Don’t Get Bundled!

I vividly remember about twelve years ago sitting in a room full of other media executives. We were all trying to understand the impact of the Internet on the newspaper business, and it was becoming clearer each day that it was not only going to impact the media business, but it was going to change all aspects of human life.

Back in those days, people still read the printed paper in substantial numbers. Newspapers were full of ads, and help wanted sections were widely used and relevant. What a difference a decade makes.

Since that time, the business has been decimated, first by Craig’s list and more recently by Facebook, Google and all manner of digital platforms. The printed paper has been slowly fading for years, and its demise seems to be speeding up.

Veteran newspaper executives have been forced to move into the digital space while still outwardly touting the “power and reach” of their core product, the printed paper. This isn’t a comfortable position to defend. As evidence mounts that the business is in freefall and scores of your colleagues are laid off, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that your industry is dying.

Advertising revenues at newspapers nationwide are projected to fall by about 16% in 2019 according to Borrell Associates. This is after years of double-digit losses in most markets. Readership has also dramatically declined.



What is a newspaper advertising executive to do? It seems that the answer is “bundle.” While the value and effectiveness of print advertising has evaporated, newspapers have been left with plenty of space available in their print editions. Locally, we’ve seen the approach of free, bundled digital advertising included with a print media buy.

Unfortunately for the advertiser, this bundle generally includes an ineffective print component coupled with a nearly worthless and overvalued digital commodity. The bundle is designed to provide a high margin print and digital combo that can, at least temporarily, prop up the media company while struggling to understand and conform to the Internet.

How can you tell if you’re being “bundled?”

  1. No itemized billing: This is a favorite media company trick. By combining multiple products like print and digital, it’s easy for the account executive to obfuscate the true value of what you are buying. Generally, they will use “open rate” print pricing to demonstrate the perceived value of the bundled components. However, this is akin to the auto dealer who only compares their sale price to the MSRP. No one pays that price. In the case of newspapers, they’ll usually take what they can get — generally a fraction of the open rate. If you aren’t seeing an itemized invoice that you can compare to other industry standard campaigns, then there is a reason the price has been hidden, and you’re likely paying way too much.
  2. Paywall included: If your bundled digital advertising includes exposure on a site with a paywall, then you’re being bundled. Newspaper website traffic dramatically falls off once a paywall is implemented. Only a tiny fraction of readers are willing to pay for access to local news sites and generally “heavy users” abandon the product by nearly 60%. Engagement with news site content protected by paywalls is minuscule compared to their free counterparts. All of this is bad news for local advertisers expecting a bump in traffic from bundled campaigns.
  3. Focus on print/ traditional: If the conversation with your media rep focuses on print or traditional advertising “still having” value or that your digital media or social campaign must “support” or “supplement” the traditional campaign, then chances are you’re being bundled. Major brands aren’t supplementing their offline spend any longer. Social and digital campaigns are the focal point, with traditional spend, if any, supporting the digital campaign. In fact, just this year social media spending alone has surpassed print advertising.

Thinking back to those discussions years ago, and many since, one thing has become perfectly clear:  media companies have been trying to solve the wrong problem. The question they’ve been asking is “how can we survive and preserve our monopolies?” instead of asking “How can we best help our customers succeed in this new space?”

For a free and honest analysis of your current media mix and strategy, feel free to reach out today!