One reason the Oregonian is dying.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Yesterday's announcement of first-ever newsroom layoffs at the Oregonian included this statement:

The Oregonian, like all newspapers, has endured declining revenues the past few years, the result of the recession and the migration of advertising to the Internet.

That latter excuse, to be frank, is crap.

The Oregonian newsroom folks who were laid off - and those that have survived - deserve to know that OregonLive.com is running an online advertising operation that is so bad that there can only be one explanation: They're actually trying to earn less ad revenue.

According to their own metrics, they're producing some 23.7 million page views per month. That makes OregonLive.com one of the top 1000 non-porn websites in the world.

(Compare to BlueOregon, which brings in around 170,000 page views a month and ranks around #55,000 in the world, according to Quantcast.)

Now, I buy a lot of online advertising for political campaigns. Over the last few years, I've bought millions of ad impressions. And who am I targeting? Exactly the audience that OregonLive could provide - educated news consumers in Oregon.

But I've never bought a single ad impression on OregonLive.com. Why not?

Because they're overpriced and their system makes it impossible to run a modern online ad campaign.

Google is the king of online advertising. A vast majority of the ads you see online are delivered by Google's network (including the banner ad at the top of this page, the square ad above our comments, and the tall banner ad at the bottom of our third column.)

By contrast, the last time I checked, OregonLive was charging roughly TEN TIMES the average Google ad rate. Even more if you want to restrict your ads to certain sections of the site (like, say, the hard-news area.)

Of course, I'd gladly pay more for a better product. But OregonLive is actually worse.

Meanwhile, I'm happily buying ads on NYTimes.com and showing them to Oregonians, watching the live metrics, rotating my creative, and having fun.

And here's why this should matter to folks who aren't Oregonian staffers: Because OregonLive's system is so bad, they rely almost entirely on ads from local advertisers (and giant deals run through the Advance.net home office.) If they were using Google's ad system, advertisers nationwide would be paying for ads narrowly targeted to OregonLive's educated and affluent readers -- and bringing out-of-state money into the Oregonian's coffers and boosting our local economy.

Sure, Google's average ad rates are one-tenth of OregonLive's. But would they get more than ten times the ad revenue? I'm quite confident of it. All the money in online advertising is in the "long tail" - small advertisers buying ads on keyword-targeted content pages.

And then, they wouldn't need those ad reps around anymore; just someone to cash Google's checks.

Comments

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    Hopefully, someone over there at the O is listening. Your assessment of Google is spot on. They have made the system virtually idiot proof, as evidenced by my use of it.

  • Observer (unverified)
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    I used to work at a paper that lamented the emergence of craigslist and ebay (to a lesser degree) as leading to a sharp decline in classified revenue. Ads migrated elsewhere as a result too.

    I don't know that their excuse is totally crap, because newspapers have to adapt to this very real trend, but I guess the point is that some are doing a better job then others.

    But if this google service were so obvious as you make it sound then why wouldn't the O go this way? Care to offer up a guess?

  • (Show?)

    This is the kind of post that probably won't elicit a lot of comment, but it is fantastic. Nice work--most interesting.

  • KenRay (unverified)
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    It isn't just the Oregonian, either. The New York Times and Washington Post and many others are losing money. One thing they are never willing to consider is their editorial and news content.

    Although the lifeblood of a paper is ad revenue, ad revenue is partly driven by subscriber and circulation rates. Those numbers are declining year after year. These various papers always blame the internet and online stuff, but refuse to consider how they have editorialized the news stories as a factor.

    I personally work with five different people who have canceled subscriptions over the Oregonian's overwhelming left slant.

    The series they have been running about the Tea Party movement is a good example. In the one from Tuesday the O's story in paragraph five and six put in a complete thematic non-sequitur about white-supremacists whose only connection to the TEA group was that they existed 12 years ago in the same geographic region. My wife even commented on how the story writers were cleverly trying to tar the current group with the actions of an unrelated group. Of course it was a New York Times article, which is even more extreme left than the Oregonian, but this one example times thousands more adds up to people not believing the newspapers are free of agenda and so they cancel their subscriptions.

    The only newspaper with growth and in the black consistently is a middle-of-the-road paper, The Wall Street Journal.

    I am sure that the majority of the people here on BO don't think the Oregonian or the NYT is a lefty paper, but, rest assured, most of America does.

    So I believe they could reduce or reverse their hemorrhaging readership by going back to "All the News that's Fit to Print" instead of "All the News that Fits our Agenda."

