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Very small advertising opportunities are literally not worth advertisers’ time

Monday, November 28th, 2011

…it doesn’t matter how clever the opportunities are.

This is a simple point about the economics of local advertising, but it’s very important. I wish I’d understood it two years ago.

When I started a publishing business, I was told that you should generally not sell ad contracts for less than $100. At the time, I thought that was because ad salespeople priced their time more highly than I was willing to, and that I could bootstrap my way up by underpricing my time, like any respectable scab.

But here’s the thing: My time is only half of what’s at stake. The actual reason you shouldn’t sell for less than $100 is that if your product is worth less than $100, it will not be rational for advertisers to spend time buying your product.

I’m talking about the time required to evaluate an advertising opportunity, to run it past business partners, to obtain and transmit the graphical files, to settle on the message, to write the copy. These tasks sound piddly because they are. They’re obnoxious and time-consuming. That means that no business owner is going to do them unless there’s more than $100 in value at stake.

It doesn’t matter if the advertiser has no affordable alternatives. It doesn’t matter how great your product is. You know your product is great, but your advertiser doesn’t, and your advertisers have the right to evaluate your product. If you’ve designed a product that is so small that evaluating its worth is a losing proposition, then you have just deprived your advertiser of his or her rights.

Now, I’m not arguing that you should overprice your product. I’m arguing that you should make a product that’s worth a decent price.

Simply thinking smaller than everybody else isn’t going to work.

(Creative Commons stopwatch photo by purplemattfish.)

Two early lessons from a nonprofit’s first grant

Friday, June 17th, 2011

The 72 bus near the 82nd Avenue MAX stopI’m sort of bursting with pride that the nonprofit I manage (which also, for that matter, publishes this blog) has landed its first private grant.

It’s small: just $5,000. We’re far from Success. But this is a success. It’s a start. And that, I’ve been learning, is the way nonprofits get built.

This situation is too new, and I’m too close to it, to draw many useful lessons from this. But here are a couple:

  • We teamed up. This wouldn’t have happened without the support of a partner. As I wrote last year, entrepreneurial journalists aren’t just picking a niche to serve their advertisers or their audience. They’re also doing it because every niche already has institutions in it. Blessedly, we’ve found several institutions that we admire and admire us back. One of them suggested this collaboration.
  • We aimed low. Last year, we applied unsuccessfully for a $25,000 startup grant from Knight. Though I sometimes dream about how easy this would have all been if we’d landed that, in retrospect I wouldn’t have awarded it to me, either. Whatever his journalism experience, an inexperienced business manager needs to learn to walk before he learns to run. Funders, I think, know this well.

By the way, this means we’re hiring.

It's a manifesto

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

It’s been the formula embraced by every half-crazy, screw-the-system dreamer in history, from Henry Thoreau to Jerry Maguire:

Do less, better.

And for journalists, it’s the way of the future. It’s exactly what consumers are demanding.

How cool is that?