Of ads, newspapers, and Google

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I came across something interesting, ironically enough, while perusing RSS feeds today. It was a story from CNET that was billed as such:

Report: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading is done online
A fascinating, involving, and, naturally, complex piece from Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab suggests that little news reading happens online. That suggests advertisers have simply given up on print newspapers


Of course, I found the number absurdly low, and checked in with the article to see what it had to say. Essentially, it said exactly what its tease in the RSS feed said: A Harvard group had published a report that said that only 3% of newspaper reading was done online, and the author conjectured that if this was true, why, it was simply an overcorrection on the part of advertisers to take their ads out of print and focus on other channels.

Given the recent discussion between Google's Eric Schmidt and struggling publishers over whether the placement of ads in Google News results amounts to profiting from others' work, and the very real revenue losses, job cuts and circulation issues among daily newspapers, this revelation is of interest to a number of stakeholders in print advertising.

Of course, knowing full well that in this world there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, marketers are likely to take these findings with a grain of salt. There's little to suggest that a significant amount of content consumption — whether news or entertainment — is done anywhere but the Web. In fact, here at DMNews, we've see record traffic to our Web site this year. So there's plenty of other studies and statistics that rationalize marketers' shift to digital marketing.

But the consumption model still is evolving. Some would say that the most effective form of online marketing isn't simple display ads, but nuanced viral campaigns. In fact, these kinds of campaigns have become so popular among big brands that the FTC is reviewing them. So maybe there's a point for print publications to make that for straight display, nothing beats print. I can't say this for sure, because I don't have the numbers in front of me. But rather than portraying themselves as casting a wide net, publications should look at their demographic base and offer an analogue to what marketers find online: razor-sharp targeting ensuring that ads served or displayed are relevant to readers.

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