Do Web Ads Give Newspapers — Or Bloggers — Any Hope?

newspapers

For all of the advertising woes that printed newspapers have encountered over the past few years, it’s an open question what will happen to them as they shift their focus online. The New York TimesStephanie Clifford (who has been turning out really fascinating stuff week after week lately) warns that the Web may not be the Promised Land of newspaper ad sales, but there are a few hopeful indicators.

According to Clifford, advertisers tend to use newspaper sites to make a one-time splash, as when Mercedes rolled out its new line of E-Class cars on the NYT, WSJ, and Washington Post websites this past summer. But once the splash has been made, they shift their resources to other, cheaper networks:

One reason newspaper sites do not appear to be bouncing back as much as the overall Internet is price: after advertisers introduce their splashy campaigns on news sites, they can follow up with cheaper ads all over the Web.

“You get the big audience reach on your national brands, and you guarantee that by buying USA Today or The Times or other properties. And a secondary buy, you buy inexpensive, low-c.p.m. ad networks,” said Mr. Saridakis, using the industry shorthand for cost per thousand times an ad is shown. A display ad that might cost $10 to $20 per thousand at a site like USAToday.com could cost around half that amount when it is bought across an ad network of similar sites.

“They’re basically trying to buy the same audience at a third of the price,” he said.

If bloggers reading this think they have cause to gloat, they don’t. What’s at stake here isn’t fancypants newspaper articles upheld by bloated staffs, but smart, effortfully generated content, period. If eyeballs are eyeballs are eyeballs, regardless of quality of product, why bother building up a brand, personal or institutional? Why analyze when you can copypasta?  In short, what’s the point of trying if a pageview for a painstakingly written post has the same advertising value as an SEO-optimized 50 word rehash?

There’s a glimmer of hope in this Knight Digital Media Center writeup of a speech by Slate’s David Plotz:

More sophisticated ways of measuring usership and engagement will change focus from mass audience, Plotz believes, and that will make journalism better. Raw numbers create “pressure to produce one kind of story” that will draw hits. New metrics of engagement and behavior offer a “tremendous opportunity for Web journalism to escape the traffic” trap. He believes that will liberate Slate to “make a magazine that recognizes those dedicated readers.”

The fight at hand isn’t newspapers versus blogs versus splogs versus LOLcats, but between competing metrics. As long as CPM is the gold standard for online ads, advertisers will have a strong incentive to follow the eyeballs around, which they have the technology to do with a great degree of precision. Engagement-based metrics like Plotz advocates could free bloggers from the commoditization of their work, the lumping together of all types of content. But will they really be the metrics to win out in the end, or is that just a blogger’s pipe dream?

(image via artofthebiz)


Next Up For The Cablers: The President Plays Too Much Sexist Golf

obamanewMeme alert! Get ready for the President’s golf game to take the cablers by storm. Let’s take a look at the signs.

Barack Obama’s fondness for golf is not a secret — anyone who follows a White House correspondent on Twitter knows that their weekends are often spent waiting for the president to finish his 18 holes. This past weekend, however, Obama’s favorite pastime got some extra, significantly placed, mentions. The first from CBS’s Mark Knoller who noted that Obama has racked as many golf games in his first nine months than George W. Bush did in almost three years:

  • Today – Obama ties Pres. Bush in the number of rounds of golf played in office: 24. Took Bush 2 yrs & 10 months.
  • Bush ended his presidential golf after round 24. He came to feel it was inappropriate for the Commander-in-Chief while US was at war.about 17 hours ago from web
  • “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf,” Bush said to Politico’s Mike Allen.about 17 hours ago from web
  • Perhaps presidential golf is the new presidential “clearing brush.” Stay tuned for Glenn Beck’s analysis of why all this golf makes Obama a communist/socialist/elitist Mao follower. Which might be humorous, except the politics of Obama’s golf games does not stop there. Yesterday’s pool report, penned by Chicago Sun-TimesLynn Sweet, noted that Saturday was the first time that Obama had invited a woman to join his foursome. The first time. From the report:

    The golf game was notable in that the presidential foursome included, for the first time a female, Melody Barnes, the president’s chief domestic policy advisor. The foursome: Obama, Barnes, Obama pal Eric Whitaker, the physician who is an executive vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Marvin Nicholson, the White House trip director.

    The timing of Barnes’ appearance on the green was interesting as it coincided with this Sunday’s NYT A-1 story about how the Obama White House is a boys club.

    The suspicion flared in recent weeks — and not for the first time — after President Obama was criticized by women’s advocates and liberal bloggers for hosting a high-level basketball game with no female players…Ben Finkenbinder, a junior press aide and scratch golfer, was recently invited into a foursome with Mr. Obama. (In records kept by Mark Knoller of CBS, the president has played 23 rounds of golf since taking office, none of which have included women, though Mr. Knoller allows that the press office does not always release the names of every player. A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Friday that Mr. Obama planned to play this weekend with Ms. Barnes.)