  • SeymourGlass (unverified)
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    KenRay: you're right that "ad revenue is driven partly by subscriber and circulation rates". So is a newspaper's expense column - printing and delivery costs are enormous. In fact - since most advertising is sold by the column inch, not the readership - a decline in circulation can be to a newspaper's financial advantage, if the expense declines are higher than the (resulting) ad revenue declines. And, a sudden increase in circulation can play havoc with the bottom line if marginal expense outpaces marginal ad revenue. I think - don't know, since I no longer work there, just "think" - that's what The O is in the process of trying to figure out - where the right balance is.

    That said, Kari's initial post is spot on - and points to a larger problem than "right sizing" the revenue and expense sides of the ledger.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    If CraigsList and Ebay provide better service at less cost than do Oregonian classified ads - and they do - then the newspaper needs to find new revenue sources.

    Their problem is exacerbated by the saturation of modern society with easy to consume electronic media. Most people are unwilling or unable to do much reading. This is bad for the intellectual strength of modern America, but it's not going away.

    Those who do internet advertising well will likely survive. If the Oregonian does not adapt, it will likely perish or end up looking more like Willamette Week - or The Downtowner, probably.

  • Patrick Story (unverified)
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    The O has a left slant? That's why they endorsed George W. Bush and rather savagely opposed Measures 66 & 67? And why they carry not only routine conservative Washington insiders like George Will, but also way-out rightists like Victor Davis Hanson (I think that's his name) and others like him on the op-ed page?

    I think the O news coverage is mostly fact-based, and often very good, as on BETC recently, though some say that facts are liberal. And if using NY Times stories makes the O left, then that means the whole corporate media are left too. Not likely.

  • KenRay (unverified)
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    And if using NY Times stories makes the O left, then that means the whole corporate media are left too.

    Yes, my point exactly. And you also proved my other point that most on here wouldn't notice the left slant anymore than a fish notices the water they swim in.

    The denial you speak is in those newsrooms, also.

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    Observer: But if this google service were so obvious as you make it sound then why wouldn't the O go this way? Care to offer up a guess?

    Having worked in private industry for my entire life, I feel reasonably confidant that I can point out the problem. And that is this:

    Senior management at the O. is filled with affable idiots.

    Call it the "Dilbert Effect". As Scott Adams once observed, there was nothing he could possibly do in his comic, no possible absurdity he could introduce, that didn't have people write him saying "that's exactly the way it is at my company".

    And for all the pretense about "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government, most of which is simply sore-losers whining and/or lying, government has a huge amount of sunshine in its budgets. The things that go on in private companies - the incompetence, waste, fraud, sexual favors, jaw-droppingly stupid behaviors, power abuse, etc - absolutely dwarf anything you see in the public sector.

    My own company is one in which management is, contrary to standard industry practice, filled with managers who spend more time working on the product and keeping customers happy than kissing butt of their superiors. And as such, we enjoy about a 70% market share. But the one reason why this contrary-to-normal-business-ethics culture has taken hold is that we're still under court supervision, and our original CEO is still cooling his heels in jail.

    I suspect that there is some high level idiot in the Oregonian who thinks that you get more money by raising your rates. And he's in that position because no one is a nicer guy to the owner than he is. He always loses at golf with good graces, is great with rehashed jokes, is tall, and (as Dilbert once put it) "we think his hair will turn silver".

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    Observer, I obviously can't say for sure why the O doesn't use Google ads, but my guess is that the publisher has never really bought into competing with an on-line vehicle. The Oregonlive site is the worst on-line journal site I have ever tried to use, not from a content side, but from a lay-out, ease of use view. They have also lagged years behind on the use of on-line technology and appear to have a not-invented here mind set.

    Since the Google rates are lower and they get a cut the obvious thinking at the O is that they will make more $ if they do it themselves. The problem is that they don't have the technical tools or the pricing that works and the result is what Kari describes above. They just are not competitive because of their whole mindset.

  • dan (unverified)
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    So Kenray thinks the entire media is on the left, but he doesn't think he's on the right for believing that?

  • Humphrey (unverified)
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    KenRay:

    Oregon voters overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama, and voters have sent Democrats to Salem to form the biggest legislative majority in decades.

    By all accounts, the Oregonian should have a somewhat leftward slant, because that is the viewpoint of the majority of readers.

    However, the publisher and the leadership are dinosaurs. Elite, out-of-touch good old boys from another era, who refuse evolve with the times. Their biggest advertisers are auto dealerships and other members of the good old boy network, and the O has chosen to stick to their corporatists roots all the way to the bitter end.

