Papers Reaping One Digital Dollar For Every Seven Print Dollars Lost

Among newspaper publishers, the rise of digital has already rocked sales departments. According to new findings from the Pew Research Center, however, salespeople have more in store.

While consumers continue their digital migration, online revenue has yet to make up for print losses, Pew found. (For every $7 in print ad revenue declines, newspapers only generated about $1 in new digital ad sales.)

“To accelerate the transition to digital revenue, executives at nearly all [surveyed] newspaper companies agreed on one thing: Their advertising sales staffs needed to change,” according to Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. 

Among some 38 newspapers, executives unanimously confessed to a continued need to retrain and retool sales staffs, which had been trained to sell print advertising.

In data and interviews, Rosenstiel and his colleagues learned how the effort to change the culture of the business side of the newspaper industry involves everything from hiring digitally skilled salespeople to re-training staff to changing the compensation for staffers that generate revenue.



“The significance of these efforts cannot be overstated,” said Rosenstiel, citing numerous executive interviews.

Unfortunately, at nine of the 13 companies participating in Pew’s study, executives indicated that they had experienced difficulty recruiting digitally fluent ad salespeople. One reason was the perception of newspapers as a deeply troubled business. Also, executives said they were still trying to figure out how to best integrate digital-only salespeople with their traditional sales personnel.

In small markets in particular, digital sales staffs may have an even greater challenge, because they need to explain why digital advertising is important to potential advertisers.

Most executives still expressed a desire to handle this transition internally -- rather than turning to outside companies to help sell its digital space. On average, 88% of publishers’ digital ad revenue came from their own staff -- as opposed to outside sales networks, according to Pew.

Of the papers that provided data, 33 reported that they were putting a priority on hiring digital salespeople. This was even true at almost 90% of the smallest papers -- circulation under 25,000. In addition, 84% of all the papers that responded said they had instituted a formal digital sales training program at their papers.

Similarly, 89% of the papers that provided data have changed the way they track and evaluate the performances of their staffs -- and three-quarters (76%) said they had changed how they incentivize and compensate their sales staffs.

Still, most papers are still largely print-first operations, Pew notes -- or, at least, print and digital together, when it comes to the composition of their sales staffs.

“Salespeople concentrating largely on digital are a distinct minority,” according to Pew. On average, papers deployed the largest percentage of their sales staffers -- about half of them -- to primarily sell both traditional and digital advertising. Meanwhile, about a third of the sales staff primarily sold print ads.

The fewest number of reps -- about one-tenth of the sales staff -- were primarily selling digital, Pew found.

On average, of the papers studied, papers had one digital ad rep for every three print ad representatives, while just four of the papers reported they had at least as many reps primarily selling digital as print.

2 comments about "Papers Reaping One Digital Dollar For Every Seven Print Dollars Lost".
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  1. Terry Wall from First Impressions VIdeo, March 6, 2012 at 10:58 a.m.

    Notwithstanding Paula's comment, there are two problems--and one contributes to the other: First margins on digital products aren't nearly as good as they are (were) in print. Two: as a result, commissions aren't as generous either. Legacy salespeople who were accustomed to the better commissions of print (I know, I was one of those guys, once upon a time) struggle making the shift. Managements of newspapers should be looking at ways to bundle legacy products with new media; those that have adapted are prospering--and there are several that are. But make no mistake, advertising buyers will force the issue.

  2. Kevin Bullard from ILFUSION Creative, March 8, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.

    Terry and Paula both make good if not great points. I cannot tell you how many print and broadcast execs I met with around the nation who were flat-out oblivious as to what has now happened (vs is happening), and their hubris has cost them dearly. B/c they could not figure out how to compensate the salesfolks, they had to introduce mandatory minimums for digital/online sales, resulting in absolute give-aways and morale killing numbers. Tragic.

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