The relationship between advertising and editorial has always been interesting to me. Having worked in publishing, in some form, for my whole professional life, I’ve always accepted the need for advertising revenue while wishing we didn’t need to have it.
With magazine publishing, the relationship was simple. We would paginate an issue of a magazine with, say, 40% of the space being devoted to adverts. Occasionally an advertiser would pay for a cover wrap, a shrink-wrapped insert or an advertorial. In all cases, the reader had little trouble distinguishing between the sponsored messages and the free-thinking editorial.
Since publishing went digital, the distinction has become cloudy. In the late 90s, magazine and newspaper publishers initially resisted the internet, refusing to let it encroach on the lucrative print advertising they relied on so much. Over time, magazines became thinner as new ways emerged for companies to reach their audiences. Print is difficult to measure, whereas digital channels allow us to track audience behaviour and measure return on investment.
Yes, advertising is here to stay, but how much is too much? Take a look at the top UK national newspapers and how they have allowed advertisers to dominate the user experience.
I looked at the websites of the major national UK newspapers (excluding The Star – which is not a ‘news’paper – and The Sun, which I refuse to promote).
UK national newspaper websites compared
To carry out this comparison, I selected stories from Google News and clicked through to one of the newspapers to read the story. The user experience is about what I see when I choose to read that story.
The laptop I used has a wide screen setting – it doesn’t show much height on the web page. Each screen grab is the whole browser window – everything I can see without scrolling.
Mail Online layout
Daily Mirror layout
Express newspaper layout
Telegraph website layout
The Guardian layout
From a reader’s point of view, I am more likely to click through to a story on The Guardian or The Independent than on the other newspapers, where I know the page will be dominated by adverts. There will also be pop-ups and the layout will take time to load, meaning the layout keeps re-drawing while I am trying to read.
As a reader, I don’t mind adverts, but when those adverts make it hard to find the reason I landed on the page, I’m less likely to return to the website.