Up, up and away with that weird, obtrusive JetBlue ad

I’ve held off on writing about the obtrusive JetBlue ad that ran in Thursday’s Boston Globe because I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. It’s hard to have a hot take without an opinion.

On the one hand, we’ve long grown accustomed to financially strapped newspaper owners accepting ad placement that would have been forbidden back in the golden (as in gold) era. (Remember when page-one ads were seen as an outrage?) And I’ve tried not to be critical as long as there was no way a reader could confuse advertising with editorial content.

On the other, the Globe and JetBlue have foisted this weirdness on the paper’s oldest, most loyal, highest-paying customers: people who actually buy the weekday print edition.

So even though I don’t see anything unethical about it, I think the Globe failed to put its customers first  — or, rather, it put one set of customers (its advertisers) ahead of another set (its readers). At least the ad didn’t run through a story about a plane crash.

JetBlue’s ad is clearly part of a national campaign, and I assume it ran in other newspapers as well. I’d be curious to know where else this appeared.

More: There’s a robust discussion of this unfolding on Facebook.

Boston Globe fun-with-numbers edition

Ken Doctor’s analysis of the “newsonomics” of The Boston Globe’s pending sale continues to yield rich insights. One part I find particularly interesting is his estimate that the Globe’s natural ceiling for digital subscriptions is probably in the vicinity of 105,000. It’s currently 28,000.

(As I’ve explained before, the auditors also give the Globe credit for seven-day print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once a week, which means the paper currently reports having 50,000 digital subscribers.)

The Globe charges about $15 a month for digital subscriptions, with or without home delivery of the Sunday print edition. Yes, there are a lot of discounts in there, but just as a quick math exercise, let’s pretend there aren’t. So:

105,000 x $15 x 12 months = $18.9 million per year

If you figure an average of $100,000 in pay and benefits per employee, that adds up to 189 people — about half of the paper’s 365 journalists.

I’m leaving out a lot of expenses (including, most significantly, non-newsroom employees), but I’m also leaving out other revenue sources — mainly seven-day print circulation, print and online advertising, and commercial printing of other newspapers, including the Boston Herald, currently issuing daily predictions of the Globe’s imminent demise.

It also seems to me that one underexploited opportunity is online advertising at BostonGlobe.com. Yes, it’s nice to give paying customers a clean, uncluttered reading experience. But surely there could be a few more ads without devolving into flashing banners, pop-up windows and stuff floating across the page. I like ads. “Ads are content,” as Howard Owens says. They contribute to a sense of community and vitality.

Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg recently told me that the Globe’s total number of unique monthly visitors is 7.5 million — 6 million at the free Boston.com site and 1.5 million at BostonGlobe.com. I would think you could sell a decent amount of advertising to an online audience of 1.5 million. Currently, though, when you read articles you can often find white space where an ad ought to be.

One caution is the Globe’s new policy of limiting social sharing on BostonGlobe.com and cutting the amount of Globe content on Boston.com. Editor Brian McGrory has said that the goal is to boost digital subscriptions. The danger is that the restrictions:

  • may fail to turn all but a tiny handful non-subscribers into paying customers;
  • may hurt Boston.com’s traffic by making the site less enticing; and
  • may (actually, will) reduce unpaid traffic to BostonGlobe.com, thus making it a less desirable platform for advertisers.

Fortunately, the restrictions can be tightened or eased depending on whether or not they are working as intended.

How news execs can avoid the online ad meltdown

Writing in Technology Review, the noted media critic Michael Wolff says Facebook is doomed — and is going to take the Web down with it. The reason: online advertising, ubiquitous and not particularly lucrative, is in a death spiral.

In my latest for the Nieman Journalism Lab, I take a look at Wolff’s analysis, and suggest some ways that news organizations can avoid the meltdown.

And thank you to Harvey Silverglate for pointing me to Wolff’s provocative essay.

Calling all advertisers

I am renewing my request for an advertiser or advertisers who’d be interested in the top-of-the-page banner. Would I accept political ads? Yes. In fact, the vertical Google ad slot features politics from time to time. I don’t want to be partisan — in a perfect world, for instance, I’d have ads for Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren alternating in that space. But let’s talk. My email address is dkennedy56 at gmail dot com.

Want to advertise on Media Nation?

If you are a local — or maybe non-local — business that would like to boost your visibility by advertising on Media Nation, please drop me a line at dkennedy56 {at} gmail {dot} com. I’d love to have someone share the overhead space with Prince Lobel.

A double whammy for the newspaper business

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the long-predicted newspaper-circulation death spiral now under way wouldn’t be such a big deal if online advertisers weren’t fleeing newspaper Web sites as well.

On a cheerier note, Jonathan Knee writes in Barron’s that recession and crushing debt are masking the fundamental soundness of many newspapers — especially monopoly papers with a circulation of 100,000 or less.

A terrifying story about the newspaper business

Outside Bagel World in Peabody
Outside Bagel World in Peabody

There’s an absolutely terrifying story about the newspaper business making the rounds today, and it’s not the one about print circulation falling another 10.6 percent. That’s hardly a surprise, given the continued rush to online — pushed along by papers like the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald raising the price of their print editions.

No, the truly ugly news is a story in the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford, who reports that companies increasingly see newspaper Web sites as a place for premium, special-event advertising, but not for everyday ads. For the latter, they use online networks, which cost a fraction of what newspapers charge.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Globe’s daily circulation fell 18.4 percent, and now stands at 264,105. On Sunday, it’s fallen by 16.9 percent, to 418,529. In its heyday, the Globe’s Monday-through-Saturday circulation was more than 500,000, and on Sundays it was north of 800,000.

The Monday-through-Saturday Herald stands at 138,260, down 17.5 percent. The circulation of the Sunday Herald dropped 5 percent, to 95,635.

If you had told me five years ago what the print circulation of the Globe and the Herald would be today, I’d like to think I would have been entirely unsurprised. On the other hand, I know I would have been shocked that advertising revenues had not followed from print to online.

If the eventual end of the recession doesn’t provide some relief to the beleaguered newspaper business, you really have to wonder how this will all end.

The missing mayor

Joel Brown calls a television commercial put out by Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s re-election campaign, featuring his empty desk, “a terrible spot” and — with a bit of rewriting — “an excellent ad for one of his opponents.”

Adam Gaffin adds: “Maybe this is what happened to Curley’s desk.”

Where it all went wrong

I’m no advertising expert, but Steve Buttry’s post on newspapers’ original sin strikes me as being exactly right:

The disastrous error that newspapers made early in our digital lives was treating online advertising as a throw-in or upsell for their print advertisers. Helping businesses connect with customers was always our business. We were facing new technology and new opportunities and we did next to nothing to explore how we might use this new technology to help businesses connect with customers.

We just offered businesses the same old solutions that we offered in print, but pop-up ads and web banners somehow didn’t work as well as display ads. Which was just as well, because we told our business customers the ads weren’t worth much by the way we treated them.

Having blown the online-advertising business, newspaper executives are now going to make up for it by charging for online content — likely with miserable results. (Via Steve Yelvington.)