Tag Archives: advertising

Print's advertising problem – tying one hand behind its back

Last week Karl Schneider, Reed Business Information’s Editorial Director, spent an hour chatting with students in my Online Journalism class. Most of it is available on video here, but of particular interest to me was a point Karl made about how Reed separated its online advertising into a separate company very early on, and are now reaping the benefits (embedded above).

“Because we had print businesses to protect we spent at least as much time worrying about not doing something on the web that would undercut the money coming in in print as worrying about ‘How do we make this new stuff grow’ … One of the big revenue streams for us was recruitment ads … So when we started to do online jobs one of the big challenges was ‘How can we do this without damaging all of the money tied up in print?’ And very quickly we realised that if we worry about that, we’re going to be rubbish at online job ads, because we’re always going to be operating with one hand tied behind our backs. And we’ll be competing against pure-play onlines who won’t have that worry.

“So what we ended up doing was setting up our online jobs advertising operation as a separate business and allowed it to compete head-to-head with our print business, and it caused all sorts of internal arguments – but it was absolutely the right thing to do because we’re making more money now out of online jobs than we ever did from print jobs. Less per job – there’s a lot more job ads – but it took separating it off [as a separate business] to do it.”

I’ve written about this problem before. Although on paper there are economies to be made by combining print and web ad sales, that’s not a strategy for future growth.

Instead, it appears to result in a prolonged addiction to the dying cash cow of print ads (and, anecdotally, a frustrating experience for advertisers wishing to move money from print to online). Judging by the recent research into magazine ad sales (PDF) in the US (image below), the magazine industry may need to listen to Karl’s experiences.

87% of ad staff work across both print and web

Image taken from CJR research into magazine websites (link above). 'To' should say 'Two'

RSS feeds, advertising and selling attention

Media organisations who only offer partial RSS feeds might be interested to look at a couple of posts from 2 websites with different experiences of monetising their feeds. First, Jason Snell of MacWorld:

“RSS doesn’t generate revenue directly. There are ads in RSS, sure, but they’re cheap and lousy and don’t have remotely the return as ads on web pages.”

Then, John Gruber of Daring Fireball (cached here if you find it as slow as I do):

“The ads in most sponsored RSS feeds are indeed cheap and lousy. The ads in DF’s [Daring Fireball’s] RSS feed are neither. They’re priced at a premium, and have attracted (if I do say so myself) premium sponsors.

“If you’ve got a model where revenue is tied only to web page views, switching to full-content RSS feeds will hurt, at least in the short term. The problem, I say, isn’t with full-content RSS feeds, but rather with a business model that hinges solely on web page views. The precious commodity that we, as publishers, have to offer advertisers is the attention of our readers. Web page views are a terribly inaccurate, if not outright misleading, metric for attention. Subscribers to a full-content RSS feed are among the readers paying the most attention, but generate among the least web page views.”

Snell’s response: “What works for [Gruber’s one-man] kind of site doesn’t necessarily work for our kind.”

It’s also worth noting the tertiary benefits of full RSS feeds. Offering full RSS feeds makes it more likely a developer is going to create something useful out of it (expensive development time for free), bringing more readers and attention to your advertising or, in the case of the BBC (which may have licensing issues holding it back), fulfilling its public service remit.

Do you or your organisation do anything interesting with your RSS feeds? Are they full or partial? I’d love to know.

(Note, OJB uses the <more> tag to to ensure the homepage isn’t dominated by a single post. Unfortunately, this results in partial RSS feeds. Some day I’ll sort this.)

Summary of "Magazines and their websites" – Columbia Journalism Review study by Victor Navasky and Evan Lerner

The first study (PDF) of magazines and their various approaches to websites, undertaken by Columbia Journalism Review, found publishers are still trying to work out how best to utilise the online medium.

There is no general standard or guidelines for magazine websites and little discussion between industry leaders as to how they should most effectively be approached.

Following the responses to the multiple choice questionnaire and the following open-ended questions –

  • What do you consider to be the mission of your website, does this differ from the mission of your print magazine?
  • What do you consider to be the best feature of aspect of your website?
  • What feature of your website do you think most needs improvement or is not living up to its potential?

– the researchers called for a collective, informed and contemporary approach to magazine websites with professional body support.

