Journalists as Advertisers

Buzzfeed is breaking the internet, one cat post at a time. They're also the poster children of journalism's future.

[T]he sharing of sponsored content is the centerpiece of BuzzFeed's business model. Mr. Peretti is so sure about the premise that he has dispensed with traditional banner advertising entirely.

BuzzFeed's pitch to advertisers is that its sponsored stories have a leg up amid the vast social-media landscape because it has technology that allows the company to cater content to the topics are going viral at a given moment.

The ads that a creative team of 15 people at BuzzFeed develop look like regular BuzzFeed posts, mostly lists of photos with sarcastic captions that tap into Internet chatter. The difference is that the sponsored posts are tinted yellow, marked with a small advertiser logo, and the jokes subtly weave in the values of the brand.

The concept of selling commercial space in a sly manner is hardly a novel invention. But as American journalism rediscovers their commercial roots, India is all over it. The New Yorker gives the full condescension treatment (what else would you expect?) to India's burgeoning industry.

There's only one little problem...

The article, however, gets it wrong on the growing circulation (yesterday, IRS 2012 Q2 showed the top 10 newspapers cumulatively losing readers, with seven of them, including The Times of India, among the losers.

The New Yorker also was off the mark on the advertising growth front, making the now normal mistake foreign publications make of using rate card data rather than negotiated rates in their assessment. Deep discounts are common in newspapers, and, while the entire newspaper business might have grown thanks to new editions and titles, low cover prices make the business a low-margin one.

The goings-on at Deccan Chronicle demonstrate the state of the industry. “But the year 2010 brought with it the perfect storm for Deccan Chronicle’s business. First, the cost of printing a newspaper shot up due to increasing newsprint prices and a depreciating rupee. Second, the prolonged economic slowdown and uncertainty since 2010 caused most advertisers to tighten their purse strings.”

So what’s there in The New Yorker article? They get it wrong on the growth in circulation, they get it wrong on the robustness of the advertising and they talk about old hat, pay-for-play, in The Times of India.

That’s a big let-down, considering that the sub-head of the article says, “Why India’s newspaper industry is thriving.”

It’s not, it’s not.