Future of News: Matching Readers and Advertisers

A lot of sense from Alan Mutter, former newspaper editor and now a new media maven and blogger, in this interview with mediabistro. He echoes a lot of my thoughts on how the news business has to develop, if professionally generated newsgathering and reporting is going to transition from the old to the new.

His position is the same as mine: there are only two options when it comes to monetizing the news – namely, charging for content or relying on advertising. Charging for general news has failed when tried in the past and will continue to fail despite the upcoming efforts of the likes of Rupert Murdoch. Readers may pay for specialized information and niche products – business information primarily – but otherwise they have plenty of free sources of news to choose from.

Advertising has been the real financial bedrock of news in the past and will continue to be so but only if the industry becomes far more sophisticated in matching content with audiences and advertisers and to do that publishers have got to understand their audiences far more and to gather much more information about them. As Mutter notes: “if publishers owned that information and could sell it, [they] could sell advertising at a much higher rate than they can today. If publishers owned their own system to capture demographic information about their readers and the content that they are reading, they could really gain a considerable amount of the power that they’ve lost in terms of being able to sell and the profits that they can extract from that business.”

Trawl through the online versions of newspapers. How many request registration and secure even basic information of those viewing their content? NGOs – from think-tanks to charities – have been a lot more sophisticated in trying to finds ways to identify their traffic and the audience landscape than many media companies.

An entrepreneur, Mutter has been pushing Viewpass. “Our idea is to create a well-known brand and get a lot of affiliates — in the interest of getting people to register with the service so that we begin to track their activities (who they are, where they’re living, what they buy, what we know about their families, and also what they’re reading…)…Publishers on the ViewPass system — if they are able to capture a holistic view of the person’s reading patterns as well as deep, detailed demographic data about consumers, publishers will have an unsurpassed advantage in the future, when it is all about creating ‘audiences of one in the moment.’”

Spot on. I like especially his comment: “Modern advertising is going to be like nano-surgery.”

Bloggers Must Disclose Gifts When Newspapers Don’t

The Feds want bloggers who review products to disclose any connection with advertisers and whether or not they were paid by advertisers. The move from the Federal Trade Commission is based on the principle of transparency. From the perspective of wanting to see truth in advertising there is nothing wrong with the Feds move – some consumer protection on this front seems necessary.

But the Feds are over-reaching surely when they want bloggers to indicate when they received free products. As a lawyer at Manatt Phelps & Phillips, a firm that represents marketing groups, commented, “If a product is provided to bloggers, the F.T.C. will consider that, in most cases, to be a material connection even if the advertiser has no control over the content of the blogs.” I don’t recall newspapers or broadcasters being required to reveal if they received a free product. How else can you review unless you have a vast expense account?

Avertising Revenue Slumps for UK Newspapers

New figures out in the UK paint a grim picture for the newspaper sector with press ad spending down 19 percent in 2008. Press ad spending in 2007 saw a slight increase of 4.3 percent. The radio and television sectors also saw falls last year but at least the percentage decreases weren’t in double digits. Despite the economic recession, ad spending on the internet continued to rise.