Adjusted for inflation, the US newspaper industry is now generating roughly the same level of print ad revenue as it was in the 1950s.

The main difference is that back then they were on an upwards trajectory which lasted until the year 2000, when US newspapers’ ad revenue reached $60bn.

Since then, the mass adoption of the internet has seen digital advertising increasingly eat into print ad revenue. You’d be forgiven for thinking that advertising on newspapers’ websites would form a significant part of the overall digital ad spend, what with their high-quality content, pre-existing relationships with agencies and brands, and their well-established audience.

Yet only a small fraction of digital ad spend is going to newspaper publishers’ digital sites and despite US newspapers’ print ad sales more than halving to $19.5bn in 2012 since 2000, according to the Newspaper Association of America, their digital ad sales have only reached $3.4bn.

Part of the problem is that ads on newspaper sites just aren’t as effective as those of the world’s best known sites, like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

While many newspapers’ digital sites are still running standard ad formats, or worse, ads which annoy the consumer and intrude on their content browsing experience, many social media sites have instead deployed native formats, which sit within the digital content, and match the look and feel of the site. 

In 2001, before mass adoption of the internet, the entire US newspaper industry generated around $44.4bn.

In 2012 this figure had fallen to $22.9bn, the year Google announced ad revenue of $43.7bn globally. The newspaper industry’s loss has been very much the internet’s gain. Google’s ascent to taking the biggest advertising share in the world isn’t only interesting for what they have achieved, but how they’ve gone about it.

Google launched the Adwords format in 2000, and have more or less kept it the same since then, although a larger format for brand searches is currently in testing in the US.

Google’s ads are positioned in consumers’ line of sight, are clearly labelled, are limited in number on the page, and follow the look and feel of the native search content around it.

Google Screenshot

Compare this approach with the digital sites of many print publishers, who are handing over ever increasing amounts of space on their sites to advertising in an attempt to chase sustainable revenue as CPMs decline.

To make up for this decline, they are also increasing the number of ads on their sites, and serving larger or more interruptive formats.

This has an impact on the user experience by complicating consumers’ content browsing with ad clutter that distracts and detracts from the editorial experience. This can potentially damage the publisher’s own brand. 

Metro Interruptive Ads

Print publishers have a lot to learn from successful social media companies. Services like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr all use native ad formats on their sites.

They understand the strength of their brand, the importance of ads being in-stream, and the need for ads to fit the aesthetic of the page.

One of the latest kinds of native social media ads is from Faceboo , whereby users are shown an in-stream ad via which they can download an app. The ads match the typeface, colour of font, and aesthetic styling of the content on users’ Facebook walls.

Facebook In-stream

Twitter enables brands to reach consumers via Promoted Tweets which, as with Facebook ads, are delivered to consumers in-stream, in a manner which matches the form and feel of Twitter’s social media content.

Promoted Tweet 

Tumblr has only recently deployed ads. The native format they adopted fits with the affinity consumers feel for Tumblr, offering high quality images, delivered in-stream, and Tumblr have continued to develop native formats.

It announced in December that 2014 will see the deployment of Sponsored Trending Blog mobile ad placements, enabling brands to appear natively in Tumblr’s top trending posts, and to link interested users to the brand’s own Tumblr account.

Through the ads, consumers can access content from brands which fits the high quality environment which draws so many users to Tumblr’s website.

BMW Tumblr

Print and digital advertising are different mediums. Pity the publishers who won’t accept that fact. Newspaper and magazine publishers looking for a long-term strategy to monetise their digital sites must look to what the most successful US tech giants have done with their ads.

For publishers to engage online consumers and generate digital ad revenue, the ads they deploy must be transparently labelled as ads, be viewable to users browsing the content they came to enjoy, and natively match the aesthetic of their digital environment.

Guy Cookson

Published 9 January, 2014 by Guy Cookson

Guy Cookson is CMO and co-founder at Respond and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn or Google Plus

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Comments (2)


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

Really interesting article Guy. It's definitely a route many sites that rely on Display ad spend will need to capitalise on however given even Facebook are still struggling to get it right (how do you make enough money from this type of advertising without alienating your users), surely it isn't going to be quite as simple as Newspapers might hope?

Looking at the NY Times and the redesign they have made in the interest of introducing Native advertising, I struggle to see how they will drive enough of a response from their current formats to persuade advertisers to give away substantial amounts of their media spend. I guess only time will tell...

over 4 years ago


Guy Cookson

Thanks for the comment Matt.

I think you're absolutely right - the challenge is striking the right balance between monetisation and user experience. I would argue, however, that in-stream ads of the kind used by Twitter and Facebook (to date) are far less intrusive and annoying than the big interruptive formats used by many traditional publishers.

The difference between native and standard is that native tries to capture your attention by blending in with the broader design of the site, which from a purely aesthetic perspective is, in my opinion, far preferable to advertising that competes with the content and tries to steal attention with distracting graphics or even by blocking the content entirely.

In terms of the NY Times redesign the key will be ensuring the ads are not only designed to fit in with site, and relevant to the audience, but that they are also discoverable. One way we do this at Respond is by serving in-content and in-stream placements that are contextually matched to relevant editorial, rather than relying on users to discover the native content.

A final thought is that most publishers are just scratching the surface of native. It doesn't have to be just text and images in a traditional article format. Native can deliver all the web has to offer - especially post-click or tap - right there in-page.

The results we're seeing is that the combination of in-content ad placements, where eye-tracking shows people focus, and then in-page beautiful brand experiences, when users click or tap the ad is really effective, especially when these ads are responsive and can be delivered to any device, and have powerful targeting to ensure the ads are shown in the right environment.

It's going to be really interesting to see how things develop this year.

over 4 years ago

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