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.
There’s huge creative potential when brand advertisers and media owners choose to collaborate. It’s astonishing how scarcely it seems to happen, especially given just how memorable such collaborations have typically been.
Take the first episode of zombie thriller The Returned on Channel 4 earlier this year. The programme was aired in its original French, with English subtitles, a first for mainstream drama on television.
With a brilliant touch, the first commercial break was also in French with English subtitles, and included spots by French brands such as Renault, Boursin and L’Oreal.
Undoubtedly publishers were concerned about relinquishing control over their sites when they first started to work with third party ad networks.
Trailblazing ad networks convinced publishers of the benefits of outsourcing most of their ad sales by promising healthy revenues, operational cost savings and big brand advertisers.
Publishers have become so comfortable with working with third party ad providers that it’s now the norm, but when something becomes so normal, it loses what makes it unique, and consequently, its value.
For the most part ad formats are now 'standard', fitting industry agreed dimensions and functionalities. This has seen ads become commoditised.
As more publishers give their space over to standard ads, the amount of inventory available to advertisers through third parties has increased massively, and the value of each ad placement has plummeted.