01 June 2008

Go ahead, show 'em your a__

At the 2007 conference of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), Anne Valentine, the president of SmartCatalog, gave some suggestions on how to reduce the cost of printing course catalogs. Most were just common sense (cut your page count, use lighter paper, get competitive bids), but one was practically heresy to many of the admissions staffers in the audience. Don't just spend less, she told them, sell advertising and make your catalog pull its own weight.
Anne had uttered the unmentionable A-word. To accept advertising is to wear the scarlet letter of intellectual prostitution.
I was reminded of Anne's session by an article in the May 29 Rolling Stone, "Rock's New Economy: Making Money When CDs Don't Sell." For the baby boomers who launched Rolling Stone, the rock music brand was defined by flipping off the corporate suits. When John Sebastian sang a McDonald's commercial, millions wailed, John, you were at Woodstock! How could you sell out like that?
That was then. Now, writes RS reporter Fred Goodman, "Album sales are down 25% since 2000 . . . but smart artists and managers are finding new ways to reach fans and make money." Goodman cites a six-figure deal that "paired Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' 'Killing the Blues' with the TV ad for American Living, Ralph Lauren's new clothing line for JC Penney." The dude from Led Zep is pimpin' for JC Penney? Total bummer!
That self-righteousness is starting to erode. Some of the players in the emerging media matrix (PublishingMojo, May 17) have traditionally been paid by advances and royalties (books, movies, and music), while others (magazines, newspapers, television, and radio) have sold advertising to let audiences get the content free, or at least cheap. As long as book, movie, and music consumers had to shoulder the entire cost of the delivery module (book, DVD, CD), the publishers and studios could claim that the absence of advertising was proof of artistic integrity.
But free-or-cheap content is now the norm, and like college admissions officers, the royalty-driven media have to question the reasons they still resist advertising:
  • They have an overdeveloped sense of fairness: If I say yes to Pete's Pizza, how can I say no to Sadie's Strip Joint and Gus's Gun Shop? It's easier than you think. The First Amendment doesn't guarantee anyone the right to use your vehicle for their ad.
  • They fear conflict of interest, real or apparent: What if Acme Auto Service threatens to pull their ad unless we give them the maintenance contract on our fleet of vehicles? Do what any other businessperson would do: Either call their bluff or give them the contract.
And the publishers and studios may not have to sacrifice as much integrity as they think. After all, the gold standard of journalistic objectivity in the US is The New York Times, and they print all the advertising that fits.

1 comment:

PublishingMojo said...

Chandra Jackson-Greene, blogging for Folio Magazine at the Circulation Management Conference last week, quotes Jennifer Armor of Verified Audit Circulation as saying that "free magazines are the future of the business." Jackson-Greene says the shift to controlled circulation is resisted mainly by advertisers, who are reluctant to risk losing the undocumented views of their ads by newsstand browsers and pass-along readers.