Are UK newspapers and journalists selling links?

That’s the question posed by David Naylor, who says he was told by a “UK Search Marketer” that

“they’d been offered (and had paid for) links from the website of a major UK newspaper. At £15,000 it was an expensive buy, but with the national newspaper sites being such huge authority hubs they felt it was worth the money.”

Naylor’s post doesn’t identify the newspaper or the source, but he does identify some links on a different newspaper’s site – The Telegraph – that:

“go via affiliate networks such as Tradedoubler & Affiliate Window, which will pay a commission on sales. I’m no expert but I think that’s sailing pretty close to the wind in terms of journalistic integrity, and I believe the NUJ’s code of conduct would agree with me.” 

The comments are as interesting as the post itself. Kyle, for instance, points out:

“Given that one of the links actually has ‘telegraph’ as the affiliate id through Buy.at (http://mands.at/telegraph) I would say that this isnt a rogue staffer, and in fact an active business push . And fair play to them too – we all know how much newspapers have suffered recently and that the key to their survival lies in their ability to generate revenue from their online assets. Finally wiseing up to the affiliate business model will be very good for them.”

While Daniel Mcskelly points out: “Anthony also found the same aff code in use on another site that clearly isn’t a telegraph property so I do wonder.”

I’m waiting for a response from the Telegraph. Comments invited.

UPDATE: The Telegraph have responded quite quickly. A spokesperson tells me:

“The articles you have highlighted do contain some affiliate links. This is an accepted means by which online publishers monetise their content.

“The key point is that Telegraph Media Group’s editorial teams have no involvement in the commercial side of the operation. The links that you refer to are added post-publication by our commercial department.  The use of an intermediary to track links has no impact on which websites our journalists select and this does not affect our editorial standards in any way. Our journalists are free to write whatever they like about any products, as you would expect. In this respect it is no different from the traditional journalist / advertiser relationship.”

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16 thoughts on “Are UK newspapers and journalists selling links?

  1. Steve E

    I see no issue with newspapers using Affiliate schemes to top up their revenues, natural next step after online adverts really. However, how they decide which sites to link to from within content of stories (to explain a term etc) is more of a mystery, some sites tend to get linked to a lot more than others…

    Reply
  2. Anom

    I used to run a web site, the press were more than happy to feature us at no cost, but we wanted our http://www address in the article, we had to pay for it to be printed, and to be clickable on the web site. Referrer always came through an ad-click agency in the web site logs too. This was c1999-2002, so perhaps older than the NUJ’s CoC?

    Reply
  3. Dan Thornton

    I’d definitely disagree with selling paid links from newspapers, but think that affiliate links are fine, as long as there is clear disclosure somewhere on the site about the fact.

    In theory, it should be possible to run an affiliate service for newspaper links without it consciously affecting the links used in stories, but whether or not it happens in practice is probably something that needs some analysis.

    Reply
  4. James Rudd

    I have to say that in my opinion this is perfectly acceptable and indeed makes sense.

    Newspapers, particularly regional ones are not going to survive unless they up their game, the commercial insert of links is not that far removed from subbing. I doubt that the press will go for Churnolist route (publishing press releases). But adding URLs makes good sense and is probably the way forward – I do it.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Should readers be told about paid-for links on newspaper sites? | The Wire | Press Gazette

  6. jasond

    Are affiliate links the same as the traditional journalist/advertiser relationship as the Telegraph’s PR claims?

    For a start, advertising and editorial have always been distinct and readers have understood the difference. Under OFT regulations there’s a legal difference too. Most readers clicking on the Telegraph’s links will not even know the link is an advert. By monetising its editorial with these undisclosed commercial links I think that the Telegraph is selling its crown jewels in a way that has never been done before. I’d be surprised if its legal department did not insist on disclosure.

