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.