Content Is Advertising... In The Newspaper Industry

from the not-that-they-realize-it dept

Continuing my series of posts on content being advertising, I wanted to look at the newspaper industry. This seems rather fitting, as the industry seems to be freaking out about a new report claiming the largest ad revenue plunge in the newspaper business in over fifty years. While there's some movement to online ad revenue, it's not making up the difference and there are signs that the online ad business is slowing as well (which is what kicked off this series of posts anyway). First off, though, it's worth pointing out, as Chris Anderson does that things aren't nearly as bad as they look. While there is a downturn, the industry is still making a ton of money, much more than even 20 years ago.

However, I did still want to take a look at how the newspaper business has struggled to deal with changing times in the context of the discussion of "advertising is content, content is advertising." The simple fact is that, for many years, newspapers acted as "advertising" for eyeballs. That is, the "news" content was there merely to bring in eyeballs in order to sell print ads and classified ads. So the news itself (the content) was advertising to get the attention of people who might then go on to look at the ads in the rest of the paper (or, ideally, place some ads themselves). When there were relatively few competing sources of news, this system worked. Readers were effectively a captive audience, who would come back day after day, and even put up with less than stellar news coverage and slightly annoying or unhelpful ads.

Unfortunately for newspapers (but fortunately for everyone else) that equation has changed drastically. That captive audience is gone, and with so many different options for news, simply reposting AP reports that everyone saw online yesterday, combined with weak local coverage just isn't that compelling. What happens is that the content isn't advertising anything worth looking at any more -- so people go elsewhere. Google gets them the relevant news and Craigslist handles the classifieds in a much more efficient (and cost efficient) manner. Newspapers, unfortunately, are still acting as if they have a captive audience. Many have done little to differentiate themselves or to provide content that matters to their select readers that distinguishes them from the same content that can be found elsewhere. In other words, they're missing out on that final key element of understanding this space: the advertising/content needs to be useful and valuable.

So how should newspapers adjust? Well, it's time to redefine what news is, and start providing useful information to communities of individuals who value that. That means not playing to the broadest possible audience, but enabling specific audiences to get very specific content that they want and value, which is more difficult for others to provide. And, as we were just discussing, that includes making that community a part of the process. Stop focusing on trying to sell ads and focus on ways to deliver useful and valuable information in a manner that a specific community can gain value out of it and then suddenly your content acts as effective "advertising" again, leading to business models that make sense.
Other posts in this series:

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Filed Under: advertising, content, newspapers

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  1. identicon
    Twinrova, 2 Apr 2008 @ 5:13am

    Wow! We agree on something!

    In this whole "content = ads" campaign, you and I generally seem to be missing the mark, but it's great to see THIS particular blog has finally enabled you to see my point all along.

    No matter what you say, Mike, no publisher (regardless of media type) will distinguish the difference between "content" and "advertising" and will ALWAYS introduce ways to separate out these venues, much like Techdirt does with its SIDEBAR ads, knowing that its content is ALSO advertising.

    Now that you finally see where I'm coming from, I can now focus on the true aspect of what it's going to take to get publishers to incorporate these two venues to such a degree that the consumer finds VALUE in this (by tolerating the ads to get the content).

    I'm 100% on board with your assessment that newspapers should focus on the community for its content. I also believe the ads should cover 100% of local services and retailers. But do you honestly believe newspapers are going to do this?

    I disagree with your assessment newspaper publishers believe they have a captive audience. They would be the first to confirm this is a dead venue for them. Their task is to offset the costs of preparing a print copy, not giving us "news" which is second on their list of priorities. Of course, they go hand-in-hand, but profits will always come first.

    This being said, newspapers need to quit producing print. This feature alone would yield an instant savings of revenue. Their content + ads should be expressly online. What about those who don't have internet connections? Well, chances are if they can't afford an internet connection, they most likely can't afford the $.75/day newspaper either, given it would be more expensive than an internet connection ($22/mo vs. a basic $9.99/mo).

    In addition, newspaper services should also begin working with local cellphone companies to begin offering news items via cell phone. Think RSS here. Send headlines and give the user the option to connect and read the story via their cell phone. Maybe .10 per story connection? Placing ads between "pages" on a cell phone would also be equivalent to placing pages between print, which would make the publishers very happy in retaining a similar model in print.

    News organizations also need to set up feeds via email, personal home pages on the news site, and other electronic venues.

    But the BIGGEST way a newspaper can really refocus is by purchasing a station on cable/satellite that's EXPRESSLY related to local news (national if it's a huge event, such as 9/11). Again, selling ads for content. Not sure if this crosses any cable company boundaries, but hell, it's a start in the change for the future.

    Now that we got newspapers out of the way, it's time you focus on the future of other media, Mike. This is where you often tell me that I don't get what you're saying (despite being an incorrect assessment).

    I'm not sure if you're really selling companies the ability to purchase your services to get the "secret" in merging the two venues, or if you're out to give the info in upcoming parts.

    In either case, I think it's apparent that the model you're thinking works in ALL venues of media, because ALL models of media use the same IDENTICAL format: Interrupt content with advertising, despite if they're both one in the same.

    Websites, television shows, radio, and newspaper all have the same formula and you definitely have me hooked on how you anticipate trying to get these media publishers to change their ways such that the consumer "buys" into it.

    I'd like to see how my future is going to roll out to determine if I'm going to tolerate the change, not be annoyed by it. In today's media market, there is much more advertising for content than ever before. Commercial breaks on television and radio are now longer than ever, and online media continues to find ways of offensive ad attacks to the consumer, TRYING to get them to focus on the ad.

    With television and radio, consumers have no choice. Instead, they've found ways to COMBAT the annoyance of ads via DVR recordings to fast forward commercials or using MP3 players in lieu of the radio, or channel surfing (all venues). Hell, even auto manufacturers have adapted by allowing owners to connect their portable devices to the standard radio.

    These changes, Mike, is something you need to focus on because people are getting tired of the DURATION of the ads, not the ads themselves. With so many options available to consumers now, it seems the real headline of these blogs should read "How to keep your revenues up by making ads less intrusive to your customers while delivering a product they want".

    Good luck with that. You're asking for what I believe is the impossible.

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