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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's Axel Springer has banned readers who use adblockers from its Bild tabloid website, stepping up a fight by publishers to stop online advertising revenues being eroded.
Springer said visitors to the website of Bild, Europe's top-selling tabloid, will be asked to switch off the adblocker or pay a monthly fee of 2.99 euros ($3.40) to browse the website mostly ad-free.
"Whoever does not switch off the adblocker or does not pay cannot see any content on Bild.de, as of now," the publisher said in a statement on Tuesday.
Publishers are struggling with the increasing popularity of software that blocks the Web advertising that is key to maintaining or growing their revenue in the Internet age but which many users find intrusive or slows the loading of pages.
Some 200 million people used ad blockers last year, up 40 percent from a year earlier, resulting in $22 billion in lost advertising revenue, according to a study by Adobe and PageFair, an anti ad-blocking technology company.
Some U.S.-based media owners including video-streaming company Hulu and the Washington Post have implemented similar measures but Springer's is the most aggressive by a European newspaper publisher so far.
More than 30 percent of Germans online use such software, many more than the 5 percent of Internet users globally in 2014, according to Dublin-based analytics and advisory firm PageFair, which develops "ad blocker-friendly" advertising.
Internal monitoring showed that about 23 percent of Bild.de vistors use adblocking software. In previous years that was around 20 percent.
Last year, Axel Springer, whose other publications include Die Welt newspaper, received more than 1.5 billion euros in revenues from major advertisers and circulation.
Bild.de had 265,000 digital subscribers at the end of June who pay 4.99 euros per month for full access to the tabloid's online content, generating less than 20 million euros in annual sales.
Axel Springer changed the website of Bild to a so-called "freemium" model about two years ago, with some content remaining free and items such as exclusive interviews, stories and photos subject to a charge.
Adblock software acts like a firewall between a web browser and advertising servers. It is mostly installed by users on their desktop computer or laptop and blocks ads on websites including Facebook and video ads on YouTube.
Axel Springer's move is the first such initiative by a major German publisher and could accelerate the war between people using ad blockers and media owners who rely on advertising revenue as part of their business model online.
Last month Axel Springer lost a court case against German software firm Eyeo, which makes the Adblock Plus browser. In May a Munich court ruled in favor of the start-up in a case brought by ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL Group.
And the publisher of German newspapers Handelsblatt and Die Zeit lost a similar case in a Hamburg court. Several appeals are pending.
($1 = 0.8800 euros)
Reporting by Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Keith Weir