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What Is Newspaper Advertising?

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


Many people think the measly few coins (or dollars these days!) they shell out for a copy of a newspaper are what keep the publisher in business. Not! Subscriptions may help recoup the cost of printing and delivering the papers. But it's the newspaper advertising that makes it profitable.

This model worked very well for decades... until the Internet came along. Now paper newspapers are struggling, even going out of business. So papers are having to reinvent themselves and their advertising pricing models for the Internet.

Following is a review of the major categories of newspaper advertising. Though how it is sold and displayed may be changing dramatically, the categories have remained largely unchanged.

Classified Advertising

Classified advertising is literally classified by subject. Most of these ads are used to make official announcements, buy and sell property or make connections. These are some of the most common classes:

  • Help Wanted
  • Real Estate Sales and Rentals
  • Cars and Other Vehicle Sales
  • Personal Property Sales (furniture, appliances, etc.)
  • Obituaries
  • Legal Notices (new businesses, foreclosures, etc.)
  • Personal Ads

It can be sold either by the word or by the line, although display advertising may also be offered. The text for the ad is usually set by the publisher, although these days it may also be entered by the advertiser online when the ad space is purchased (discussed further below). Ads are purchased to run for a specified period of time.

Ads are usually confined to specific pages and featured segments of the newspaper and usually do not appear in the editorial (or news) sections. Popular classified segments, which may be featured on specific days of the week (particularly weekends), include Auto, Real Estate and Jobs.

There are some newspapers that are entirely dedicated to classified advertising.

Display Advertising

Display ads are not set in type as classified ads are. They are sold by the amount of physical space they occupy. Some newspapers sell it by the column inch, others sell it as a fractional portion of the page. These ads can contain photos, logos and other graphics. Though there are some exceptions, display advertising usually appears interspersed with news and editorial features or in special segments such as Entertainment, Sports and Home sections.

Column Inch

In the pre-digital days of newspaper production, type was physically set. A column inch is not literally an inch, it is just a division of space on the page used by old style typesetting systems for typical broadsheet (e.g. New York Times) and tabloid (e.g. Chicago Sun-Times) newspapers. The "column" (horizontal) side of the measurement is approximately 1.83 inches. The "inch" (vertical) side is actually 1 inch.

Advertisements were sold as a certain number of columns by the number of inches. The number of column inches was multiplied by the column inch rate to arrive at the final price. Then newspapers could also offer volume discounts for the purchase of more inches. This is quite a complex system, but it is still used today.

Modular Ad Sizes

A much clearer, and more modern, system of selling ads is the modular system which sells ad by the portion of the page they occupy. This system is more compatible with computer graphic design programs and easier to understand, particularly for small business owners who may be preparing their own advertisement artwork.

Units are sold as fractions of the page, e.g. quarter, half, full page and double truck (spanning two pages, such as a centerfold) ads. Publishers tell advertisers what the exact measurements of the advertisement artwork will need to be, such as 7" x 10".

Newspaper Internet Advertising

Both display and classified Internet advertising are available for the online versions of newspapers.

Display Internet Advertising

Display ads are now banners and side bar ads on web pages, offering opportunities to connect direct to to the advertiser's website. Unlike traditional paper newspaper advertising, this helps advertisers in measuring advertising results.

Costs of ads are usually priced based on their placement on the web page. Above the fold (the area viewable on the screen without scrolling) areas are most expensive. Similar to standard paper newspaper classified advertising, online display ads are run for a certain period of time.

One of the major challenges for online display ads is that these days, people are increasingly viewing web content on their mobile devices. So if the online newspaper is not offering a mobile version of their site, these ads become teeny tiny and are less likely to be clicked. If a mobile version is offered, it may require the advertiser to create multiple advertisement creative files, which could increase cost. Some mobile versions may also eliminate display ads, thereby eliminating ad opportunities.

Pop-up type ads that appear on the viewer's screen prior to or while reading news are also available for some sites. But pop-up blockers could reduce the number of views received.

This is an evolving area for online newspapers and other publications.

Classified Internet Advertising

Classified ads can still be sold by either the word or line, but now can be searchable which is a benefit for advertisers. Like their paper cousins, online text classified ads are usually displayed in a list which can be more easily viewed on a desktop or mobile device.

Newspapers can automate the process of purchasing online advertising by making it for sale online which reduces the need for dedicated sales representatives. This is likely to be used for classifieds.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 12, 2014:

Awesome insight, TolovajWordsmith! Indeed, the fate of many newspapers was similar to that of many old line industries who thought that their business model and services would always be in demand. Like you, I think newspapers still have a future. In addition to changes in management thought, focusing on niche markets will be key to their survival. So appreciate you stopping by and leaving such thoughtful comments. Have a great weekend!

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on December 12, 2014:

There are several newspaper models, but in general I think we can make two categories:

* papers dependent on the market (advertisers and readers, which are always correlated),

* papers dependent on some kind of sponsorship, which is not directly related with the market (for instance, political parties).

In both cases audience is a must, but poor service and competition killed more newspapers and magazines than internet. I am still shocked when I talk with people from papers (including paper publishers) and they don't have a clue how powerful tool could a web be if they only wanted to learn how to use it.

The first group adapted pretty fast, although not always with best tactics.

But the second group never really changed. I think too many are still getting money from different institutions and they don't really care what is going on in the world of media.

In my opinion paper still has a future, but management should change and it will. Otherwise many more papers will die. And they will.