Advertising : the death pill for local newspapers

Have you attempted to read your local newspaper online lately? It’s a brilliant resource : all of that content you’d normally fork out 50p for is there – completely free of charge. That’s if you can negotiate the ads.

I’ve written about this before but in the past year or so I’m convinced that the amount of pop ups, rollover videos and generally unwelcome surprises has increased disproportionately to the actual news content.

Many publications have “optimised” or versions their websites for mobile devices. Yet on my tablet I’ve lost track of the times am ad has suddenly appeared and, no matter how many times I click on the close button, it creeps across the screen again. And again. And again.

I’m not dim. Advertising, of course, is the lifeblood of any commercial news organisation. And the notion of the audience being annoyed by the ads is nothing new. For years, people told me that commercial radio commercials were driving them insane. But they didn’t drive the audience downwards. And the evidence seems to be that the number of clicks, hits and unique page views is on the up.

The problem, though, is that free online content is driving print sales into the gutter and beyond. Daily regionals in particular have the biggest challenge in shifting units. Traditional circulation figures, once proudly slapped across the front page masthead, are now an unwanted embarrassment for editors and sales staff alike.

I’d even go so far as to argue that the annoyance factor currently experienced online is slowly draining trust and confidence among the older generation of readers. And the younger one simply won’t bother if the content simply can’t be reached because the screen is obscured with yet another banner.

What’s the alternative? Advertising free subscription? Well, nationals like The Times have got that market nailed – online content and a print newspaper for a fraction of what it would cost to walk up to the newsagent. Whether that model is sustainable at a local level, though, remains debatable.

But however they do it, local news publishers are treading a dangerous tightrope which – with one minor step in the wrong direction – could kill them off altogether.

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