Teaching Examples

One way to make money online
June 4, 2007, 6:33 pm
Filed under: advertising, community, ideas, journalism

Here’s one of those ideas that could make lots of money for you. I’m giving it away free, so buy me lunch or something if it works for you.

I was poking around on the Wichita Eagle site, looking at Ron Sylvester’s story about the BTK killer book, which he explained in a post at his blog, Multimedia Reporter. This ad caught my eye:

Ad from the Wichita Eagle online
I knew it was an ad, and I had a pretty good idea that it might link to a “special advertising section” — you know, those total garbage inserts that U.S. newspapers and advertisers waste paper on, usually hideously ugly throughout, and filled with absolutely awful text about nothing. (I understand that European newspapers, in contrast, have inserts that people actually like to read.)

Given that positive attitude I’ve got, WHY would I click? Two reasons:

  1. The left-rail ad, shown above, was so excellent, it simply gave me hope. I have rarely seen such as effective ad on any newspaper Web site. I’m not kidding. Color, simplicity, clarity. It’s great.
  2. I ride a motorcycle. (A Honda 750cc Shadow cruiser, if you care.)

I’m not joking around or being sarcastic. I’m very, very serious — this ad was a one-in-a-million ad, because I am a person WHO NEVER CLICKS on advertising. Never. Okay? Never!

I clicked on it.

Not only did it get me to click — I even looked at four pages of the insert. Now, the first hurdle is, of course, even getting me to click. Then to get me to click some more, and spend some time — whoa, baby! So I’m betting you are pretty interested in why.

As a person who rides, I like to find out about cool places to ride to. Even though I am very unlikely to take my bike to Kansas (and this was a purely local insert), I’m interested in learning whether they have any interesting destinations. Sure enough, there’s an article about Council Grove, a small town on the Santa Fe Trail.

Moreover, I was actually interested in the content of the ads! Because part of the culture of motorcycle riders (apart from tattoos and custom chrome) is bike shops and hangouts. So the ads told me about some bars (see page 15); I was hoping to see ads for campgrounds or maybe a local bed-and-breakfast, but no such luck. (Don’t laugh — middle-aged yuppie bikers do, in fact, sleep at B&B’s!)

Great Idea, Poor Implementation

Now, please pay attention to why I looked at ONLY four pages of this thing — and not more.

Two-page spread in the Open Road Motorcycle Edition
The interface is awful. The insert is bundled into a disgusting interface from a company called Travidia — they probably have a big booth at every newspaper trade show. I can easily imagine their sales pitch to your advertising department head: It’s no extra work for you to automagically put your whole insert online, complete with all the display ads! Well, who wouldn’t want that? How wonderful!

Except that it sucks.

  • It’s slow, even on my pretty-fast home DSL. Each time you go to a page, you wait and wait. I couldn’t stand that.
  • There’s no navigation except page-by-page. The down-side of transplanting a print thing to the Web is that the Web doesn’t work like a printed publication. I don’t want to go page-by-page (especially not this slowly) — I want links.
  • Both ads and advertorial copy pop up in horrible layover images that jump around. This is the most annoying part. It’s designed to make it easier for you to see things — the pop-ups are larger — but they work very badly and defeat their own purpose.
  • You can’t copy-and-paste anything. Like a phone number. A street address. (Too bad for the advertisers.)

Enlarged version of the ad pops up when you roll over
All right, if you’ve stuck with me this long, here’s how to make money — if you can get your advertising department on board … er, online. (And isn’t that a whole ‘nother can of worms right there? Newspapers think they have trouble in the newsroom, when there’s much bigger trouble in the advertising department, where pretty much nobody knows anything about online.)

Part 1: Motorcycle Culture

Bikers are not all thugs and outlaws. (I hope you have noticed this already.) What’s more, they spend money. Lots of money. They travel. They buy parts and accessories. They buy lots of clothes too! And they eat. They love to go for a long ride and end up at a great restaurant. Not just a biker bar, but a real restaurant with seafood, steaks, or even something international.

Your local area has lots and lots of places that cater to bikers. They would advertise.

Your local area has multiple biker groups that do all kinds of fundraising, mostly associated with planned rides, often “poker runs” or “toy runs.” (Go on, Google those.)

You have a whole online special section just waiting for a smart partnership between one or two reporters in your newsroom, your advertising department (if you can pry them out of 1999), and the bikers themselves, who are often very, very active online in a variety of national forums and discussion boards.

