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Differences Between Online and Print Advertising
Ed Kohler
I've written recent posts explaining how newspapers hurt themselves when they lock their paper's online archives. It limits the traffic and thus revenue generated by their site, and limits the exposure and influence of their columnists. This post looks at how web advertising varies from traditional print advertising, which makes public archives more valuable their their offline alternatives.

Newspapers sitting on decades of archived articles have been stuck with one viable option for monetizing their archives in the offline world: charging for reprints. However, the online world disconnects the delivery of ads from content making new business models viable such as free and open content since it can be monetized through current and relevant advertising.

Differences Between Online and Print Advertising

Both print and online newspapers publish advertising alongside their content, but there are some significant differences in how the ads are sold and delivered.

Ad Difference
Demographic Targeting
Language Specific Targeting
Ads Grow Stale
Ongoing Revenue

I think the biggest difference between online and offline advertising is encapsulated in the last difference listed in the table: Ongoing Revenue. While print advertising involves selling squares on paper, online advertising collects revenue generated by ad impressions, clicks, or sales generated by web pages over time.

This is a VERY significant difference. Online advertising allows publishers to create content once, then generate revenue from that content forever. How does this work?

1. Online ads don't grow stale. Ads and articles are stored and served separately, so ads can be updated independently from the content. This allows for current ads to be served on archived content. For example, current and relevant ads could be served next to the New York Times reporting from July 21, 1969.

2. Online ads are more geotargeted than offline ads. Sure, newspapers create different editions for different markets, but can they create different editions for every major city in the world? In the online world, ads can be served up based on a reader's location, so people reading a New York newspaper will see ads relevant to them whether they live in Omaha, Odessa, or Osaka.

3. Online ads can be language targeted. How many language versions does the New York Times publish? One. How many languages can their online ads be served in? Unlimited. Online ads can be served in the native language of the reader, allowing once again for much more targeted advertising. The reader may speak English or use a translation service to read an English newspaper, but if the ads are in their native language, they'll find them more valuable.

4. Online ads can be more content specific. Ad programs like Google AdSense look at the content of individual web pages, then serve ads on the fly that are relevant to that content. This makes it possible to serve very relevant ads. Perhaps more relevant than would appear on a printed page alongside many disparate stories.

#1 is the real key difference, but #'s 2-4 contribute to newspaper's ability to maximize revenues from archives by serving ads relevant to their readers.

Which newspapers understand this concept today?

Do you think newspapers are better off using subscription or pay-per-reprint models in the online world? If so, Why?


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1. Posted by: Bill Kelm on April 18, 2006 7:08 AM:

Ed, I know you are talking mainly about newspapers here, but when it come to the industrial buyer's guide that I was contracted to for 20 yeas, they had some big print advertising advantages up till 1995.

The print directory was hard bound at that time and the 30 plus volumes of books were passed on from dept. to dept. and company to company for up to 10 plus years.

So, since most of the ads were "generic" and not too specific in nature the advertisers got many years of benefits and most of the ad copy didn't "grow stale".

The directory was set up by state first, then town second so the ads were placed close to the geographic listings of the advertisers.

Language was never a problem since most purchasing agents and engineers in the world spoke Engish as a second language.

The ads could be "content specific" because there were over 75,000 different "headings" that could have specific, "contextual" ad copy customized for that heading.

The publication will be printing the LAST PRINT EDITION this year, and they are struggling in converting their former print ad revenue to online revenue, as well as struggling with many new competitors now, as opposed to almost a monopoly situation before 1995.

2. Posted by: Ed Kohler on April 18, 2006 10:24 AM:

Bill, the longevity of those publications probably make them a great advertising channel. But, the longevity works against the publisher, unless they can convince the advertiser that they're buying 10+ years of exposure to their target market.

Online ad revenues in most cases today are not consistent with offline revenues since many businesses are still devoting only a small fraction of their marketing budget to online channels.

3. Posted by: Matt Terenzio on April 19, 2006 8:05 PM:

Ed, I've been trying to get this through to the newspaper folks I work with. We freely publish our content but it stays live for only two weeks.
Rule number one of the web: Don't break links.
I have no science to back it up but I'm guessing our monthly traffic would be triple what it is now if we left stories up indefinitely.
Seems like a no brainer.
On the other hand, we still have plenty of inventory as it is, so the incremental revenue would have to come from the text ad networks.
That would be substantial, in itself.

4. Posted by: Bill Kelm on April 21, 2006 7:52 AM:

Ed, you are right when you say "Online ad revenues in most cases today are not consistent with offline revenues..." This is why the revenues of my former publisher continue to go down (a lot) from the print publications's "hay day".

Normally, you would also be right about "the longevity works against the publisher, unless they can convince the advertiser that they're buying 10+ years of exposure to their target market." But what I did not tell you is that this publication had about a 95% share of market (almost a monopoly), and the advertisers knew that many companies did not buy a new set of books every year (the bigger companies did). So, If they wanted to "stay in front of" their WHOLE audience of buyers, they had to advertise each and every year. The advertising "straight renewal" rate (for dollars) used to be over 90% in many years.

It way a very unusual situation (almost a "dinasour") that had to end sooner or later. I knew this truth a year after I contracted with that publishing company in 1984. Luckily, it lasted until 1995-6 when the Internet version was published.

5. Posted by: Ed Kohler on April 21, 2006 11:50 AM:

That definitely does sound like an exception, Bill. I think the case for longevity of ads would be relatively easy to make in that situation compared to a newspaper attempting to justify higher ad costs based on 10 years of ad exposure. It's such a different medium.

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