If your newspaper hasn’t asked the big question yet, it’ll likely come within in the next year or so. The Daily Bruin dealt with it on a large scale, and I dealt with it this week on a small scale. When should you resort to selling ads on the front page?
There are a few questions your staff will want to ask before pursuing the decision:
- Where do you stand (ethically) on running front-page ads and why?
- What’s the projected annual revenue you’d get from it?
- Is this a last resort or are you planning ahead (what other alternatives are there)?
Now, for my personal take on the issue.
Despite the unpopularity of my decision among my colleagues and advisors, I support the concept of a front page advertisement, but not as a permanent solution to newspaper budget problems.
The general arguments against front page ads are as follows:
“They will ruin our credibility.” In the case of the Daily Bruin, this may have been true. Or if you’re running an ad for a restaurant next to a positive restaurant review, that’s questionable too. But the “credibility” issue has nothing to do with where in the newspaper that ad is, but how it’s presented relative to other content (i.e. that example would still be considered ethically wrong on page 5).
“Newspapers traditionally haven’t put ads on the front page.” Throw tradition out the window. Traditionally, did newspapers run user-generated content? Traditionally, did newspapers produce video content? Relying on tradition hinders innovation. And, anyway, the convention of empty front pages didn’t start until 30 years ago. It’s not really a tradition.
“It would take away front valuable editorial content.” For newspapers that run wire or AP content, this argument of “valuable editorial content” is invalid. Although I’m not equating an advertisement to wire content, I do believe that if the front page content is not yours and not local, you might as well make money off that space.
Front page advertisements are not a permanent solution. Student newspapers need to be pursuing revenue outside of the print product if they’re looking for long-term sustainability.
This is where front page ads can help. Experimentation with web advertising is risky and it will fail time and time again. Extra money gained from front page ads can be used as “cushion” revenue, so to speak, while your staff works to figure out how to best utilize ads on the web — because you’ll never flourish online if you’re too scared to try it.