The future of journalism is bleak if sales teams can’t figure out how to sell ads on news sites.
Eighteen months ago News Limited, the Australian print arm of News Corporation, put out the first indications that content was going behind a paywall.
This was always going to be controversial so a softening up process was put in place including the then head of News Digital Media, Richard Freudenstein, speaking at various conferences.
Inviting bloggers to a briefing on News Limited’s online future was another strategy which, predictably, resulted in varying views on the prospects from attendees like Laurel Papworth and Ross Dawson.
Another part of the process was Freudenstein penning the odd article for The Australian describing the rationale behind the paywall.
“And we will have completely solved how to sell advertising across print, tablet and digital.” Freudenstein said at both the end of his Australian article and a later Q&A at the Mumbrella 360 Conference.
Sadly this appears not to have been the case, a year later News was struggling with digital revenues.
This is not just a problem for News Limited or Australian publications, The Economist looked at the struggles of print media in 2012 and cited a graph from Reflections Of A Newsosaur showing how newspapers’ digital revenues have been flat lining for nearly a decade while their print revenues collapse.
One of the reasons for traditional media’s stagnation is their salespeople have been bought up selling newspaper display ads, are locked into antiquated KPI’s and have commission structures that reward print over digital.
This was bought home to me a few weeks after News Limited started its charm offensive at a presentation by Cumberland Press, News Limited’s suburban division, where the salesman told a room of small business owners about the range of print advertising products available in the local newspapers.
Not once was True Local, News Limited’s Google Places competitor, mentioned. When I asked about it, the salesman waved the idea away and said he’d throw in an annual sub if I took out a week’s worth of quarter page display ads in the Manly Daily.
Many of the small business owners in the room thought that was a good deal, which shows its not just newspaper managers who are having a digital steamroller running over their revenues – but that’s a post for another time.
As The Economist and Newsosuar shows, News Limited’s experience in selling digital advertising is the norm and it’s genuinely shocking that newspapers’ digital revenues have flatlined while the revenues of Google and other online advertisers soar.
When News Limited announced its new strategy they also announced a community site to discuss the issues of digital news gathering and online advertising. They called it The Future of Journalism.
Just over a year later The Future of Journalism site looks like this;