    That is a whole lot of high profile, politicized golf mentions for one weekend! The last time this much attention was spent on Presidential leisure time was during the Obama’s Martha’s Vineyard vacation, which also happens to be the week many people feel the White House lost control of the narrative. So, yeah. Get ready, because there is only so much White House vs. Fox News a news cycle can take and ‘the President plays too much sexist golf’ seems set to nicely fill in the gaps in the week to come.


    NYT’s Frank Rich Finds Compassion for Balloon Boy Dad, Blames Economy and Media

    heeneNow that the the jig is up for Richard Heene and his puffed-up scheme to get famous with his balloon hoax, the Colorado man has been left looking rather desperate and crazy. For most, his stunt to gain attention (and possibly a TV contract), which put his entire family through a great deal of stress, was abominable and exploitative.

    But this morning in the New York Times, columnist Frank Rich finds compassion for Heene, painting him in a landscape of deflated economic opportunity where the most dependable job opportunity is the round-the-clock media circus and all the real hoaxers go unpunished. Ultimately, Rich looks back to the Great Depression:

    Heene is a direct descendant of those Americans of the Great Depression who fantasized, usually in vain, that they might find financial salvation if only they could grab a spotlight in show business. Some aspired to the “American Idol” of the day — “Major Bowes Amateur Hour,” a hugely popular weekly talent contest on network radio. Others traveled the seedy dance marathon circuit, entering 24/7 endurance contests that promised food and prize money in exchange for freak-show degradation and physical punishment. Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel memorializing this Depression milieu was aptly titled “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

    Read Frank Rich’s “In Defense of ‘Balloon Boy’ Dad.”


    Master of Allusion: Glenn Beck Invokes NYT Media Critic David Carr

    Picture 25We’ve written before about Glenn Beck ’s gift for impressions and his love for quoting the greats. Not even Shakespeare is safe from his rodeo clown-esque caricatures!

    On Friday evening, Beck was having fun with some mobster movie clips, playing reel of Robert Deniro in the ’80s mafia film The Untouchables, and slapping around a baseball bat while speaking in his Mobsta’ voice. But when he was finished playing Deniro, he invoked the New York Times media critic David Carr.

    Beck adopted an image from Carr’s column last weekend about Fox News and the White House, comparing the Obama administration’s recent criticism of the cable network to ‘bringing a knife to a gun fight.’ From David Carr’s “The Battle Between the White House and Fox News“:

    The one weapon all administrations can wield is access, and the White House, making it clear that it will use that leverage going forward, informed Fox News not to expect to bump knees with the president until 2010. But Fox News, as many have pointed out, is not in the access business. They are in the agitation business. And the administration, by deploying official resources against a troublesome media organization, seems to have brought a knife to a gunfight.

    Beck takes the image and flips it: In his view the White House is holding the gun and Fox News and all their allies across the country are holding the knives:

    The lesson from that movie is you gotta take a stand even though you know that in the end you pull out a knife and they pull out a gun. The question we ask ourselves: what is it we truly believe in? who are we? … Are we the guy who sits around the table in fear? He’s one guy, there’s more of us than there is of him. [5:00 ff]

    And with that reminder — that the people’s knives are mightier than any tyrant — we’re back to Shakespeare.

    Glenn Beck on Friday:


    The New York Times Explains the Ad Market: Banks Bail, and So Does Hollywood. But Big Pharma Steps Up, and “Modest” Improvement Coming

    light-tunnelThe New York Times (NYT) delivered some modestly good news yesterday: The publisher said ad sales were still way, way down, but it had managed to cut costs enough to deliver a pleasant earnings surprise.

    Can the paper cut even more costs? It’s going to try, starting with a 100-person cut in its newsroom, which will bring headcount down by 8 percent. But Times is also counting on the ad market to pick up at some point, and it says it can now see the faint outline of a recovery taking shape.

    During the paper’s earnings call yesterday, it offered up a bit of insight into who was buying ads and who wasn’t. In the latter category: Banks, mutual funds and insurance companies, who were burning cash a year ago in an effort to convince customers that things were OK; movie studios and telcos also pulled back. But healthcare spending was up, via big pharma and hospitals. Were they pitching consumers or legislators?

    Bear in mind that ad revenue dropped 26.9 percent for the quarter, so all of this is relative. So when the Times talks about seeing “encouraging signs of improvement”, as CEO Janet Robinson mentioned in a press release yesterday, what exactly does that mean?

    Here’s Robinson’s answer to that question, delivered during yesterday’s call. Transcription via Seeking Alpha:

    We’re seeing improvement, a modest improvement. We’re seeing certainly more requests for proposals across the board. We’re seeing a modest growth in regard to commitment. We still are seeing just in time commitments, so the visibility continues to be cloudy, but I think we are encouraged that indeed we see advertisers telling us that their business is improving and consequently requesting more information from us in regard to rates and placement and certainly customized programs.

    I’ll give you an example. The retailers in September as noted in my remarks, we started to see a little bit of a pickup. We have had in depth conversations with them in regard to their improvement. So we do see traffic improvement in regard to the stores and consequently when that’s the case, they tend to want to do more in regard to building even more traffic.