    To explain, the Telegraph is not paid to insert a link as it would be paid to insert an advert. If its editorial says a product is rubbish don’t buy it, readers are not likely to click on the link and the Telegraph earns nothing. If it raves about a product, readers are more likely to click through and purchase and the Telegraph increases its revenue from the link. This is quite different to traditional display advertising that has a fixed price irrespective of what the editorial says.

    moneysavingexpert Martin Lewis has a free to use journalistic research website funded by affiliate links and he claims it is ad free. He disputes altogether the idea that affiliate links are even ads.

    I’m not sure the Telegraph has fully understood the consequences of its affiliate links. Display advertising online is in terminal decline not solely because of the recession but because it is much more difficult to sell display ads in the confines of a computer screen once advertisers know they can buy a well positioned disguised link in editorial and pay for it on a performance basis. From an editorial standpoint, does it weaken the Telegraph’s ability to criticise members of the House of Lords for commercial conflicts of interest when its journalists arguably have a commercial conflict of interest, or to publish investigative journalism like bad practice in industries like pharmaceuticals and defence that companies will not want to buy links in?

    From the comments in David Naylor’s post, the biggest concern for the Telegraph should be that the public seems not to trust a newspaper funding editorial from commission. Comments above from journalists who are paid by affiliate links are more positive but are they ignoring the fact that once readers don’t trust you they are a click away, a Google search away from finding other sources of information on the internet that, rightly or wrongly, they trust more?

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Paid links compromising online journalism « Patrick’s Online Journalism Blog

  8. Domainer

    I have often wondered and suspected this. Also with big websites like Mashable, but it must be hard to resist offers. If i offered you 1k for a link on your homepage, would you take it??

    Reply
  9. Alicia Navarro

    Really interesting debate. I wanted to add a few thoughts, although to disclose, I run Skimlinks which is a service that does help publishers earn revenues from affiliate marketing in the way described here and with clients like the ones discussed here.

    1. Affiliate marketing is not an ad or a paid link. Ads and paid links are driven by the advertiser, and are paid for by default. Affiliate links are decided upon and completely driven by the publisher, and are only paid if there is a sale. This is an important distinction.

    2. Off-line publishing has always done this: makeup and fashion retailers send samples to journalists, which gives them ideas on what to write about. When a magazine has an article on the top 10 mascaras, it is subjective, and likely driven by who they have good relationships with. This is normal, and doesn’t mean the editorial content is not well-written, interesting, or useful.

    3. In my experience of talking to scores of publishers really working hard to stay afloat, I can personally vouch that all these publshers still really care about their content and integrity. We help them define processes that retain their editorial integrity, but still allow them to create a reveue stream that isn’t intrusive to their users.

    4. The OFT guidelines are about paid ads by advertisers – and certainly if advice is being made about commercially sensitive items like mortgages and loans, more obvious disclosure is essential. Similarly, if the content is news like the stocks page or breaking news, the distinction between ads and editorial is essential too. But fun editorial on fashion, homewares, gadgets etc, with affiliate links added after the editors have written their pieces independently, is not in breach.

    5. Although there has been some people saying they don’t like this approach, it doesn’t necessarliy mean the general public don’t trust them. The majority of people know that these sites need to monetise if they want to continue to pay for quality writers and give their content for free, and if it means less intrusive ads, then why shouldn’t publishers be given a small commission for sales they help generate on other sites as a result of them including a link to the merchant on their site?

    6. Agree on disclosure – we strongly encourage our publishers to disclose how they use us to monetise on our site.

    Please feel free to contact us if you have further questions. We care deeply about behaving ethically, and this is a new area where we are drawing up the rules as we go, but editorial integrity and user-experience are key for us. Thank you for reading my thoughts.
    Alicia Navarro
    CEO – Skimlinks

    Reply
  10. Domainer

    I just received my monthly copy of GQ magazine and realised the amount of editorial advertising…it was a complete joke. A whole article on the new omega watch…oh and they are a large sponsor. It happens so much in print media that it was bound to creep into blogs and websites. The web is so full of junk sites and pages that some quality and standards need kept.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Interesting examples – the Mirror one isn’t working due to a looping redirect and the Express one is presumably a redirect too, so although it retains the URL it probably doesn’t retain the Google Pagerank?

      Reply

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