6 Ways that the LA Times Can Increase Its Revenue

July 19, 2010

I recently read an article over at sfnblog.com entitled “LA Times Adds E-Commerce Links, Revises Comment Policy.”

When I first glanced at this headline, I thought: “Great! Finally some of these big newspaper people are realizing that they need to monetize their content.” But then, as I proceeded to read through the article, I realized that, as always, the devil is in the details. The LA Times is doing the right thing; they’re just doing it in the wrong way.

So I went over to the LA Times website to see just how their new affiliate links (which by the way is what they are called, not “E-Commerce Links”) is working out for them. What I saw was pretty discouraging. They made absolutely no effort to actually promote this system, instead just putting it up and hoping for the best. And worst of all, whenever users actually click on one of these affiliate links they see a disclaimer:

“Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.”

This is a major buzz kill for anyone who might have made a purchase after clicking on one of these Green Links. With “promotion” like this the LA Times can look forward to a negligible click through rate.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a suggestion to the LA Times that I know they aren’t going to like: Stop thinking like a newspaper, even if just for a moment, and imagine your situation from the perspective of an “online marketer.” Sure I understand that you want to hold onto your integrity as a news organization, but if you want this system to work, you need to start thinking about the bottom line and stop intentionally distancing yourself from a system that could potentially make you some money.

Right now, the LA Times probably has a conversion rate for their Green Links of about .125% and they have roughly 10 Million regular readers every month. You can do the math for yourself, but essentially this works out to a profit of about $300,000 per year, assuming that each Green-Link-motivated sale will give the LA Times a commission of about two dollars (a reasonable expectation).

Now, this is by no means a bad thing. $300,000 could definitely save a few jobs or reduce cutbacks, but honestly, you could do a lot better, LA Times. At one point shortly before the recession, a website that I ran was getting a conversion rate of roughly 3%. If the LA Times could achieve this, they could make millions off of affiliate marketing. All that you need to do is actually get behind this system rather than apologizing for it. Here’s six things that you can do to make this happen:

1. Be Transparent
Promote what you are doing and don’t be ashamed about it. You are “selling” (no, it’s not a dirty word) products to your loyal readers. Be upfront about this and they will be much more likely to participate rather than simply ignoring your affiliate links.

2. Create a Video Explaining the System
Your readers will be far more likely to buy products through your affiliate links if you create a short thirty to sixty second video explaining the process. Be upfront with them. Say, “Hey, this is a great new way that we are creating revenue so that we won’t have to charge you for content. When you click on one of our Green Links and buy a product, we get a small commission, and you don’t have to pay any more than you normally would for the product. It’s a win-win situation.”

3. Post the Products that Have Been Purchased Recently
People are far more likely to buy things when they see that other people are already doing so. They hate to do things alone. But if you put up a side bar showing all of the most popular products that people are purchasing through the affiliate program, this will take away some of the hesitancy.

4. Write a Report on a Product and (God Forbid) Sell It!
I know that this is a taboo subject, but you guys are writers, am I right? You put words into pleasing combinations for a living. Why not channel a small fraction of this skill into writing up soft-selling product reviews that encourage your customers to buy through your affiliate links? If you really feel so uncomfortable about doing this yourself, hire someone from the budding new generation of internet savvy marketing writers to do the “dirty work” for you.

5. Let Users Rate and Make Comments on Products They’ve Purchased Through Green Links.
This is a free way to engage the power of your online community to generate revenue. When one user gives a positive revue of an affiliate product, others can purchase it with confidence.

6. Live by the Law of “ABS” (Always Be Selling.)
Don’t just tell your readers about the affiliate system one time. Tell them again and again and again. In my own experience with affiliate marketing, I’ve found that people need to be reminded over and over again about the system. Give your readers the basic rundown on the Green Links system with every chance that you get. The profits that you will reap as a result in the future will far outweigh any hesitancy you may feel in the present.

Think outside the newsstand,

photo by Steve Rhodes

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Newspaper – Revenue or Journalism: Is It One or the Other?
August 15, 2010 at 8:01 pm

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