Value of Advertisement to Publishers (GDPR)

May 31, 2021

After the GDPR came into effect, targeted advertisement should have become an opt-in system, whereby users have to actively agree that website providers may collect identifiable/behavioural data. But that was a naive assumption.

Adtech is notoriously secretive on both the effectiveness of targeted advertisement and the money involved.

For researchers, I have found little to no data on the value of ads for a company. Specifically, I am interested in the question: “What is the money it would lose if it were to abandon targeted advertisement”. But alas, unless you work for an AdTech company, there is little one can find out.

Freakonomics, one of my favourite podcasts, offers some insights in their two part series on “Does Advertising actually work?". I will not go into anything discussed there.

I have noticed that after GDPR, it is possible to infer the value companies place on targeted advertisement indirectly. The Washington Post has a nice breakdown of their pricing, which allows us to identify the value they place on targeted ads. Let’s look at this screenshot from their mobile website in 2019.

Basic price
Basic price for 1 year in 2019

Premium price
Basic price for one year WITHOUT Ads in 2019

We can thus compute the cost per user per year as:

  • Premium+Ads = 60$
  • Premium-Ads = 90$

Thus the value for ads the WP puts on targeted ads is 30$/user per year.

This value has dropped in 2021 to 10€ as seen from a screenshot taken on the 2021-05-31.

New pricing 2021
Pricing for both basic and premium in 2021

There have been many developments since GDPR has been adopted. However, implementation of GDPR has been a low priority, it would seem, given the deafening silence of fines and court cases.

However, for the Washington Post, it seems that the initial value of 30$ was a little too optimistic. There are many possible explanations for this price change:

  • It was a protest against GDPR
  • Completely blocking EU readers has reduced their reach, and thus, the value of the demographic the can sell
  • They have found out that the actual price is lower

It is likely a mix of many such considerations, but it is still interesting to observe how the value of targeted ads is changing. And more importantly that there is little to no academic research in this area.

Funny Side Note

While writing this post, I set the name of the page as value-of-advertisement-gdpr. However, since I have an adblocker, it stopped the browser from loading the images because the word advertisement is a banned word, and any image with an URL with this word in its path will not be loaded (with the error in the console shown as ERR_BLOCKED_BY_CLIENT). This “bug” is an interesting side effect of the tug of war between Adtech and Adblock, leading to strange bugs for naive devs.

  1. Changes in third-party content on European news websites after GDPR look at w months before and one month after
  2. Characterising Third Party Cookie Usage in the EU after GDPR
  3. Report Oxford
  4. Before and After GDPR: The Changes in Third-Party Presence at Public and Private European Websites