From the Trenches

A note from the Daily Dot’s CEO

We’ve got ourselves a newsletter! And with it, we have some space to sell. Those brass tacks deserve just as much attention as the stories we’re weaving.

It’s time to talk advertising. We sent out our first spec and pitch for newsletter sponsorship this week. Ping me if you’re interested: I’ve started vetting founding sponsors for our first 90 days of operation.

Advertising has been a cornerstone of the publishing industry since the inception of the penny press: Advertising gave publishers independence from partisan support and offered readers valuable content. Yes, content. To paraphrase one 19th century editor, take out all the editorial, leaving just the advertising, and you’ve actually got a pretty good view of the hopes and dreams, trials and tribulations of the community behind a paper.

Advertising should be the easiest sell in the world. We’re saying “Give us $500, we’ll get you $5,000.” It should be like automatic weapons and illegal narcotics — that shit sells itself.

But in the case of advertising, it sure doesn’t today. We’ve done everything we can, as an industry, to get in the way. When I worked in the fusty old print newspaper business, I’d hear would-be advertisers remark, “It’s like they don’t even want my money.” And online media companies have mostly recreated those same problems.

In writing the Dot’s business plan and building its financial models, we looked at other companies selling both brand and reach advertising online. We even called them up and we found the same, familiar story: painfully slow response times, lack of information and transparency, used-car salesmanship, minimal creativity. There was also little or no offer of relevant data or proof of return on investment, and certainly no means of closing feedback loops and iterating on conversion rates. Not only are the so-called “new media” publishers doing business just as poorly as legacy media, nobody is taking full advantage of the dramatically superior potential of the online medium.

The way a publisher sells advertising tells you a lot about how well the organization understands its market, and audience, and I’m not seeing a lot of respect for the medium or the client.

These were some very prominent publishers and news brands, too. Sites we know and love. It would have been shocking if it wasn’t so predictable. Try the same experiment, if you don’t believe me. If you’re an advertiser or media buyer — well, you’ve known as much for years. Online advertising leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.

This however creates an opportunity for us to become, as my co-founder Josh Jones-Dilworth likes to say, “the Zappos of advertising”.

I agree with that goal, but I don’t think we should be the only publisher pursuing it. We don’t compete with other companies that sell online brand and reach advertising. We compete with legacy media and the online companies that dominate the market through sheer volume. The reality is that we, as online publishers, enjoy a minuscule portion of the total spend in display advertising. We should (and often do) have the best product, but we get the smallest piece of the pie.

It’s going to stay that way until we take responsibility for results. Until we’re making people money, we aren’t going to make any ourselves.

So part of our mission here at the Daily Dot is to develop new, more profound models of advertising, models that better serve us, our advertisers, and our readers. Stay tuned as we roll them out.

— Nick White
CEO and Cofounder, the Daily Dot

Photo by NS Newflash/Flickr

Nicholas White

Nicholas White

Nicholas White is the founder and editor in chief of the Daily Dot. His work has appeared in Wired, PBS, the Associated Press and elsewhere, and his reporting has been honored for excellence in journalism by the Associated Press.