The findings were separated into the following 6 categories: Continue reading

What would Google do? AOL has the answer: the algorithm as editor

AOL is making plans for its post-Time Warner life that show just how news could be organised if you started with a blank canvas and two words: user data:

In December, when it becomes a stand-alone company, AOL will begin to tap a new digital-newsroom system that uses a series of algorithms to predict the types of stories, videos and photos that will be most popular with consumers and marketers.

The predictions, it says, are based on a wide swath of data AOL collects, from the Web searches people make on its site to the sites visited by subscribers to its Internet services.

The system is designed to track breaking newsand trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

Based on these recommendations, the company’s editorial staff, which totals about 500, will assign articles to a network of free-lancers across the country via a new Web site called Seed.com. AOL says it now works with about 3,000 free-lancers, but it is hoping to sharply increase that number through the Web site, which is open to anyone looking to submit a story.

It’s brave stuff. For years we’ve heard traditional publishers state flatly that, while user data is useful, they would never think of handing over the editorial agenda. Whether that’s pride, vanity, professionalism, or all three, AOL doesn’t have it.

And I lied: it’s not two words on that blank canvas, but 4: user and advertiser data. The article goes on:

AOL says it will pay free-lancers based on how much its technology predicts marketers will pay to advertise next to their articles or videos. It says that will range from nothing upfront, with a promise to share ad revenues the article generates, to more than $100 per item.

In addition to selling standard ads to run alongside the story or video on a Web page, AOL says it will offer custom content. For instance, AOL says, if its algorithms show consumers are searching for information about the Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamster, a retailer could pay AOL to sponsor an article about where to find the hot toy. Some traditional media outlets, including magazines and TV studios, offer similar services.

This is Google’s auction-based contextual advertising model applied to journalism, essentially matching supply and demand from readers and advertisers to set the market rate. The one variable that is notable by its absence is the supply of journalists: AOL don’t say whether payment rates will go up if no one decides to volunteer their writing for a mere ‘share of ad revenues’ (I’m guessing in that instance one of AOL’s editors will have to write it themselves – but at least they’ll be being paid. Hopefully.)

Indeed, with an upper rate of ‘more than $100 per item’ you wonder how large the supply of writers will be – yes, there’s lots of people writing for nothing online, but they generally write out of choice and for pleasure, not based on the arbitrary demand of an algorithm. And clearly, based on the number of editors they look set to employ, AOL are not expecting writers with great knowledge and talent (the payment of journalists also sounds similar to the content factories of the search engine optimisation industry).

Ryan Singel points out that Demand Media are already doing something similar. That’s true, but AOL have access to data that Demand could only dream of, along with a number of growing brands.

Ultimately, it’s a clever idea, but one that looks like it has already been taken to an extreme too far for advertisers who like to see their brand next to quality journalism. A lot rests on whether AOL can manage the churn of contributors, and the bottleneck of editing, long enough for advertisers to get used to the model. It’s a peculiarly new media model, with its own downfall built in.

FAQ: How would paywalls affect advertisers? (and other questions)

More questions from a student that I’m publishing as part of the FAQ section:

1. If News Corp starts charging for news stories, do you think readers would pay or they would just go to different newspapers?

Both, but mostly the latter. Previous experiments with paywalls saw audiences drop between 60 and 97%. And you also have to figure in that a paywall will likely make content invisible to search engines (either directly or indirectly, because no one will link to them which will drop their ranking). Search engines are responsible for a significant proportion of visits (even the Wall Street Journal receives a quarter of its traffic from Google). Still, some people will always pay – the question is: how many? Continue reading

Google actually makes something potentially useful for publishers

ReadWriteWeb reports on Google’s inclusion of “Real-Time Updates” in selected users’ Gmail messages. Google’s Help explanation says:

“If you’re subscribed to receive email from certain senders, the messages you receive from them will be enhanced with an interactive gadget that has up-to-date content from their website (you’ll also see an icon in your inbox identifying these messages).

“For example, if you receive a Pregnancy Bulletin newsletter from Babycenter, you’ll be able to view up-to-date content, including the baby name of the day, and browse though the current top 100 baby names within the message. Aside from the convenience of being able to interact with certain websites from inside Gmail, the branded content will help identify that your messages are legitimate and not spoofed (we’ll only show branded content when the sender authenticates their mail). We’re currently testing this with a small number of senders and will decide whether to make it widely available based on user and partner feedback.”

