News broke out earlier this week (see Techmeme) that Google is testing a new ad-alternative program with a small number of high profile websites. The ad-alternative program allows the regular readers of those websites to pay a small monthly fee ($1 to $3) to make the ads go away. Instead, those users will either see a thank you box (in place of the banner ads) or nothing (perhaps depending on screen size and formatting). Some see this more cynically, an attempt by Google to point out to the world that although people hate ads with a passion, they hate paying for content even more (see Venture Beat).
Personally I think this is a legit experiment, and Google actually has a lot to benefit if this catches on. Why do I think so? Look at some of the websites that are part of the beta: Mashable, The Onion, and imgur. It is a cross-section of tech-savvy users who are quite fond of those websites. The experiment is not set up to fail.