Why Newspapers Don't Make More Money Online

I’ve been trying to figure out why newspapers don’t make more money online, and think I stumbled across one reason that’s so obvious I previously overlooked it.

It’s summarized well in one sentence on the Minneapolis StarTribune’s advertising information page:

Just contact us and we’ll help you put together a marketing plan to meet the needs of your organization.

Why do I have to talk to someone in order to give the StarTribune money? If I talk to someone on the phone, I’m essentially taking money out of my ad budget and giving it to the person on the other end of the line. And this person’s interests are clearly not aligned with my own since they’re likely paid a commission, or at least expected to meet certain revenue goals.

An ad platform that enables me to place ads without human intervention makes the most efficient use of my ad dollars.

Say I want to place a job listing:

To register for Star Tribune Jobs online, simply fill out the following information and hit the “Register” button. You will be contacted within one business day and assigned a confidential id and password.

It’s shocking to me that in 2007, large daily papers continue to rely on humans to conduct tasks that Google automated in 2004.

Large dailies are making a lot of their own news lately with layoff and buyout announcements. A lot of this is blamed on differences in advertising dollars spent in online vs offline versions of their product.

When I look at the difficulty involved in buying online advertising through a newspaper vs. the many other alternatives available for online ad dollars today, I wonder if their lack of investment in a competitive ad platform may have something to do with the under-performance of their online properties?

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