm trying to do.
Popup ads on news sites are similarly frustrating: I want to read the content, not see a completely unrelated, intrusive ad.
I'm not opposed to paying for an ad-free experience.
I love Pandora, for example, and I'm delighted to pay for an annual subscription. I get a better product, no ads, and the feeling of supporting a company I love.
At the same time, it's not practical to pay individually for each and every site I might visit, especially ones I use only occasionally (evite, wired.com) or once. As Chris Anderson talks about in Free, the transaction cost of paying even a small amount (the cognitive load of deciding to pay plus the mechanics of paying) vastly overwhelms the financial impact of the actual price of the product.
I think the solution is bundle or prix fixe pricing for websites.
What I imagine is something like this: As a user, I pay $X per month, or maybe $8*X per year. With this payment, I get access to a very large pool of content and websites: magazine articles, newspaper articles, and services like evite. It's not coming from just one site or one company but from many different sites from many different companies.
When I go to sites to read, I'm identified via some common login system (like the way Facebook or Twitter authentication works). I read/use whatever I want, as much as I want. While I'm doing this, the websites are keeping track of my amount of usage, based on pageviews.
At the end of the month, the amount of my subscription is divided evenly among my pageviews. If I read one article, my $X goes to that. If I've read 50 articles and used 20 services, each gets 1/70th of the whole. This is done for every subscriber.
The end result is that there's no transaction cost associated with each piece of premium content (because I've paid in advance), and yet there's still a flow of dollars based on actual use. It's a win for the customer who can now choose to conveniently get an ad-free experience without worrying about individual subscriptions, and it's a win for web businesses, because they can now monetize their content without ads.
As a build upon the core idea, I can imagine different tiers as well:
- At $10/month, I see no ads on content sites like the New York Times and occasional use services such as evite.
- At $20/month, I see no ads on frequently used sites like Facebook or Pandora.
- At $30/month, I can unlock premium, subscription only services.
This could also be a solution for the dilemma of newspapers: they could more effectively unlock revenue from customers in an age whether readers tend to read articles from everywhere.