Advertising has always been a cyclical and tenuous business. The venerable department store magnate John Wanamaker, whom no one even remembers any longer, once said “I know half my advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” If there’s a blip in the market, advertising is always the first thing to go, and that’s why Madison Avenue is so competitive and littered with Type-A corpses.
What is different now from in Wanamaker’s time is the number of businesses based on advertising as a business model, as though it can support an infinite number of publishers. Even Google had to diversify. They can’t ALL continue to exist. Before the internet, we had far fewer publishers than we have now. Some just had to go. Like job opportunities in a downturn, advertising never goes away entirely, but it does shrink.
Advertisers are now choosing among a larger group of publishers, some of whom represent completely new concepts of content and new demographics. So what happens? If you’re a legacy publisher with advertising as a business model, one thing you can do is lower your rates, cut your burn. Even the New York Times has had to do all this and more. But there’s something else you can do: you can help advertisers find their audiences by providing high quality content and viewable ad impressions.
You have to get on the train in the direction it is traveling, and this year it is traveling in the direction of viewable impressions. We’ve been going in this direction for almost two years, and with our high impact video formats for publishers, we’ve got what advertisers want.
You can talk all you want about how news is shifting online, how young people don’t read, how bureaus are shutting down, how great reporting is dying. The fact of the matter is, it has never been about news. It has always been about advertising.
If you are an advertiser, you spend your dollars where you think they will give you the best return. Where will people tolerate advertising? Where will they hear it or look at it? It’s a constant battle between the consumer’s distaste for interruption and the need to sell products. As urban areas grew and literacy grew with them, advertisers figured out that there was an aggregation of people here that they could use to announce and sell products.
Now there’s a new kind of aggregation and a new kind of digital literacy, taking place online. The social streams are the town squares of today. Good reporting will eventually happen
online, because people are aggregating there. The first newspapers weren’t very good either–they were sensationalist– and shrill, like Gawker or Buzzfeed. They evolved. Digital media will evolve as well — into what readers want to see. And good advertising will attract the new digital customer.
It’s useless to bemoan the death of the old publishing model. Instead, the good reporters are going where the people are, and that’s why we have The Verge, Vox and Recode. Even Yahoo has been attracting top talent lately. The advertisers will follow.
We’re all fond of calling new ventures “disruptive,” and it’s usually a compliment. But what happens when something really IS disruptive? This. The death of the old school newspaper publisher. A whole lot of layoffs. It is not always fun and not always “cool.” But it doesn’t mean the death of publishing, nor of advertising — just a reset.
After all, we don’t have gas lamps or horse-and-buggies anymore either, but we still read and travel.