This has a two major implications for publishers: the first is the possibilities it opens to create genuinely lucrative email newsletters either for their own publications or – just as likely – for advertisers (think of it as the email equivalent of the corporate magazine). But will they have to get in bed with Google to benefit from them?

The second implication is this: advertisers are already beginning to spend their budgets on their own publishing operations – i.e. websites and viral marketing. This is another possible candidate for those budgets.

Local online news video advertising: 6 ways to monetize content

Movie Icon: RSS(Editor’s Note: This is the last in a three-part series on local online news video, summarizing the findings of a thesis study that examined the Minnesota media market and their use of online video. Part one looked at content and part two examined design and usability. Love to hear feedback in the comments below.)

______________________

It is clear that the economy has damaged efforts to expand and improve online video. Many local news sites have had to cut staff, and they are working to produce content in survival mode. However, video advertising is expected to have the largest growth out of any sectors in online advertising. In December, eMarketer released predictions for video ad spending, saying that it would rise by 45 percent in 2009 to reach $850 million. Though ad spending has slowed a bit, video advertising remains strong. The opportunities are tremendous. However, half of the local news sites have yet to implement or even sell a video advertisement.

Continue reading

Making money from content online – presentation

Here’s a presentation I made yesterday at the Fazeley Digital event. It’s intentionally provocative – and I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to read the real points I’m making here. Anyway, comments welcome.

How the web changed the economics of news – in all media

UPDATE (Oct 9 2012): Following the reviews of a collection of journalism students, as well as other topical events, I’ve written a follow-up piece here.

Listening to news executives talk about micropayments, Kindles, public subsidies, micropaymentscollusion, blocking Google and anything else that might save their businesses, it occurs to me that they may have missed some developments in, ah, well, the past ten years. For those and anyone else who is interested, I offer the following primer on how things have changed.

Any attempt to create a viable news operation needs to recognise and take advantage of these changes. I will probably have missed some – I’m hoping you can add them.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen suggests reading this post alongside this one by David Sull: “newspapers are essentially a logistics business that happens to employ journalists”. He’s right – it makes some great points.

1. Atomisation of news consumption

In the physical world news came as a generic package. You had your politics with your sport; finance news next to film reviews. You might buy a paper for one match report. No longer.

It’s probably no coincidence that majority news consumption recently shifted from regular consumption to sporadic ‘grazing‘.

2. Measurability of users

If you placed an ad on page 3 in a newspaper with a circulation of 100,000 or a broadcast watched by 5million, you didn’t think about the readers who only bought that paper for the sport; or the viewers who popped out to put the kettle on – and that’s before we talk about circulation figures inflated by the assumption that every paper was read by 3 or 4 people.

Online you know exactly how many have looked at a specific page. Not only that, you know exactly how many have clicked on an ad. And you know exactly how many made a purchase (etc.) as a result.

There’s more: you know what page the user was coming from and went to; you know what search terms they were using; you know what country they are in, how high spec their computer; and depending on how much data they’re provided, a whole lot more besides.

There are two huge implications of this measurability (which many advertisers are only just waking up to).

Firstly, advertisers expect more. Online, advertising has moved from a print/broadcast model of paying per thousand viewers (CPM) to paying per thousand clicks (CPC) to paying per action – i.e. purchases, etc. (CPA).

Secondly, it means that editors and managers now know in much more detail not only what readers actually read – but what they want to read (what they are searching for). My name’s Britney Spears, by the way.

3. Mutually conflicting business models

In print you could have your cover price and your ads; online, any paywall means vastly reduced readership because you are cutting out distribution channels – not just Google, but the readers themselves who would otherwise pass it on, link to it and blog about it. You either square that circle, or look for other revenue streams.

4. Reduced cost of newsgathering and production

The technologies were dropping in price long before the internet – satellite technologies , desktop publishing. But the web – and now mobile – technology has reduced the cost of newsgathering, production and distribution to almost nil. And new tools are being made all the time that reduce the cost in time even further. When publishing is as easy as making a phonecall, that causes problems for any business that has to maintain or pay debts on costly legacy production systems.

