Interesting article today on econsultancy all about the Express newspaper group flogging off links to advertisers, in piss poor advertorial copy. And there was me thinking that this type of bottom-feeding revenue generation went out of fashion about the time Boo.com went bust. You can even see a "list of shame" for those advertisers who have gone along with this at the econsultancy article.
But I can't say I'm surprised - the express.co.uk the dailystar.co.uk and the ok.co.uk website still uses popunders (remember them?) to some of the pikiest sites (online bingo anyone?); and the Express site hides links to commercial partners in the left hand main nav bar for their site. To help the user experience, each page is totally covered in ads and sponsored links, and to be honest looks a complete and utter mess. It's sometimes difficult to tell where the content finished and the advertising starts - mind you this might not be surprising when you consider the offline products, and the demographic of their readership (again, online bingo anyone?).
However, above all, this really does highlight a problem for newspapers - just how are you going to make money now, when circulation for your offline product is dropping, and people can get online news for free in real time elsewhere?
The Murdoch solution to this is paywalls. Fine for a bit of short term revenue generation, but this really doesn't have any long term future. In my last job, we used to take the temperature of online reputation influencers on a regular basis, and one of the surprises that kept coming up was how little people referred to publications like the Wall Street Journal, where users were charged to view content. This isn't good for these publications in the long term - if you can't share content or show off the quality of your editorial, not only will you lose off line readers, but your reputation as a quality publication online is in jeopardy. If companies like mine didn't see you as a key influencer (because people couldn't share your content) why would be engage with your journalists?
And the WSJ example is probably not even fair - it's a specialised publication aimed at a professional community who are used to paying for content. How this is expected to work for Joe Public is yet another question. After all, if would I want to pay (or could I even afford) a subscription to see a site that's covered in ads for dating, payday loans and betting sites?
Online bingo anyone?