Paid advertising success is always on the move. It often feels like herding kittens. You can see the possibilities. But the knowledge that revenue is possible doesn’t make it any easier (or less pointy) to catch. The newspaper industry is changing, sometimes in chaotic ways. That’s not exactly a secret. So perhaps it’s time to let go of what’s clearly not working and shift focus again.
One of the great things about time is the perspective that it brings. Few newspapers nailed ad revenue no matter how hard they tried. Most still don’t. It’s a very different model from legacy print media. But from those humble beginnings, there’s a lot to learn.
Digital did arrive and grow. Just not as expected, at least not in the revenue department. Print, on the other hand, isn’t ready to give up just yet. And it’s a good thing, considering how much revenue it still generates. What’s happening now isn’t the crowning of a new king. It’s just the next frontier of revenue.
Reports of the Paid Ad’s Death are Grossly Exaggerated
Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “The reports of my death are grossly exaggerated.” And it seems that the quote has been exaggerated over time, too. Just like the reports on the death of print. And just like the reports of paid ads. Folks have speculated about the death of print for so long, it’s becoming a bit morbid. And now it’s paid advertising’s turn at the rumor mill.
It’s a logical leap. Certainly, paid ad revenue is more and more difficult to harness. It’s on the decline. Digital paid ads are met with ad blocking software. And publishers, in turn, experiment with workarounds to boost advertising revenue. Some of them work.
The Hutchinson News, of Hutchinson, KS, picked up print circulation and ad revenue in response to the community. Previously published Monday through Saturday, readers wanted a Sunday edition, too. The paper opted for a “4-page cover section,” says Editor and Publisher, “in which they would provide news content and sell advertising.” Sunday print delivery is up 6 percent over last year, and the paper has increased both ad and circulation revenue.
The Record-Journal in Meriden, CN, is another ad revenue success. But they took a digital approach. They focused on social media for audience growth by posting frequently to draw in readers. Then they used banner ads, and eventually shifted to programmatic advertising and “increased content revenue.” They called it Revolution 2015, and they’re working to build on the early successes.
Paid Advertising is an Interesting and Surprising Mix
The challenge and the promise of paid advertising are the wide range of possibilities. Naturally, the first attempts at digital ad revenue were recycled versions of print ads, just dressed up for the Internet.
Static and banner ads took their inspiration from print. And for all of the ad-blocking software that eliminates them, they do still generate some revenue. But there’s so much more that publishers can do. Native ads show a lot of promise. Readers expect valuable content, not flashy ads. With native, they get what they want and so do you.
Paid advertising can also come in the form of job ads. They’re not limited to a back-end classified section anymore. The influx of programmatic advertising makes the job board more consistently efficient for advertisers and profitable for publishers.
Experimentation has led the last decade, and now we’re beginning to settle into a better idea of what works. New revenue streams are vital as more traditional veins of paid ads dwindle. It’s a losing battle. Users don’t like them. Fortunately, the digital age is the opposite of limiting. The key is finding what users do respond to and growing out from there.
Digital, Meet Print; Print, Meet Digital
Print and digital have postured like two cowboys in an old movie. Print is the old hand and digital is the upstart. And perhaps because of this inherent competition, one very important point has fallen through the cracks: they can work together.
Paid advertising in print might be on the decline, but it’s still strong. Not as strong as it once was, but must stronger than anyone would have guessed five years ago. And for now, the Newspaper Association of America says it’s stronger than digital. Digital, on the other hand, is growing but still can’t compare with print.
Instead of pitting print against digital in what once seemed like an easy defeat, some publishers are having success with a combined approach. Print is the “most effective newsbrand platform for brand building,” according to a Newsworks Multi-Platform Study. And because digital is growing, the combination of print and digital produces a “3.4 times multiplier effect on brand health measures.”
An integrated approach works better than either platform alone. “Cross pollination,” says Chris Holloway of JeffBullas.com, can take a few different approaches.
- Print ads with scannable QR codes that create a bridge to the publisher’s website
- Variable printing that switches up print ads for print copies that are personalized to the reader
- CTAs in print that drive readers to digital
- Print jobs ads that tie in with the digital job board. The NYT still has success with print classifieds.
Revenue is a continual struggle to find something that works. Back in the old frontier, there weren’t a lot of choices. Now, choices are everywhere and they still include advertising.
Ads aren’t necessarily dying, no matter how unsettling the numbers become. They’re merely changing. Maybe a digital ad campaign fell flat. It’s happened to everyone. And it doesn’t mean the platform doesn’t work. By changing perspective, you can perfect what everyone wants. And that’s a quality newspaper that’s profitable enough to keep it that way.
If you’re still trying to find that magic paid ad revenue combination, you’re in the right place.