We're ashamed to admit we were actually a proponent of this sort of advertising - though on websites - way back in 1996. We're talking about shadow ads. Shadow ads are lightly visible images imprinted, or watermarked, on editorial pages of newspapers. While some papers have run the unit for quite some time, mostly over stock quote pages and movie listing, insert giant Valassis caused heightened interest recently when it contacted several newspapers to discuss the ad unit and explore the level of its acceptance among publishers. While publishers debate acceptance, the bigger question raised by this ad unit is the potential damage forced ad viewing will have on editorial credibility and how any change in that credibility will change viewership or readership.
Write Nice Things Or Else
It seems BP (more accurately BP's agency MindShare who crafted BP's stringent "zero-tolerance policy") and Morgan Stanley have everybody's panties in a bunch over their recently publicized ad policies stipulating their right to pull ad schedules based on disagreeable editorial content. Ad Age has skewered the announcements, writing, "Shame on BP. And shame on Morgan Stanley and General Motors and any other advertisers involved in assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with."
We're none too pleased either. But, for all the reaction these announcements have received, there's nothing all that new. Policies such as these have been around forever. They've just never brazenly been made public. And that's the issue.
Speaking at the two day "Syndicate: Content Syndication Trends" conference Tuesday at the New York Marriott Marquis, New York Times SVP of Digital Operations Martin Nisenholtz defended the company's decision to partially charge for access to the paper's online content. Of interest to Bloggers, an important distribution network the any company's online content, Nisenholtz said the Times was considering a revenue share arrangement that would allow bloggers access to the content behind the $49, 95 annual barrier.
Reacting to the many negative comments from audience members during the Q & A, Nisenholtz responded, "People think nothing of ordering a $25 martini at the hotel bar but pay fifty bucks for archived material at the Times? Oh my God!" He also told the audience he does not think all content should be free even though it might take the paper's columnists out of the many "conversations" that occur once bloggers start linking to content.
The New York Times has made the speculation official announcing it will charge for some of its online content. A new product, called TimesSelect, will place many of the paper's columnist behind a $49.95 per year wall yet subscribers to the physical paper will be able to access all online content for free. Reportedly, general news will continue to remain free for all. The fee also grants access to the paper's archives which currently date back to 1980 and will ultimately offer content back to 1851. New York Times SVP of Digital Operations Martin Nisenholtz hopes the move will add an additional revenue stream for the company without cannibalizing current levels of ad revenue.
After a Wal-mart funded ad with an image showing a 1933 Nazi book burning accompanied by the headline, Should we let government tell us what we can read?" appeared in the May 8 issue of the Arizona Daily Sun, complaints began to flood in and now Wal-mart is apologizing profusely. The ad states Wal-mart's position against a ballot proposal that would prohibit its expanding a store in the Flagstaff area to include a grocery store.
Wal-mart Director of Community Affairs Daphne Moore said the ad was "reviewed and approved by Wal-Mart, but we did not know what the photo was from. We obviously should have asked more questions." Well, yes. People get all uppity about this stuff don'tcha know?
RSS? What's That About?
As newspapers flail about for survival, many are placing more emphasis on their online properties as the LA Times has just done with a reworking of its website. The new site has a wider layout as practically no one lives within the constraints of 800 X 600 screen size any longer, better access to service features, more access points on the homepage and a "most emailed story" feature. But, as if responding to a defining, "Hello, is anyone home?", the site still does not supply RSS feeds. Granted, everyone doesn't consume media through an RSS reader but the ones that do are the ones that can dramatically influence traffic, hence, salable page views for the paper.
Assuming the LA Times wants its site read, one might assume it would employ all methods at their disposal to drive traffic to the site. RSS is an extremely simple method of attracting readership or, at least, providing content in a format that an increasing number of readers prefer. It's inexcusable that any online news site not provide RSS feeds.
Disguised as an editorial employment article in the Toronto Star, Kellog is promoting its All-Bran cereal with William Shatner, under the headline, "Baker, Underhill, Tilly and Taylor - Appointment Notice" and the copy "Bob Baker, President and Chief Bean Counter of Baker Underhill, Tilly and Taylor Chartered Accountants is pleased to announce the appointment of William Shatner as Receptionist and Managing Director of Making Fibre (this is Canada, remember) your friend." It goes on in the usual, droll announcement-like tone explaining how Shatner will increase awareness at the firm about the benefits of fiber and how Kellog products will playa part in that effort. Inkygirl took a picture of the ad so you can read the entire copy.
Receiving increased attention, yet created six months ago by The Pointer Institute Fellows Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson, a film, called EPIC, looks forward to the world of 2014 in which Google controls most everything and the New York Times is relegated to a "print only newsletter for the elite and the elderly." While certainly a plausible future, it's not as rosy as it might seem with the film concluding most content will be useless, trivial, unsubstantiated conjecture. Here is a transcript of the film.
Recently GM pulled its advertising from the LA Times over some allegedly inaccurate editorial. Writing on GM's FastLane weblog, Communications VP Gary Grates addresses the action saying the company is working with the newspaper to explore the situation and praises the Times for its cooperation. But, he will reserve final comment on the issues until the Times has had a chance to tell its side of the story.
While the company might consider revising this number downward following GM's advertising exodus, the LA Time said, yesterday, it will launch a $10 million to boost its ailing circulation. The campaign, pointless in the face of steadily increased online newspaper readership, will include direct marketing, television, radio and, smartly, online. The paper's circ is down 5.6 percent and, rather than look to new areas for growth, the paper blamed recent telemarketing limitations for the decline. Perhaps we should just spell it out for the LA Times and for all other newspapers engaging in this losing battle:
NO ONE READS PRINTED NEWSPAPERS ANYMORE!
OK, so a few still do but wouldn't it make more sense for a company to embrace a growing medium as opposed to a declining one? That said, newspapers don't have to say goodbye to paper forever but they should concentrate on a business model with more promise such as custom published versions of the paper, based on a reader's interests, delivered online but, if desired, printable by the individual for those moments when it's not so cool to bring a laptop into the bathroom. Additionally, 70 percent of a newspaper's content is, likely, of no interest to an individual reader. It's senseless waste of time and effort to produce content no one will consume. Newspaper publishers should set their sights on delivering products where 100 percent of the content is of interest to the reader. Yes, much easier said that done but so was the notion of human flight.