The Web to Print’s Rescue? Why the Internet Could Save Newspapers, Not Kill Them

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Newspapers and magazines are finally beginning to use online processes to sell advertising in the print version of their publications.

For Adotas readers immersed in the digital world, this may not seem like a big step. But for the print industry, which has traditionally had difficulty adapting online technology to benefit their print publications, using Internet-based marketplaces to sell ad space is revolutionary.

To understand why, first think of how print ads have been traditionally sold. Print publications have essentially used the same tactics for the last 100 years: hire a bunch of salespeople, assign them to territories (usually geographic), give them a motivational speech and send them out to sell.

This method of sales is labor intensive and expensive for publications, but it works. Last year, local newspapers alone sold $25.1 billion worth of ads, or more than double all of the ad expenditures made on the Internet. And if you factor in national newspapers and magazines, the total print expenditures in 2005 were more than $50 billion (according to TNS Media Intelligence).

The problem, however, is that ad expenditures in local newspapers grew at a sluggish 1.1% in 2005. The well publicized decline in readership, as well as increased competition and the loss of revenue in traditionally strong advertising sectors, such as automotive, real estate and help wanted, have a lot to do with it.

Although successful, one problem with the traditional sales method is that it creates enormous difficulties for buyers. Gathering ad rates requires talking to, and very often meeting with, ad reps from publications. Comparing rates requires an enormous amount of patience and time because publication rate cards are complex, in many cases offering different rates for different types of businesses, sections and days.

Publications’ murky discount scenarios also frustrate advertisers. Discounts are given based on frequency but are routinely given by many publications in an effort to stimulate sales. Unfortunately, this method of applying discounts often rewards advertisers who deserve it the least.

The end result is that many print ad buyers make purchases without a high level of confidence. Are advertisers getting a good price? Are they advertising in the right place? Are there other more appropriate print opportunities available? The current system does little to help answer these questions.

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