September 09, 2013

How well can newspapers make the transition to digital advertising?

Publishers of major newspapers and magazines claim they're not worried about online ad-blocking.

First, I call BS on this.

The publishers who say this are probably whistling in the dark of denial. Then the PR puff writer claims those who engage in ad-blocking are just a niche demographic, while stating publishers are worried more about do-not-track people, as if they're different from ad-block people!

And, if you believe that, I have some beachfront property in Wyoming to sell you.

Should they be worried?

Uhh, I'd say yes. This is part of why, though by no means all of why, digital ad rates continue to go down. More people block them. And, no, not just "niche demographics." There's plenty of moms and dads, and probably a few grannies, among the blockers. There's also probably at least a few moms and dads among the do-not-trackers, which means you digital ad folks can't grab demographics on us to target us.

(Sidebar: You want my information? Pay me. Period. End of story.)

But, it's not just me that says those publishers definitely should be worrying.

At Salon, Andrew Leonard says absolutely. And, contra the digital publishing website, he gets the squeals of protest, primarily over blocking tracking cookies, while noting it's squarely tied to Adblock Plus:
(F)or the (Interactive Advertising Bureau), Mozilla’s support of the Adblock Plus browser extension isn’t the biggest gripe. Web filters that quash pop-up ads are a minor irritation compared to the threat posed by Mozilla’s plan, announced earlier this spring, to release a version of Firefox that automatically blocked all cookies placed by third parties onto the computers of browser users.
What has web advertisers squawking more is Adblock-Plus' Acceptable Ads program. An advertiser can pay to be "whitelisted." Digital advertisers call it extortion.

Well, there's plan B, of course. They can try to find more offensive ways around Adblock-Plus, while AP can then increase its technology. Lather.Rinse.Repeat.

To me, it's like a private business had a cellphone version of the Federal Trade Commission's do not call list, but as a blocker, not just a list on paper. And, if you weren't too spammy of a telemarketing agency, you could decide to pay to get off the list, if you  thought Callblock-Plus would accept you.

The degree to which digital advertisers squawk indicates to me how weak their position is.

And, yes, I'm in the newspaper business. Before that, though, I was in the business of a human being. And, I still am, and always will be. And, before certain liberals invented the phrase contra the Bush Administration, I was part of being reality-based, and try to ground myself ever more in there all the time. So, while I don't run a big seven-day daily paper, and surely have a smaller percentage of people reading online here than at a big daily, I have to be honest and say, this is the real world, and the percentage of online readers using Adblock-Plus, or a similar program, and using Ghostery, or a similar program to block tracking cookies, is only going to go up.

Pretending this won't happen is the same mentality of 15, or even just 10, years ago, that said, the Internet is nothing to be afraid of. We saw how that happened.

Or the paywalls issue. Yes, 2013 has been touted as the "year of the paywall." But many publishers still haven't gone that route, and tout the recent reversals of the San Francisco Chronicle (horrible original idea) and the Dallas Morning News (simply dumb reversal, in my book) as reasons to hold out. Let's see how long that lasts, if you're a major daily, especially as those digital dimes become replaced by mobile nickels.

Speaking of? The fact that you can't get an Adblock app with i-Products from Apple? Yet another reason to use Android stuff, should I ever go over to the dark side of "mobile devices." And I'm sure others are thinking the same way. That will keep the mobile nickels at nickel level.

Personally, my next hope is that Adblock-Plus invents something similar for Twitter. That would take Twitter somehow segregating commercial and noncommercial Twitter feeds, which I'm sure it will never do. 

Meanwhile, the effects of "programmatic" advertising, that is, digitally controlled ad orders, are ramping up. A Dutch paper is making its sales staff compete against programmatic buying. I'm sure this is headed to the US soon enough.

Oh, this one will help, a bit at least, newspapers' bottom lines, rather than the heads-in-the-sand stance on ad-blocking. But, it's going to mean layoffs of salespeople at newspapers. As the story notes, they can't compete against programmatic buying. Simply can't, not overall. Sure, you can have them put together packages. But that's primarily for local advertisers.

Any seven-day daily that has a certain percentage of national advertising, to look at this in purely mercenary terms? You're nuts if you don't jump on the programmatic bandwagon. Take, for example, the Dallas Morning News. Why wouldn't Belo can 20-30 national ad staff, or whatever the number is, and replace them with bots and one IT person to service the programmatic system?

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