    Same holds true in regard to some of the national advertisers with technology and national automotive, with certainly the bankruptcies behind General Motors and Chrysler and some activity certainly in technology and healthcare, we are seeing more commitments coming our way in regard to national schedules as well.

    Kicking Ink: The Guilty Pleasures of Print

    On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. for "Public Media Camp," it happened again. I was tempted by print.

    Starting in May, I gave up my print newspaper subscription, and then compared how the iPhone beat the Kindle when it comes to reading periodical publications on electronic devices.

    My fingers have remained relatively ink-free each day because I get my news fix electronically. But what about when I get out of my hermetically sealed home office chamber and head out into the wild? I sat down innocently at the airport gate for my hour of repose, and next to my chair was an abandoned San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

    Before I knew it, the newspaper was in my hands and I was leafing through the pages. I noticed that the actual size of the newspaper had shrunk since I last read it in print, and I saw that many articles in the print paper are not included in my Kindle edition (not to mention box scores, listings and many graphics). While I've sworn off getting a print subscription to the newspaper, that doesn't mean I can't read it out around town or while traveling, right?

    On this trip, I fond myself reading print newspapers and a print book much more than my Kindle 2 or iPhone, even though these electronic devices were loaded up with books, newspapers, my email and Twitter feed. How do I explain the allure, the pleasures of print? Here are a few things that come to mind.

    One Man's Trash...

    Perhaps one of the strongest reasons that print newspapers could survive the twin holocausts of the Internet and economic meltdown is that people still like holding them during mass transit commutes, on airplanes ("turn off your electronic devices"), and on the toilet. When newspaper boosters talk about the "pass-around" rate for newspaper readers, they mean that one print edition easily makes the rounds from person to person to person.

    And that includes strangers. I remember being in London a couple years ago and seeing Metro newspapers sitting everywhere inside the subway cars. When you got on the train, you reached for a paper, read it, and put it back when you were done. These free commuter papers are so convenient, so easy to find, so trashable, that you don't even mind the holy waste you are likely creating on the back end. Just grab and go.

    On my recent trip to D.C., I found the Chronicle and the front section of the New York Times to read on my flight over, and then USA Today appeared under the door of my hotel room, free of charge. One morning I took the paper to breakfast; the next day, I stuck to my home routine of reading the New York Times on my iPhone. I would never have gone out to buy these papers, but their ability to appear magically at the right place and right time made them hard to ignore.

    Scannability

    So how did my reading experience differ with print newspapers compared to reading on the iPhone or Kindle? The first thing I noticed was that I could read a lot more in print than I would on those devices. With the print newspaper, I could quickly determine which stories were interesting by their headlines, images and placement. On a Kindle, it's more limited to one story at a time, or a partial list of headlines and cutlines. On the iPhone, most apps only load about 5 to 10 headlines and cutlines at a time.

    For instance, I read all the front page stories from the New York Times front section, as well as many other articles the paper. On the iPhone, I usually read about five or six stories in the "Latest" section, and rarely go beyond that. Part of the reason for that could be that I have less time to read on the iPhone than I do while sitting on a five-hour flight. But the other reason is that it's quicker and easier for me to jump around to different stories and flip through pages with a print paper.

    On an electronic device, there is the stutter-step effect. Click and wait. Scroll down. Page up and page down. A small window on the content. On a computer screen, scannability comes a little closer to the print newspaper. A home page of a news website is bathed in headlines, photos, cutlines, and even video. But, still, the print paper remains the king when it comes to scanning through a lot of content in a short period of time.

    I remember when I first got my Kindle 2 and happily read through nearly every story in the Sunday New York Times. But perhaps that was a function of the newness, the excitement of seeing all that content and not having to carry around a huge print publication. Over time, the Kindle 2's magic has worn off. The more I read on my iPhone, the less I want to read on the Kindle.

    The Beauty of Print

    Finally, the eye-catching color images in a newspaper rarely transfer well to electronic devices. The Chronicle, in particular, uses almost gaudy amounts of color in its page designs. I quickly picked up that abandoned paper in a "monkey see, monkey read" moment. USA Today obviously operates with a similar modus operandi. The riot of color -- and even color-coded sections -- make it perfect for travel-weary souls who are more ready to be entertained and dazzled than put to sleep with monotones.

    chicken on usatoday.jpg

    That goes for the ads as well. I haven't noticed the ads on my iPhone, and the Kindle is still ad-free. The ads in print newspapers are massive and difficult to avoid. Oh yeah, that's why they still charge an arm and a leg for them. Yes, the colored ink does stain, but the marketing message burns a hole in the retina, too.

    Conclusion

    As much as I'd like to kick ink completely, I have to face the fact that print still has its charms. I realize the clear-cut forests, the big carbon footprint, the sheer energy used in making print publications is not good for the environment. And I don't want to pay ungodly sums to get them delivered to my doorstep. But, occasionally, when something colorful and flashy is sitting forlorn and unused, I might just have to dig in.

    Image of chicken on USA Today box by ira via Flickr.

    Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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