Will The Newspaper Industry Save Itself By Reinventing Online Advertising?

Local advertisers in New Orleans are not happy about the recent announcement from New York-based Advance Publications that The Crescent City’s daily newspaper, one of the oldest in the nation, will be printed just three days a week starting this fall.

“The Times-Picayune has long been a cornerstone of my restaurant group’s local marketing,” notes Ralph Brennan, President of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. “Almost nine million people visit New Orleans every year. What message is sent when there is no daily local paper to provide the news, sports, and local information that these visitors need? The lack of a daily newspaper also diminishes the viability and visibility of New Orleans as a top-tier city at a time when exciting things are happening.”

It’s not that Advance wants to move away from paper. They simply don’t want to pay for the infrastructure, when putting out a digital version of the paper is so cheap, by comparison.

The question is will newspaper readers migrate to the digital versions of the paper, and come back for more tomorrow, and the next day?

“For longtime print readers, this is going to be really jarring” because many readers don’t use the paper’s Web site on a regular basis, media critic Ken Doctor predicted at the time. “This is a publisher pulling the plug on the seven-day habit. It’s a huge unknown how many readers will stick around.”

The crux of the problem is nearly all the revenue is in the printed and bundled product. Print ads account for more than 86 percent of the $24 billion that the industry collected last year, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Given that percentage, you’d think newspaper publishers would want to enhance their print products, but there’s another figure that is driving all the change. The $24 billion in revenue is just half of what the industry made in 2007. So, print advertising is practically the whole game, yet the game is shrinking so fast, publishers are bailing, even when the lifeboat–online advertising–never properly inflated and is fast losing air.

I know smart people are working to solve the online advertising riddle, but the progress is far too slow for the newspaper industry, their advertisers and readers. Most of the chips are being put into targeted delivery of ads via invasive forms of online tracking. But people aren’t that wild about being served ads based on what they’re looking at, or doing, online. In fact, many people find this type of thing peeping-Tom creepy.

Others want to treat digital with print or broadcast retrofits. While print-like executions can take place here, I wouldn’t place too much trust in a static ad unit’s utility in interactive media. Broadcast fits the format better, but pre-roll is Interruption Marketing at its most annoying. What we’re missing is a native solution. Online ad units need to be interactive, content-rich, data-sensitive and a pleasure to “work” with.

Readers want to be surprised and delighted, whether they have a printed paper in their hands or a screen. When it is a screen they’re handling, the ads must work harder to deliver value.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.