UPDATE: Robert Brand takes me to task on this one in the comments but also on his blog, where I have responded in more detail.

5. End of scarcity of time and space

Sometimes people need reminding of the basic laws of supply and demand. From a limited availability of journalism to more than you can ever read, any attempt to ‘sell content’ must come up against this basic problem.

6. Devaluation of certain types of journalism

If a reader wants a book review most will go to Amazon. Music? Your social networks, Last.fm, iTunes or MySpace. Sport – any forum. Anyone producing journalism in those or similar areas faces a real issue.

7. The end of monopolies

Just as the scarcity of space has been broken; the scarcity of distribution networks has been blown apart. To distribute information in a pre-web era required significant investment. To distribute information in the web era requires an email account or a mobile phone. Social networks are more powerful and efficient than delivery vans, and you don’t need to sell a certain amount of information to make them viable.

Oh yes, and that makes news even more perishable than it was before.

Meanwhile, the monopoly on advertising has gone. Where before an advertiser might have had a choice between you and a local freesheet, now they can choose from dozens of local media outlets, national directories, international outlets, search engines, social networks, or spending money on becoming media producers themselves. This competition has driven the cost down and innovation up. What have you done to stay competitive?

8. Cutting out middlemen

Because anyone can publish and anyone can distribute, retailers can talk to customers directly. If Threshers can release a money off voucher directly to customers and it become wildly (too) successful, why should they advertise in a newspaper or magazine? If councils can publish news on their own website, or indeed publish and distribute their own publications, why should they publish announcements in a newspaper? If Coca-Cola can create a ‘brand experience’ on its website, and gather consumer data at the same time, why should they limit themselves to 30 seconds in the middle of Britain’s Got Talent?

9. Creating new monopolies

Google rules this space, not you. Amazon rules this space. iTunes rules this space. eBay rules this space. Facebook rules this space. Craigslist rules this space. If you want to thrive in the new environments you have to understand the contexts within which users operate. Search Engine Optimisation is one aspect of that. Social Media Marketing should be another. Understand how one website’s domination of a particular space of the web impacts on your strategies, and acknowledge you no longer control your own destiny. Yep, Google stole the delivery trucks and Amazon stole the newsstand. Oh, and you gave away a whole lot more too.

10. Digitisation and convergence

When everything is digital, new things become possible. Audio, video, text, photography, animation – all becomes 1 and 0. You need to understand the efficiencies that makes possible, from broadcasting live from your mobile phone to releasing images on a Creative Commons licence or publishing raw data to allow users to add value through mashups. The value of your organisation lies not just within its walls but beyond them too.

11. The rise of the PR industry

The PR industry is often overlooked as an economic influence on the news industry.  Its first influence lies in the way it has provided cheap copy for news organisations, meaning an increased reliance by news organisations on fake events, reports and releases. This will become increasingly problematic as the PR industry starts to cut out the middleman and appeal directly to audiences.

Secondly, the PR industry has an enormous effect on recruitment and retaining of talent in the news industry. In short, news organisations have become a training ground for the PR industry. Journalists who cannot live on newspaper wages have been leaving for PR for some time now, meaning increased costs of training and recruitment (partly because there are few older journalists able to train informally). Furthermore, good graduates of journalism schools are often recruited by PR even before they enter the news industry, meaning the news industry has a problem attracting the very brains that could save them.

12. A new currency

Oh yes, and that money thing? It has competition. The rise of social capital is a key development that must be considered. Anyone who thinks nonprofessional media is not important because it doesn’t have a ‘brand’ or because people will lose interest, doesn’t understand the dynamics of social capital. Many people read blogs and other UGC because they trust the person, not the ‘brand’; many people self-publish because of the benefits in terms of reputation, knowledge and connections. And many people link to news articles or contribute user generated content because a journalist invested social capital in their communities, or an organisation built a platform that helped users create it.

That’s it. Unless you can come up with some more…?

What should we talk about at JEEcamp?

It’s 2 weeks until JEEcamp – the unconference for journalism experimenters and entrepreneurs – and I think it’s probably time to whittle down what we’ll be talking about.

Whether you’re attending or not, what do you think are the biggest issues you’d want to discuss with others in the news, social media and technology industries?