Last year, as the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed, a new phenomenon called cryptojacking emerged.
While cryptojacking is obviously not legitimate, the lucrative nature of crypto mining raised the interesting possibility that publishers themselves might adopt the technology behind cryptojacking to earn revenue legitimately.
It didn’t take long for that to happen. Last week, The Financial Times reported that digital publisher Salon had launched functionality dubbed Supress Ads Beta that allows users employing ad blockers to let Salon mine cryptocurrency as an alternative to disabling their ad blockers.
According to Jordan Hoffner, Salon’s CEO, “We have a profound problem in the industry—ad blocking—and this was one way to bring light to it.”
While bringing light to the problem, Salon is also aiming to cash in. It’s mining Monero, a popular cryptocurrency that currently trades at over $300 a coin. According to AdAge, the publisher “has already collected a good amount of ‘full coins.’”
Interestingly, Hoffner pointed out that because the longer a user stays on the Salon website, the more crypto mining can be done, so there’s an incentive for Salon to produce high-quality long-form content. “This rewards good, long-form content and not clickbait,” he told AdAge.
Is it viable?
Hoffner says that he has been contacted by other publishers interested in using or replicating Salon’s solution, suggesting that the publisher’s crypto mining proposition to users of ad blockers might soon be more common.
But is crypto mining going be a reliable and sustainable source of revenue for publishers? The answer to this question is not yet clear because the future of cryptocurrencies themselves is still in question.
Even if established cryptocurrencies aren’t heading to $0 anytime soon, the volatility in their prices could prove problematic. Cryptocurrency prices are anything but predictable, and can rise or fall by double-digit percentages in a single day, so the amount publishers might earn could fluctuate dramatically.
If publishers embracing crypto mining decide to hold some or all of what their users mine for them, they are essentially taking on the role of cryptocurrency investors/speculators even though that’s not their core competency. In this scenario, fluctuations in the prices of cryptocurrencies could leave them in a very good financial position or a very bad financial position very quickly.
This said, there’s an argument to be made that none of this really matters because crypto mining represents new, incremental revenue. After all, users that opt to allow their browsers to mine cryptocurrency are those who otherwise might not have disabled their ad blockers or purchased a subscription if one is offered.
In the final analysis, for publishers still trying to figure out the best way to deal with ad blockers, experimenting with something new, even if it proves to be an imperfect or short-lived solution, is probably better than sitting back and hoping for a miracle. Indeed, that’s the mentality of Salon’s Hoffner.
“I have payroll to meet, and I have shareholders,” he told AdAge. “I have to innovate my way out of this problem. I cannot wait for big players to do it for me. I just won’t. Maybe this helps level the playing field just a tiny bit. It’s a start.”