Three quick hits:

1. Here’s an interesting article about the one bit of bright news the newspaper industry had in the past year or so – the APT partnership with Yahoo that allowed newspapers to use Yahoo’s user-targeting technology to serve up ads. Here’s CNBC’s description:

It’s an online marketplace for display ads.

It allows publishers of display ads (like newspapers) and buyers of those ads to connect in this web platform that’s intended to be an efficient, transparent system.

Apparently the business of selling display ads is incredibly time intensive and complex- it even involves old fashioned technology like -gasp- fax machines to demonstrate what an ad would look like. This new technology aims to make the process of selecting and targeting display ads fast and easy.

Well, unfortunately, there’s a new CEO in town, and the APT partnership with newspapers is one of the things that Carol Bartz will be taking a look at. And with the sad & sorry shape of newspapers these days, having Yahoo get all “what have you done for me lately, baby?” is not optimal.

Or maybe it’s part ROI and part gut instinct. Maybe Bartz reads the (thinning) newspapers and decides that there’s not a lot of upside in her company investing its resources heavily in association with what looks like a dying industry.

2. Meanwhile, over at BrassTacks Design, the whole form & appearance of online display ads is being questioned.

CPC works for Google. It works for Google’s advertisers. It will work for newspaper Web sites.

Uh, no. Sorry, but no. Make that, “Hell, no.”  CPC would be a disaster for a newspaper that has to pay to produce content, and therefore, the ad space is limited and costly.  Google’s ad space is created via spiders & algorithms – far cheaper than a pavement-pounding reporter or stogie-chomping city editor.

Google’s ad spaces are created by users typing in search strings.  So a craptastic ad for Lizard potty-training manuals written in Urdu really doesn’t mean all that much.

That same CPC ad crammed onto the front page of a newspaper is a disaster.  Why? Because nobody but drive-by curious will click on it.

CPC only works in a blog or newspaper space when the products being sold are good.  It’s basically like an affiliate program.  You have shitty products that don’t sell – and the advertiser doesn’t really pay for the ad placement, but the content creator loses the valuable ad space on the page. 

And yeah, you can somewhat mitigate this by being choosy with your ads.  But there’s this thing called “Clickfraud,” see, and it’s one of the dirty little secrets that Google tries to keep a lid on. And that’s not even talking about “distribution fraud” – and if you don’t think that that is a risk in a desperate industry, look to the recent past, where circulation managers are doing stretches in the calaboose for cooking the numbers.  Viz:

So, even a Google executive is aware that this network needs to be cleaned up. Think about that. Even at the top level, Google knows it has a click fraud problem on its hands.

3. Meanwhile, over at Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, he raises some very pertinent questions about newspaper survivability, based on the increased efficiency and accountability that the web brings to advertising.

Here’s my concern. If I’m right and print advertising costs are fundamentally irrational, then it’s possible that the way we’ve built media in the United States can’t survive a transition to a more rational market. That would be bad. Newspapers aren’t just businesses – they serve a critical function in a democratic society, informing citizens so they can make intelligent voting decisions, lobby their elected representatives on issues of their concern and hold political and business powers accountable.

What if the idea that commercial enterprises should carry out the public interest function of journalism is built on a fundamentally broken model? What if advertising worked pretty well as a way of subsidizing public interest journalism only so long as advertisers didn’t understand the effectiveness of their ads? Putting aside all the other reasons why commercial journalism may be flawed – the tendency of newspapers and television channels to seek readers by publishing “edutainment” rather than investigation, the worry that papers will hesitate to publish stories that might embarrass advertisers – what if ad supported journalism is only viable in a world where we radically overvalue the worth of ads?

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