    Nearly every editorial decision, and many newsroom decisions are calculated to push the interests of corporate lobbyists and the wealthy elite of our state.

    The fact that the Oregon has such an outrageous conservative bias is not only unmistakable to any reasonable observer, it simply stands to reason.

    You assert the Oregonian has a leftward slant, which is so absurd as to invite any reasonable person to question your sanity or you honesty or both. But I'll bite. In your mind, what do the good old boys leading the Oregonian stand to gain from having a leftward bias? What could possibly motivate them to distance themselves from their wealthy corporate advertisers? What would cause the O to support politicians that will ask wealthy people like the Oregonian's leadership and their major advertisers to pay their fair share of taxes?

    I know that you people insulate yourselves from any facts that don't correspond to your insane worldview, so when some of those unwanted facts slip through your filters you have to find an excuse to ignore them. What I would really like to know is, how do you people think this leftward bias came about? What's causing it? Why do you imagine these elite corporate bosses insist on pushing policies that are against their own narrow interests, and also against the narrow interests of their elite corporate advertisers? How does that make sense?

  • (Show?)

    Absolutely right, Kari -- and an excellent point. I would daresay there are exactly two reasons the Oregonian is dying; your point is one of them, and the other reason is that their online content presentation is crap.

    I'm surprised to learn that they're in the top 1,000; but they could likely be in the top 500 if they'd create something that

    1. allows you to FIND the content you're seeking
    2. allows you to ACCESS the content you're seeking
    3. LINKS to relevant information, and
    4. LOOKS halfway decent
    Of course (5), which is sort of a corollary to (4) and also related to your first point, is that the advertisments they display should be attractive while not being overly obtrusive.

    I think your overall point is great though: Much as the Oregonian has proven willing to complain about market conditions, they seem utterly unwilling to actually do anything about it.

    Project number one should be kicking the clearly incompetent Advance Internet out of their area of greatest business potential.

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    I would daresay there are exactly two reasons the Oregonian is dying; your point is one of them, and the other reason is that their online content presentation is crap.

    Seriously, their website is quite simply terrible.

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    Kari - thanks for an insightful column. While the reason they give - migration of advertising - isn't necessarily "crap," they have the power to improve things, as you elucidate so well.

    Your explanation not only informs the average reader, but should be helpful to Oregonian management.

  • tedder (unverified)
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    So, ultimately, it boils down to this: the Oregonian has not kept up with the times, and rather fix it, they'll just keep doing what they have been doing so far.

    Right. That always works well.

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    But if this google service were so obvious as you make it sound then why wouldn't the O go this way? Care to offer up a guess?

    Tradition.

    The "that's the way we've always done it" problem.

    How do newspapers sell ads? Easy. You hire some ad reps. They make a bunch of phone calls to local retailers.

    Makes perfect sense, until somebody come along with a system that totally automates and globalizes the entire process.

    Here's an example of the kind of long-tail advertising that Google ads makes possible. You run a hotel in Maui. You want people on the mainland to visit your hotel.

    So, you go to Google, and you load up a bunch of ads and tell Google to run 'em anytime there's a web page that says "hawaii hotel" or "hawaii travel" or "staying in maui" or "hawaii honeymoon" or any of dozens of those variations.

    And then, the Oregonian's travel section does a story about visiting Hawaii. Readers who are interested click on that page and read it. Lo and behold, there's an ad for that hotel in Maui. They click, they buy, everyone wins.

    Would that Maui hotel operator call up the Oregonian's ad rep and make a $5000 buy of ads across the entirety of OregonLive? Not a chance. But through Google they can run ads on all the newspaper sites in the country that do Hawaii travel stories.

    One more thing: If the Oregonian were smart, they'd make their site easily searchable and navigable - and then that little article about Hawaii travel would be a PERMANENT revenue stream.

    Ponder the long-tail of advertising as it relates to all the stories published on OregonLive, and you'll realize just how much revenue they're leaving on the table relying on ad reps calling local retailers for site-wide ad buys.

  • (Show?)

    Your explanation not only informs the average reader, but should be helpful to Oregonian management.

    And for the record: This isn't the first time they've heard it from me. I've had lunch with several editors who've asked for advice in building a better site. I've shared lots of ideas - some of which they've implemented (though I wouldn't take credit, most of the ideas are obvious) - and I've always talked about the ad revenue left on the table.

