Where are all the front-page ads?
Not too long ago, newspaper purists shuddered at publisher plans to begin putting advertising on their front pages. Turns out, they needn’t have worried.
In a survey last week of the front pages of all of the U.S. dailies published at Newseum.Org, I found only 17% of the papers actually ran ads on their covers.
This may reflect the general dearth of newspaper advertising, the reluctance of publishers to besmirch their front pages with commercial messages, or a little of both.
In any event, I found page-one ads on only 71 of the 411 papers whose images were posted on Tuesday at the Newseum website.
As newspaper advertising eroded in the last few years, a number of revenue-hungry publishers said they needed to be able to sell ads on their front pages and section fronts, because they believed they could charge premium prices for these high-visibility locations.
This prompted an outcry from most journalists and many newspaper fans, who felt these prime locations should be dedicated exclusively to the display of news and features.
Prime real estate or not, most newspapers aren’t selling page-one spots.
Of the papers that do, most publications carry a single, modestly proportioned ad for a local merchant. But some papers really know how to pack them in.
The Montrose (CO) Daily Press (left) proved to be the champion front-page ad seller. Its cover was bracketed top and bottom with a total of three paid ads and two in-house promotions.
The biggest single ad was stripped across the bottom of page one at the Tulsa World, where it occupied some 15% of the page-one real estate.
Announcements for upcoming real estate foreclosure auctions were at once the cheesiest and most popular front-page ad genre. Remarkably similar ads ran on the front pages of dailies from Fort Myers, FL, to Fresno, CA, as well as in such markets as Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando, Tallahassee and Toledo.
USA Today, the flagship Gannett publication, was the biggest newspaper featuring page-one advertising. The New York Times had a front-page ad but the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times did not.
In addition to Gannett, the newspaper chains most likely to carry page-one ads were Freedom Communications, McClatchy, MediaNews Group and Tribune Co.
So, why don’t more newspapers have page-one ads?
While some newspapers are unwilling to sell them, others “are making it difficult to buy them or making them too expensive to be viable,” said ad consultant Peter M. Zollman, the founder of the Advanced Interactive Marketing Group.
The dearth of page-one advertising is just another example of the ways newspapers “still are leaving money on the table despite their tremendous financial difficulties,” said Zollman in an email. “It’s a sad commentary that they’re not being much, much more aggressive about sales when they so badly need revenue.”
Although Zollman may be right and most readers probably don’t mind page-one ads, I never have gotten used to them. Unsettling as they are, however, they are a small price to pay to keep a few more journalists on the job.