Computerworld

Mozilla partners with news subscription startup to try and separate web ads from content

The Firefox browser maker plans to work with Scroll, a news subscription service that charges a flat monthly fee for access to ad-free news from a variety of publishers.

Mozilla will collaborate with the news subscription service Scroll in yet another exploration of separating online advertising from content, the two companies said this week.

Scroll, which has yet to officially launch, contends that its business model - a flat monthly fee for reading ad-free news from a variety of publishers - can deliver more revenue to those publishers than they can now reap through traditional on-page advertising. The startup, which has been funded by media organizations such as the New York Times and several venture capital firms, has proposed a $5 per month subscription that will give readers ad-free content to anything not behind a publication-specific paywall.

(Scroll will not, for instance, give readers more accessibility to the New York Times than the paper allows people free of charge each month; the news stories, however, will not be accompanied by ads when viewed through Scroll's apps.)

Nearly 30 media companies have partnered with Scroll to test the service, in large part to determine whether Scroll's revenue claims are valid. The publications include The Atlantic, USA Today and BuzzFeed.

The two companies offered scant details about the planned partnership.

"We've moved to a more formal collaboration where we're going to be working together to understand consumer attitudes and interest around alternative funding models and consumer-driven ad-free experiences," Scroll wrote in a Feb. 25 post to its blog. Scroll added that it and Mozilla had been in discussions since late 2018.

Mozilla declined to answer questions about the collaboration, including what form that would take within Firefox, Mozilla's open-source browser. Instead, a press representative pointed to a Feb. 4 blog post written by Denelle Dixon, the organization's COO.

"There needs to be a profitable revenue ecosystem on the web in order to create, foster and support innovation," Dixon said before adding, "We need to go after the real cause of our online advertising dysfunction by helping publishers earn more than they do from the status quo."

That last was probably a reference to Mozilla's plans with Scroll, since it mimicked the latter's pitch to publishers.

Mozilla has experimented widely with alternatives to on-page online ads, both as important features and functionality within Firefox and as additional revenue streams for its browser expenses. It has tried and abandoned in-browser ads of its own, for example, dabbled with ad eliminators and instituted aggressive blocking of cross-site tracking that it calls "Enhanced Tracking Protection."

That last has not yet been switched on by default within Firefox.

The next Firefox update, to version 66, is scheduled for release March 19. The browser has clawed back from yet another brink, reaching a 9.9% user share in January after falling below 9% in November 2018.