Why Online Matters More Than Print

A blog I write about the ongoing transformation of the newspaper industry has begun to acquire a following, and in the process it’s demonstrated to me why online press mentions are now more powerful than those in print. That’s right: you get more bang for the buck from a prominent blogger today than you do from an article in the New York Times, and I’ll show you why.

My blog is called Newspaper Death Watch. While the title betrays a certain pessimism, it’s actually a chronicle of change and rebirth. As concern over the perilous state of the newspaper industry has spread, Newspaper Death Watch has begun to attract some media attention. In January, I was fortunate to be mentioned in three prominent media outlets: Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine blog, the lead paragraph of a major feature in The New Yorker and a short opinion piece in the Economist.

What was interesting was the impact these references had on the blog’s visibility. Prior to the reference in BuzzMachine, the site was getting about 500 unique visitors per day. After Jeff Jarvis linked to one of my year-end roundup articles, that average jumped by about 200 visitors a day. It jumped again after the mention in the Economist, eventually settling at about 1,000 average daily visitors, or nearly double its traffic at the beginning of the month. However, a prominent reference in the New Yorker, which is one of the most venerable English-language magazines, had no discernible impact.

Why? Because The New Yorker reference was the only one that didn’t include a hyperlink. That meant that anyone who was curious to find out about this offbeat blog would have to make a note to visit Google later and run a search. Who’s got time for that? Even if some people did go to the trouble, there was no way for me to know.

Link Love

In contrast, The two online references had immediate impact. For one thing, I was aware of both within hours and was able to promote them to my readers and Twitter followers. For another, links beget links. In both the BuzzMachine and Economist cases, a surge of inbound links from other bloggers followed the mentions on their websites. This improved my Google search performance and Technorati authority rankings. Subscriptions to my RSS feed shot up by about 5% in each of the days following the links’ appearance.

Perhaps most importantly, one of them led to a call from a leading journalism foundation, which hired me to conduct a series of seminars for newspaper editors beginning next month.

In contrast, the print reference in The New Yorker generated a couple of nice notes from colleagues but little else that I could measure. Don’t get me wrong; I was grateful for the attention. But it was difficult to assign any clear benefit to the print reference.

Tables Have Turned

Not long ago, online publishers were frequently called upon to defend the value of a mention on their properties. Public relations professionals told me that Web coverage was nice, but their clients really valued a mention in a prominent print publication. I would submit that this scenario has now been reversed. With companies increasingly using the Web for promotion, lead generation, sales and customer support, a link from a prominent website is of far greater value than a print article in a prominent print or broadcast outlet. And as a younger generation of business and consumer readers gathers more of its information online, that value will only accelerate.

That print article may look nice on your wall, but if you’re looking for coverage that generates business results, the Web is where you want to be.

8 thoughts on “Why Online Matters More Than Print

  1. Paul – You can stop hte clock. The online display newspaper ads are over, from my prospective. I really, really wanted to advocate and support the print media. During the past few weeks, ScanMyPhotos.com invested $6500 in banner ads with more than a million impressions in Photo.net online and newsletter postings. The results were zero – no identifiable conversions to orders. Another $6300 went to the Orange County Register.

    Conversely, our sales volume from other marketing campaigns is returning record results for ScanMyPhotos.com. We have great word-of-mouht ad many national reviews, even from David Pogue’s New York Times Personal Tech column – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/technology/personaltech/14pogue.html?scp=2&sq=scanmyphotos.com&st=cse

    The problem with online banner ads is that merchants can now track every visit, from where the link originated from and the level of conversions. With traditional display ads, it was impossible to utilize these advanced analytical reports. Much of our SEO experience we learned from you, Paul [first met you at the Photo Marketing Assn convention last year].

    Another crisis was the recent $6300 investment in banner ads in The Orange County Register. It was an equal disaster and the paper did make goods. That result so far is equally worrisome.

    Today, we are hosting a Mom Blogger event which will bring many of the most influential female Mom Bloggers to our Irvine, CA retail photo center. Their narratives on their experience is invaluable and, along with Twitter, and our blog [Tales from the World of Photo Scanning – Blog.ScanMyPhotos.com], this is now the new way to market.

    Paul, I agree that the newspaper’ death watch is now beyond the critical stage.

    More info.

    http://blog.scanmyphotos.com/2009/02/how-newspaper-banner-ads-generated-no.html

    http://blog.scanmyphotos.com/2009/02/new-york-times-richard-perez-pena.html

    Mitch Goldstone
    President & CEO
    ScanMyPhotos.com

  2. Paul, this is so true. As a PR person, I used to favor a tangible print hit over the more ephemeral-seeming web mention–although it was harder for me to get my hands on the copy, since my (primarily small) clients rarely hire clipping services. Eventually it dawned on me that, if I had a hard time finding the print hit, even though I was aware of it and looking for it, then it was unlikely that many of my clients’ potential targets would see it, either. Now I much prefer a solid web hit–especially for those clients who link to them from their web site.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. And yet, and yet. I still run into this puzzling scenario re: book excerpts. Contact publisher, ask to excerpt book online, promise direct link to book on Amazon for potential purchasers. And the publisher says, sorry but we’re mostly interested in seeing it in the magazine. (Which is nearly impossible to promise, given the ever-contracting page count in print.) So they wind up not getting the link online either.

  4. Paul:

    I came to this post via Hubspot TV link. I have subscribed to your feed and newsletter – A real live example of “Inbound Marketing”and link love:)

    I still run into the print vs. on-line scenario every day. I am a digital coach for primarily the Real Estate industry. I teach real estate agents and brokers how to use technology and “Inbound” Marketing effectively. With your permission, I am going to stick this post under the noses of every one of my clients who still insist that spending on an expensive ad in the newspaper or magizine makes their clients “happy” and send them all a link to Newspaper Death Watch! What does a “happy” client really mean? Does seeing your home all glossy and in print really make you happy?

  5. I’m convinced, but skeptical. Comparing online to print media to me, and what do i know, is tenuous at best.

    When you’re reading a paper or book, the intent isn’t to go get the interesting references and read the bibliography immediately. Mostly, you’ve put yourself in the mood to consume a few topics entirely (like as in reading a paper or magazine). The online world, however, differs in that everything tangential is two clicks or two searches away. The medium promotes the rapid attention shifting and promotes, to me at least, a sense of fleeting interest.

    In some ways, I think comparing whether you receive direct online traffic from a mention on a print article is as wise as questioning how many people sent snail-mail to the editor or reporter about an online article in which you were mentioned.

    You’re assuming the measurements of instant getification and heralding them as the new thing. Like Demming (?) said: whatever gets measured gets done. It’s just harder to quantify the impact of print, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important, or relevant.

    But keep up the good work.

  6. Bryson: I don’t mean to imply that print “hits” don’t have value, just that in the current environment, a measurable hit is more important than an unmeasurable one. My intent was to point out an argument for PR to place greater value on online placements because they have a direct impact on customer actions.

  7. BTW: i’ve been trying to subscribe to your blog for about a week now, and everytime i either click on the feed or manually paste it into google reader, it doesn’t pull. I get a “(title unknown)” entry for the blog and no posts show up. If i reload, it says “oops . . . and error occurred. please try back in a few minutes”. So consider your feed burner count plus one.

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