    The fundamental problem over there is that the only boss shared between the Oregonian and OregonLive.com is some executive on the East Coast. They don't even run their own damn website.

  • jim (unverified)
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    It is incredibly frustrating that the leading newsgathering organization in Oregon has such a crappy website. How can a supposedly high technology-driven state not have a decent site to be a central repository and notification point of contact? If Kari is right about the management, it is pure incompetence that they don't realize a very valuable resource and decent business proposition in their midst. OregonLive is run like a permanent second thought.

  • Rob (unverified)
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    I rarely agree with you, but this was a great article. Unfortunately, the Oregonian is not alone. Many web sites ignore the obvious benefits of outsourcing their ad sales to networks in order to maximize perceived value.

    There are other options beyond Google, but Google has critical mass in the long tail.

    Bottom line is that newspapers are struggling already. To under utilize a potential profit resource borders on malpractice.

    It's really very simple. If you are good at content - do content. Let someone who is good at selling and serving ads handle that part of your business. Plug it into your site, forget about it and collect the money. Plus you don't have to pay someone on staff to sell ad space.

  • (Show?)

    Rob, ironically enough, the reasons you give are remarkably similar to the initial justification for creating Advance Internet.

    Go figure.

  • Jennifer Willis (unverified)
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    Thanks for this. I hope someone -- well, someone who has the power to do something -- at The Oregonian reads this.

    I was a web developer and online content creator in a former life, and I still don't get OregonLive.com. I keep thinking it's a pre-beta version that's only temporarily live.

    I very much want to support my local media outlets, but it has to make sense to do so. I'm pulling for The Oregonian and am hopeful they can turn this around, improving the printed paper as well as their online presence. And it's going to have to happen soon....

  • (Show?)

    I should also point out a recent discussion on the less-public-facing WikiProject Oregon discussion page.

    For those who don't know: Wikipedia (in 270 languages) is the 5th most-viewed web property worldwide. And it has strong standards for the sources used in articles.

    When publications like the Oregonian cut corners in their editorial process (or their disclosure about how their editorial process works), they are playing a dangerous game with regards to their lasting legacy, at least insofar as it's determined by Wikipedia.

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    The world has moved on. Newspapers have not. Too bad for them, and too bad for those of us who like to hold a piece of paper in our hands as we savor our Sunday morning cup of coffee.

    Next?

  • KenRay (unverified)
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    To Humphrey:

    I make it a point not to respond to people who use the term "you people", especially after having pejorative terms attached.

  • William Tare Fox (unverified)
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    Are we ever going to learn what BO's ad revenue goes for?

    This is not just the Oregonian. Stupd thinking, "around here we do things different" and plutocrats are strangling American business. The boomers learned not to unconditionally worship the almighty dollar, and in their wake we have gens X and Y only valuing "what fraud have you committed for me lately".

    Add to that the "LA DA's Office" effect. When you do a crap job 24/7, and run you business as mentioned, you can't simply "do it right" by snapping your fingers. People always ask why LA can't get it right in high profile cases. It's not that they don't try, but you can't suddenly demonstrate competence that you may have even once possessed, at the drop of a hat. So they fuck it up.

    Finally, there are people that will always wnat hard copy doc over online media. What people seem to forget is that the opposite camp exists too.

  • (Show?)

    Am I the only one haunted by this image: Google allows me to adjust on-the-fly, even at 2 a.m. (in my boxers in my basement, natch),

    OregonLive is terrible. We canceled our paper subscription (with apologies to the reporters who I have befriended there, though one, a Reedie, with initials DR, was just laid off) because I just couldn't continue paying about 80% of the cost of my NY Times subscription for a paper that took me about 10 minutes to read (to be fair, the Times has a very aggressive academic subscription rate--I pay about $24/month for 7 day delivery).

    I've tried my best to keep in touch via OregonLive but it is a real struggle. I never use it for restaurant reviews, something that should be a real advantage. Content is not searchable, etc. etc.

    I don't agree with above that the Time and WashPo are in trouble, however. Personally, I think the Times's pay subscription model, following the WSJ, is going to work. They will charge a low rate for smartphone and reader (IPad, Kindle) subscriptions and a higher rate for those who want the print copy.

    The rest of us are simply going to have to learn to pay, one way or another, for journalistic content.

  • JW (unverified)
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    I'd like to also pile on OregonLive.com. It is complete rubbish. I know staffers at the Oregonian read NYTimes.com, WSJ.com and everyother publication on-line. Why does The Oregonian continue to allow themselves to be represented by such a cruddy on-line presence? Additionally, why do they continue to call it "OregonLive.com"? It doesn't exactly extend their brand awareness, does it?

