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The difficult marriage of newspapers and online ads

A news release this week from the Baltimore Sun Media Group announced a record number of page views last month on both its baltimoresun.com and baltimore.metromix.com Web sites compared to a year earlier.

The number of page views on baltimoresun.com increased by 27 percent to 35.2 million in August, and the number of unique visitors increased by more than half to 3.8 million, compared to 2.5 million in August 2007. Metromix reported an increase of 63 percent, notching 1 million hits this August. The release attributes the increase to the Summer Olympics and the paper’s Michael Phelps coverage and to the growing popularity of the site’s blogs.

The shift also makes sense in light of the paper’s shift toward condensing its print version, which I reported on this summer in a series of stories. From a journalist’s perspective it’s nice to see that while people are shying away from subscribing to newspapers they are still going to us in some form to stay informed.

But after looking over The Baltimore Sun’s Web site, a criticism from media analysts and those in the industry from that reporting comes to mind — that print publications are not capitalizing on the potential ad revenue available on the Internet.

A quick glance at the homepage show a couple ads from a national advertiser and several ads for some of the Sun’s sister publications. The sports homepage does a little better with two eye-catching ads: a dropdown one for Chevy Chase Bank and the University of Maryland’s football game this Saturday and another colorful ad for the Ravens Report, which airs on the MASN television network and WBAL radio.

But it seems to me that the analysts’ critique holds true — that newspapers still use their Web sites as a place to publish more copy and interactive media than as a place to make more money and perhaps righten the publishing financial ship. Don’t get me wrong, publishing more content should be a priority — but I wonder how much revenue newspapers are missing out on by not pushing their online ad space, especially in light of these latest numbers?

If the Sun’s Web site had more ads in the margins or flashier advertising in general, do you think it would negatively affect the frequency with which you still visit the site or hurt your online experience?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

One comment

  1. Flashing ads drive me nuts. I cannot read the copy with stuff flashing on the side of the story. I shrink the screen so I am not bothered. This means I do not read the ad, which I would do, if I was not focused on getting its obnoxiousness out of eye range.