Commentary

Should News Sites Monetize With Opt-In Ad Targeting?

Some ad industry executives have said that ad targeting holds the potential to solve newspapers' well-publicized revenue woes by allowing papers to monetize op-eds, crime stories or other pieces that don't lend themselves to contextual ads.

If so, one question is whether proposals for an easy-to-implement do-not-track mechanism would hurt newspapers' online ad prospects. The answer, surprisingly, might be no, at least for major newspapers and portals, according to newspaper industry expert Ken Doctor.

Writing at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Doctor says that newspapers might be able to continue targeting readers even without tracking them across other companies' Web sites.

Doctor doesn't delve into the history of behavioral targeting, but it's worth remembering that the companies that pioneered the technology -- Tacoda and Audience Science -- started by deploying it for newspapers on a publisher-by-publisher basis. In fact, it wasn't clear that publishers would ever want to join networks that gathered data about readers when such data would allow those readers to be targeted while visiting competitors' sites.

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In his column, Doctor suggests that newspapers can seize an opportunity to "transparently offer reader/consumers the opportunity to 'opt in' to a wider world of reading and shopping targeting. Then, they could re-emerge, in the tablet era no less, as community and national centers of news -- and commerce."

He's not the only one to suggest a similar model. Three years ago, Internet futurist Esther Dyson proposed "Disclosure 2.0" -- a system where consumers could state exactly what kinds of ads they wished to receive from marketers.

Whether publishers will want to implement these models remains unknown. But given the scrutiny that the online media industry is facing, and their own revenue problems, experimenting with opt-in targeting doesn't seem like the worst idea for news sites to try.

1 comment about "Should News Sites Monetize With Opt-In Ad Targeting? ".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, December 10, 2010 at 6:44 p.m.

    This could be a powerful solution if someone offers a platform to support this. That would be easy enough to do. Certainly newspapers could build their own platforms but why bother in a world driven by SaaS solutions? The overriding value of this comes from capturing the value of being a trusted brand. I have noticed that Publisher’s Clearing House has no problem getting user’s to opt into almost anything. It’s a lesson worth learning for online media companies that can bring an existing, trusted news brand to the Internet. Ad networks might not like being left out but that is exactly what the TV networks have done with Hulu.

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