Tuesday marked a historic event in the Gazette’s history, but you probably didn’t notice. For the first time in 104 years, we sacrificed a few inches of our front page to run an advertisement.
For some this is a non-event. After all, newspapers live and die on their advertising. Some papers run entire sections — like food or automotive — to sell targeted advertising at higher margins. Love them or hate them, ads are the oxygen keeping the industry breathing.
But for others, front-page ads are sacrilegious. Newspapers have treated their front page like sacred ground for ages. Just this week, the Washington Post became one of the last big papers to succumb to front-page ads. The New York Times bid farewell to its 158-year legacy when it ran its first front-page ad in early 2009.
The reason for this change should be obvious. The industry is reeling from the worst plummet in revenue since the Great Depression. When the economy dips, advertising budgets are the first to go, forcing newspapers and their ilk to scramble for footing.
The Gazette was no different. The recession dropped our advertising revenue to obscene depths. A few inventive advertising features like the abhorrently-named “Gaz-E” — a garish full-page collection of ads — lured some much-needed advertisers. But this all seemed like spritzing water on a forest fire — it just wasn’t enough.
Our advertising department, eager to offer flashier options, pitched front-page ads as the next step. Not only would it bring us ad revenue at a surcharge, but they would only sell the ads in colour. The printing process works such that we get four pages of colour in return.
Wary of selling our souls but understanding the financial realities, we agreed.
This means little more than a smaller front page and some more colour — at least for now.
Since front-page ads are here, they’re unlikely to go away. The slippery slope argument predicts more tawdry ad content is bound for these pages — things like front-page wraparounds and the kinds of product cutouts you’ll find in Metro.
Accountants and readers alike will find some comfort in industry predictions putting ad revenue higher than ever by 2011. All professional estimates say the revenue issue will quickly solve itself.
“Advertisers are spending again, now that consumers are opening their wallets,” reads the Canadian section of a report by ZenithOptimedia, a media company specializing in industry forecasting. “Automotive is back; retail, finance, telecom, food, are all ratcheting up the demand.”
In some ways we’ve already noticed this. Our Frosh Issue was a hefty 16 pages long and full-colour — two decisions made solely by the ads we get.
We can look at front-page ads as the bridge taking us from the Great Recession into the next big boom. Or we can see it as the next step in “ad creep” and the corruption of campus media to the advertising godfather.
However you slice it, front page ads are here to stay.