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The New York Times, desperate to earn some money in these dire times for media sites, is experimenting with advertising online and seeing some positive results.
Unwilling, or perhaps unable to wait for advertisers to start pouring money into the web, The Times is using its own creative team — and its brand — to make itself more attractive to advertisers.
"'Homepage takeovers,' as they are known in industry parlance, are common in digital publishing. What was unusual about the Intel spot was that it was designed in part by the Times' ad sales team and used the 158-year-old newspaper's own brand in the actual marketing message."
Nytimes.com has been involved in all sorts of experimentation of late. Apple ads have taken over the homepage numerous times in recent months, while the company has dedicated an ad unit for the AMC series Mad Men that includes a mini-archive of Times articles about the show.
Lending its brand and impressive credibility to advertisers appears to be working. While users do not usually like advertising that interrupts them from reading what they have clicked to see, they have been done in a smart and engaging manner so far. The Apple ad above, for instance, shows Apple anti-spokesman John Hodgman crawling around the outside of the website's news info.
The online advertising at The Times is working overtime because the company has been bleeding income in a dire way. With the massive overhead of international staff and their $600 million Renzo Piano designed headquarters in Manhattan, the newspaper is struggling to stay afloat. The New York Times Company reported net income of only $21.1 million in the second quarter of 2008, which is down from $118.4 million in the year prior.
But that's not because of the website. Internet revenue at the company rose 12.8 percent in the same period to $91.3 million, and online advertising rose 18.3 percent, to $80.8 million. That is about 2% more of the company's revenue than the year prior. But they need to keep those numbers climbing. Hence the experimentation.
The main inhibitor to that is The Times' incredibly high profile. As Times columnist David Carr told New York magazine in Janyary:
“This notion of ‘Let’s give it a whirl’—that’s not how we act in our analog iteration. In our digital iteration, there’s a willingness to make big bets and shoot them down if they don’t work. And yet it’s all very deadly serious. Other print websites can innovate because nobody’s watching. Here, everybody’s watching.”
But it appears to be working. New York writer Emily Nussbaum went on to say that Nytimes.com might be "the only happy story in journalism." The paper's in-house digital and research lab has been churning out new products and services, from a sleek new iPhone app to their innovative article skimmer and these new ad units.
In addition to the homepage takeovers, the website has recently started offering advertisers "permalinks" (permanent pages on the site that will always place the marketer's message embedded next to articles) and is focusing on brand parnerships "that seek to create broad awareness of their products."
Nytimes.com was the fifth most popular newssite on the web in October, with an impressive 20 million unique users for the month. The print product, meanwhile, is sold daily to a million readers a day and that number decreases every day. While the website is profitable, estimates suggest that a Web-driven product could support only 20 percent of the current staff.
Though the Times still has a lot to figure out to stay afloat, its success online could be heartening to web publishers. And it looks like larger ad units are going to be seen more often. To encourage brands to spend more money online, The Online Publishers Association recently released a new set of advertising units, including banner ads that expand to temporarily cover the entire screen.
Speaking of the takeover ads and the permanent placements on the site, New York Times VP of R&D Michael Zimbalist tells Forbes: "We have to give advertisers an opportunity to market through the content, not just around it."