Expanding Options for Digital Advertising

Jul 03, 2014

I have a bone to pick with the print media. Last month, I was rather unfortunately tasked with finding out how much it would cost to run an obituary in the print version of the New York Times. My father passed away, and given that he was such an avid reader of the New York Times, my mother, brother, and I thought it would be appropriate to honor his memory through one of his favorite pastimes: the newspaper.

When I called the New York Times advertising department (they consider a paid obituary an ad) to inquire about cost, I was absolutely floored. The editor very nicely told me that the first 4 lines of a paid obituary cost about $250, and every line beyond that cost $52. The obituary my family and I wrote up clocked in around 200 words. Not too much, right? Well, in newspaper ad land, you can assume that each "line" would run around 30 characters, give or take. Divided that way, we had about 30 lines of text. So it would have cost my family around $1,600 to run an obituary in my father's favorite paper.

After I tallied the final cost of a printed obituary, I investigated how much it would cost to post it on the New York Times website. Again, I was floored, but for a very different reason. An online obituary post, which included up to 500 words of text, a photo, and a guest book where unlimited entries can be submitted, cost only $79.

How is that even possible?

The fact that an obituary was even categorized as a paid advertisement seems ludicrous to me, but the whole situation really made me wonder about the state of print media and advertising revenue. How exactly is print advertising fairing in the digital world?

I did a little research, and Advertising Age says, "Consumer magazines' digital ad revenue is projected to climb 22.4% to $3.9 billion this year and reach $7.6 billion by 2018. But print advertising, which continues to attract the bulk of ad revenue, is expected to decline 4% to $12.8 billion this year, the report found. It is expected to hit $9.3 billion by 2018." Shouldn't the rise in digital ad revenue even everything out?

According to the New York Times (I know, ironic), the answer is "NO!" As Ravi Somaiya wrote in April 2014, "Along with the rest of the newspaper industry, The Times has struggled with declines in print circulation and an even steeper drop in high-margin print advertising. Increases in digital circulation and advertising have partly offset those drops, but the profit margins in digital are substantially lower than they are for print."

Let's look at some subscription stats for the New York Times as an example. A New York Times print subscription, which includes daily paper delivery and digital access, costs $6.65 per week. That's about $345 a year. A digital subscription costs $0.99 for your first four weeks and $8.75 every week thereafter. That's about $345 a year. And these are just the two most basic plans. There are at least three to four digital options that you can customize to your own needs, such as having a digital subscription to the Times' Top Stories or just its opinion pieces.

Now if publishers like the New York Times can offer such a variety of digital options for consumers to choose from, why can't they give advertisers more options when placing a digital ad to reach those consumers? Giving people choices works. And if print subscriptions have decreased, wouldn't it make more sense for media companies to focus on creating more dynamic digital ad options for customers looking to advertise?

For example, when you go to the New York Times self-serve advertising page, you have three paths to choose from: newspaper, magazine, and online. Clicking on digital brings you to different advertising options, all of which every online consumer is already familiar (and most likely sick of), from half page adds that glide down your screen with you as you scroll, to pop up videos that make you wait 5 seconds before continuing to your content. The experience for consumers and advertisers alike is stagnant. 

If media companies are looking for a way to increase digital ad revenue, they need to continue focusing on how to make advertising online a sought after medium once again, and not just a standard part of advertising. At the very least, advertisers need to have the option to advertise across multiple channels, not just newspaper, online, or magazine. Mobile options should be standard.

As Erik J. Martin notes in his EContent article, "omnichannel marketing provides digital content providers a unique opportunity to create personalized, rich campaign materials to help brands grow and reach broader audiences across myriad channels." Would expanding digital advertising options and packages for advertisers result in more income for media companies? Maybe. After all, the New York Times reported digital subscription revenue increased 13.6% from a year ago, to about $40 million, while its print base declined. More people spending time online means more opportunities for advertisers to catch a consumer's attention-and more competition. That's one hell of a motive. Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure your digital ad offerings stand out and command top dollar.