I just finished reading this horribly depressing, but appropriate piece by Bob Garfield on AdAge (rumored to be closing a Washington bureau) titled Future May Be Brighter, but It’s Apocalypse Now and it reminds me of the last few months of working at the dead and gone New York Sun’s website.
Despite have a larger audience, online advertising just isn’t worth the same as print advertising. How is it that the same person’s attention is worth less online? Is it the pretty colors on glossy paper you can get in a magazine that makes it valued so much higher? Is it the “advertorial” sections of newspapers and magazines? While Craigslist has eaten up classified advertisements, even Craigslist undercut newspapers to gain that control.
At the New York Sun we relied on Google to provide most, if not all, of our advertising. We were willing to accept any advertising provided there was money associated with it. Get rich quick? Done. Persian dating? Check. Sugar daddy dating? Sure. Spammy election online voting? Homepage, please. e lowered our standards as low as possible, which also meant less money for that advertising. We dug ourselves into such a giant hole that the guy in charge of online advertising couldn’t seem to get out. We would suggest that we raise our CPM (cost per thousand page views) up from under $2.00, but we would be told that we would “lose our advertisers” if we did that. The advertisers we had weren’t loyal to the Sun’s neo-conservative cause, they were just paying the lowest possible amount of money and he couldn’t see that.
Is what makes online advertising worth less the sheer volume of it? The pages of Perez Hilton’s website is viewed approximately ten million times a day. On the other hand, the pages of The New York Sun’s website was viewed three million times a month. He has a staff of one, we were a staff of over 100. Over the course of a month, perezhilton.com serves up around TWO POINT SEVEN BILLION ADVERTISEMENTS. Yes, you read that right. Nearly three billion advertisements. When you deal with advertisement views in the billions something has to give, and it’s the price of each ad.
Perhaps we can blame bad design for the volume of advertisements. MySpace was designed to make someone see the most pages possible while surfing the site. This affected the site in two ways. The first was that it drove up the number of page views the site had, and with each page view the site was able to serve up a few more advertisements. The second was that people were so used to navigating the site and having to click five things just to see their most recent messages, they started to ignore the advertisements. That’s why the advertising on MySpace got more intrusive. You can’t ignore an advertisement that is one entire page, right? Look at Gawker’s advertising. It’s almost as intrusive as it can get.
At what point does digital media stand up for themselves and say “we are worth more than this” and raise their rates across the board? Yes, current advertisers might drop out with a rate hike, but wouldn’t finding the tipping point of online advertising eventually pay for itself? If you think your site is worth it, find the tipping point of advertising. Maximize your dollars because your community is valuable. You’ll lose money short term, but in the long term you’ll wind up with much more than you would have going down the rabbit hole of “more, more, more”.