One last tip: Spring is a very big deal for bikers in U.S. states that have a cold winter season. It would be easy to spin off a printed insert in April or May and get tons of fresh ad dollars for it. Plus the printed version (you could do a “Get Ready for Winter” issue too) could promote the online site, and vice versa.

Part 2: Not Just Motorcycles, Silly!

The bikers are only one example of communities within your larger community that you don’t serve well now — and that command all sorts of new advertising opportunities (I can’t believe I just typed those words! Yeesh!) that you’re currently not enjoying.

In addition to the “unknown subcultures” component of this is the whole gamut of those awful print inserts, or advertorial sections.

Years ago I worked for a trade newspaper that covered the computer industry. Several times a year, our ad department would tell our editor that they were planning a 16- or 32-page “special section” on something like local area networks, CAD/CAM, or some other hot topic in the business.

Instead of writing crap for those sections — or contracting the copy out to freelancers, like The Washington Post does — our reporters wrote real stories that essentially served as backgrounders on different aspects of the technology. We didn’t allow advertising to tell us whom to talk to or what to write about. They gave us a topic, and we went out and covered the heck out of it — not from a news angle, but seriously, in ways that we knew our readers would value.

That’s the kind of sea change I am advocating in content for these “special sections” — take them seriously. Make them real journalism. The result will be greater value for your audience, for your community as a whole — and that will bring more visitors to the content, and hence more eyeballs to your advertisers.

You put the section online and open it up to the subculture. You let them make it theirs. You also use it to keep tabs on their issues and interests — fuel for the daily newspaper, you see? Instant sources, right there, waiting for you. And then, once or twice a year, you transform the online section into a special insert for print — but not the kind of garbage that your inserts are today. No, a real collection of journalism that serves the constituent community it covers.

About the Way the Ads Look

One more thing I thought about while looking at the Wichita Eagle’s “Open Road Motorcycle Edition Special Section” — while I did not appreciate the clunky way in which the pop-up overlay opened and jumped around, I did like the way I was looking at a real ad. It made me think about doing the same thing — only in a much more user-friendly way — with some JavaScript, a la Lightbox.

I considered the old (1999) arguments from the advertising department — that they don’t know how to use Photoshop, don’t know what a JPG is, don’t understand measurements in pixels, etc. But you know, just open the PDF and take a screen grab, for heaven’s sake! Sure someone in advertising can manage to do that correctly!

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Craigslist — the essence of "sticky"
December 13, 2006, 1:21 pm
Filed under: advertising, newspapers, online

Craigslist got my stuff back for me after it had been stolen.

The details of the theft (my bicycle panniers and their contents) are not important. I was so mad, though (the theft took place in midafternoon on the major street in town, not 10 feet from the curb), that I wanted desperately to do something. Desperate — I knew the police would do nothing (that was clear when I reported the crime). I felt helpless and very angry. Somehow, the idea of posting a “reward” ad on Craigslist came to my mind.

Craigslist ranks 47th in terms of the number of monthly unique visitors among U.S. Internet properties. But because the average user spends so much time on the site — about five days a month, 20 minutes per day — the site ranks a startling seventh in terms of monthly page views. Its 3.35 billion page views in October were less than a third that of eBay … but were more than double that of Amazon.com … (Source: Newspaper Killer, by Louis Hau, Forbes.com, Dec. 11, 2006)

Tell me who spends 20 minutes a day on a newspaper Web site. Go on, take a survey. (Why does Craigslist work so well? Maybe it is by design.)

One week after I posted my FREE ad, I received two e-mails.

Two young people who live in a part of our town where drug addicts go door-to-door selling stolen goods (which they claim to have found in Dumpsters) had separately bought my bike bags and a collection of the contents. When they saw my ad on Craigslist, they e-mailed me and offered to return my stuff.

I am still amazed by this.

When I met them — separately, at two different times, in front of the same downtown restaurant, I asked the two (one male, one female, both in their 20s, I would guess) how it was they saw my ad on Craigslist. Both of them gave a similar answer.

They go on Craigslist “a lot.” They look at many things there. Not because there is something in particular they are searching for. No, just “to see what’s there.” They just … like it. They like to keep tabs on it. Check it out. See what’s there. They found my ad describing the theft because they were simply browsing.

I paid them each what they said they had paid the thief. I got my stuff back.

Because of Craigslist.

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