If you work in online publishing, you will have no doubt noticed the growing focus on producing slideshows and photo galleries. The reason behind this trend is pretty clear: it generates a lot more page views than long form content. People arrive on slideshow pages and click through tens of pages in a row to snack on the little morsels of content packaged into bite sized bits. Yahoo even generated more search share recently deploying this tactic (see WSJ article), as ephemeral and meaningless as this “share” is.
While many folks in the digerati bemoan these approaches as the dumbing down of content (I admit to rolling eyes at it myself), it is rooted not in editorial preferences but in the backward economics of online advertising. If you read my last post, admittedly penned many moons ago, I discussed how high quality content is not financially rewarded by the dominant online spenders, direct response advertisers, allowing content farms to create more near-term profitable businesses. Well, I’m sorry to say that publishers of long content are likewise punished by the misguided economics of current online brand advertising.
Brand advertisers buy CPMs — cost per thousand impressions. They ought to be buying a different type of CPM– cost per minute.
Advertisers looking to saturate a market with their messaging should not continue to be duped by thinking that a million impressions at a low cost achieves their goals…..not all page “views” are the same. Someone flipping quickly through ten pages of a slideshow may see your banner 10 times, but for 1 second on each load. Someone else seeing it only once on a long analysis piece on the New York Times, however, may have that brand message in front of them for a full five minutes. Which is worth more?
Now, I know many people will say that the market prices in these differences, agencies will pay a higher rate for placement on a site like the New York Times vs. sites with “snackable” content. But in reality this doesn’t happen most of the time. Ad networks backfill a huge percentage of advertising space on all web sites, including “premium” sites, and sell in volume blocks with little to no placement distinction. And if you look at the relative CPMs between publisher sites, you’ll quickly see the price variances have more to do with the type of content (verticalized, commerce oriented, etc.) than the format of the content.
We have the technology to price by minute of viewed time. It’s relatively simple to track how long a piece of media was shown within the visible area of a web browser. Moving to a cost-per-minute model, rather than a per impression model, would have the following benefits:
- Align better with brand advertising’s overall goals of measurable audience saturation
- Normalize for page placement automatically. That is, a banner far at the bottom of a page beneath the fold would automatically cost less than a banner closer to the content, simply because it was viewed for fewer minutes. No more negotations needed about whether one placement is worth a $3 CPM and the other $.50…..you could price based on the value of the site audience alone.
- Reward publishers who deeply engage their audiences, keeping them on site longer
- Reduce the “gaming” many sites do to manufacture page views, which both annoy users and rip off advertisers
This is not to say there is no place for slideshows and the like in publishing. Offline magazines have been running “Top 10″ lists for decades (Cosmo, anyone??), and there are audiences who love that format and value it. In a cost-per-minute world, sites whose audiences appreciate this format will still have pricing power, as long as they are keeping people on site for a significant period of time. But other sites whose readers appreciate long articles– Slate, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, etc.– would not be punished for engaging their own readers in a way that resonates with them.
The chase for the almighty page view would come to an end, replaced with a more important standard: how much time are people really spending with my content? And by proxy with my advertisers’ messaging?