Boston Globe's Auction Experiment, Craig to Promote 'Community Journalism'
I read today about a very interesting experiment that the Boston Globe, which is owned by the NY Times, is trying. According to Editor & Publisher, The Globe is going to auction the front half-page ad in its Sunday jobs section.
That's the newspaper, not Boston.com.
Inspired by the Internet and the auction ad model, the ad in question will start at US$15K and go up in US$500 bid increments until it reaches a ceiling of US$39.5K. That was the amount the space sold for prior to the introduction of the auction concept.
Now why would the paper cap the auction at the old price? The Globe acknowledged in the E&P article that it wasn't always able to sell the space or sell it at full value. This is a bid to do so and to compete, presumably, with the Internet (although there are few online spots that can fetch that dollar amount). It will be very interesting to see how this plays out and whether other Globe sections adopt this and/or other print newspapers follow suit.
Conditioned by the Internet, some advertisers might like the "transparency" the auction model offers — "let the market decide what it's worth" and all that. And the market will decide whether that ad is worth US$39.5K and whether the Boston Globe is making a bold move or a big mistake.
Another newspaper-related story that caught my eye was the one about Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) helping to spearhead a "citizen journalism" initiative. It's not clear what precise form that might take, but it could be on Craigslist itself or some alternative blogging platform. That might make the online community an even greater threat to newspapers — this time on the content side — than it already is to classified revenues.
In my travels, I've had several conversations with Craig and Jim Buckmaster, the CEO, and I believe them when they say they have no desire to undermine newspapers. Yet there are some estimates (i.e., from Classified Intelligence) that the community site diverts US$50 million to US$65 million in annual revenues from the jobs category in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. (Yes, I'm aware that print newspaper recruitment ad spending brought in US$4.6 billion last year, which seems to be an expression of health.)
It's not clear how big a content threat citizen journalism will become to local and national newspaper readership (just add that to the list of threats). The blogosphere is already a tower of babel and becoming more so every day. In a fragmented and noisy market, brand arguably holds greater authority. So, ironically, the proliferation of blogs might not siphon away readers in the end. (Although, separate and apart from blogs' potential impact, the print circulation numbers are not happy.)
But as the Globe is doing with introducing the auction ad model and as certain papers (e.g., The Denver Post) are doing with blog experimentation, more newspapers need to do in order to adapt and grow in a very dynamic and rapidly changing local media marketplace.