  • llywrch (unverified)
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    I always thought the Oregonian's problem was that they pursued that intangible thing known as "balance" in their coverage. That's why when a local media covers some new expansion of public transit, they always get a quotation from the Cascade Policy Institute, a conservative "think-tank" which is otherwise never heard from. In the Oregonian's case, because upper management thinks their editorial staff are "liberal", they aggressively balance their influence with whatever conservative talking head they can find, whether the person can write anything worth reading or not. (That must be why they kept Rheinhold around for years. If not that, then it was for even less savory reasons.)

    After reading this, I'm amazed that the problem is worst than I thought; I never thought I was unreasonably positive when it came to how the Oregonian operated. They really are in trouble over there, & I'm not in the least upset I dropped my subscription to the Fri-Sat-Sun option. (It's the same price as Sunday only, which is full of the coupons my wife looks for -- which is why I don't drop it entirely.)

    Geoff

  • (Show?)

    Are we ever going to learn what BO's ad revenue goes for?

    Not like it's been a secret. It pays for the fellowship program (that's currently vacant), the cost of the weekly email newsletter that goes to 5000+ people, and a bunch of programming work to build the new BlueO 2.0. And back in September, the five-year party.

    And, btw, BlueOregon makes about $500 a month or so, give or take. Nobody's getting rich over here.

  • Gordon Morehouse (unverified)
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    Yeah, bandwagon jumper.

    1. OregonLive.com is terrible, like everybody else has already complained. It's pretty sad that a site that should be a premiere source of Oregon news is so unequivocally awful. Maybe they should fire the ad reps, as Kari is suggesting, and hire a firm to work on UI and search.

    2. The content just isn't there. People call it the Boregonian for a reason. I don't buy the paper and long ago stopped visiting OregonLive not only because of the site being simply bad, but also because there is nothing but the latest car chase, shooting, etc. sprinkled with an occasional "human interest" story or puff piece, and the rest of the eye-bleeding home page is wall to wall sports. Including -high school- sports, of all things. My interest in reading any of this so-called "news:" zero.

    3. This is [citation needed], but over on the Willamette Week article about the layoff, somebody pointed out that many of the ads in the print edition of the O are targetted at seniors, and that among under-30s, the WWeek beats the Oregonian! I'd like to see a cite on that, but it's entirely plausible to me. This isn't a problem with the under 30 crowd, it's a problem with the Oregonian. They need to fix it, or they will eventually die off along with their readers.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    The Oregonian deserves to die. I say let's resurrect the Oregon Journal. I used to be a daily subscriber.

  • (Show?)

    Print newspapers are going to survive only if they get together and start charging for their online pubs and then only if those online pubs are easy to use and competitively priced. There is no anti-trust impediment to this sort of industry-wide coordination since no such action would involve an "unreasonable" restraint on trade. Unfortunately, all of the comments above about how bad OregonLive is as a website are true and there is the as yet unmentioned fact that to find the Editorial page content you have to understand that the Oregonian morons consider editorial content to be news -- and that's just one small example. Also unfortunate in the online website genre is the crappiness of many bank websites.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Found Kari's answer interesting/informative. Can't resist a follow on question, from purely professional interest, are the ads. done on a PP click or PPM basis?

    I think the original question, that Kari raises is a very interesting one, and don't really see that it has been answered. I've wondered why radio stations with an internet presence don't go the way of Google. It's monumentally unproductive for me, living in Portland, to be spammed for bovine parasite treatment, formulated for Western Australia. It would be a straightforward strategy to insert geocode based adverts. In the 21st century a number of radio stations are now broadcasting more to the world than locals. Time the got with it. Hey, I think I've a new business idea!

    Of course you could ask why TV hasn't realized this either. I spend a lot of time with South Africans and SA sites, and I am constantly staggered by the ratings numbers for American daytime TV everywhere. One really has to wonder when Oprah is lecturing the audience on what it means to be black if she realizes that the bulk of her viewing audience are black South Africans. Anyway, with digital TV, why not go to geocoded adverts as well?

    I've also wondered why magazines don't put out local editions. Tell me that "Mother Jones - Portland Edition" wouldn't be a best seller. Things like Utne Reader probably couldn't be improved, though.

    But instead, the O continues to dwindle. Hate to have to fall back on my standard theory, that most media is controlled by people that want to stop things from happening, more than they want to educate and inform. It may be that they just can't change gears.

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