Friday, January 16, 2009

Cross-platform advertising model

A major metro newsroom these days produces far more than a newspaper. My employer, for example, publishes three magazines, more than 100 blogs and a Web site that offers a large number of pages devoted to relatively narrow reader interests. (From neighborhood happenings to sports teams to specific forms of entertainment.)

The trick is to leverage that diversity of outlets on the advertising side, maximizing revenue potential. Now, I don't believe that advertising will continue to carry the lion's share of the weight when it comes to media revenue in the future. (See my previous post about instituting a pay model, and subsequent ones are in the works on other revenue sources.) But advertising will be -- and needs to be -- part of the business-model solution.

What we need to do is become much more sophisticated about our outlets, and the demographic/ethnographic profile of our customers who frequent each. Offer advertisers what they want -- an opportunity to make their sales pitches to specific slices of the reading/viewing/listening audience. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, we increasingly have to offer a la carte solutions to advertisers.

So, for example, an advertiser might have specific income, gender, geographic or other criteria in mind for its target market. "I run a fly fishing shop and I'd like to reach men over the age of 35 who make more than $75,000 a year and like to spend time in the outdoors." We could work with that shop owner to identify the eight platforms we provide that cater to that audience, and price the shop's advertising accordingly. Those eight places might include a weekly outdoors column that runs in the sports page, of course. But it would also include the outdoors blog, hiking blog and fishing blog we write and the news Web site we maintain for that shop's neighborhood. And probably a section in one of our monthly magazines that caters to that demographic.

Slice the newspaper and magazines into narrow pieces, and do the marketing research required to know who reads each section/column/feature. Use that information, along with the dozens of blogs and news pages online, to offer advertisers exactly what they want in terms of audience. To do that of course, we first have to understand our audience very well.

This isn't rocket science, of course. It's just one more thing we need to consider as we remake this old-school industry.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The future ain't free

David is right, for better or worse. (It's better, I think.) Even at the regional news outlets like mine, we'll eventually have to move toward a partial-pay model of some sort. It wouldn't surprise me if we eventually have at least four levels of news access:

1. Some base-level content remains free and available to anyone online, at least partially as a marketing tool designed to drive readers to the pay products
2. Full or "premium" subscribers receive access to everything in print and online
3. An online-only subscription available for people who do not want the dead-tree product on their porch
4. An a la carte option for one-time users or people for whom the free news is generally enough

This kind of a structure, combined with some advertising, could start to resemble a business model. Someday.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ads on the front page?!? The horror... The horror...

Okay, the sky has officially fallen. Or the old gray lady has hit the deck, anyway. The New York Times published its first across-the-bottom front page ad this morning.

Everything in my journalism DNA wants to scream out against this incursion of consumerism on sacred news space. For years, I quietly cheered editors at my paper and elsewhere who bragged about fending off money-grubbing advertising managers who came begging each year for the chance to sell ads on section fronts. But now, with everybody hemoraging cash, the money grubbers are increasingly winning those fights.

And you know what? It's not the end of the world.

Print is increasingly our secondary product, anyway. Another ad, no matter where it appears, is not the enemy. A general lack of advertising will be our undoing, if anything.

The thing to be careful about is that we get additional revenue by taking the plunge. It seems like a no-brainer, but the situation might be more complicated than it appears.

In a recession, there's a chance that if we open new space on the front, some existing advertisers will merely move from the inside to a better position. Incremental revenue gains might be small -- or nonexistent -- as we struggle to keep the big advertisers we have now in the fold.

In that case, we've given away a valuable piece of property and gained little in return. So it's the business-side guys, rather than the editors, who will need to know when to say "no" in the months ahead. Because we all know, in the wake of the Times' decision, pressure will be on everybody else to start offering the same perks before long.