Should Journalists Worry About Revenue? Perfect Market Says Yes

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newspaperIt's the paradox that's killing the newspaper business: Web advertising, which is interactive, measurable and targetable, should be worth far more to marketers than its print equivalent, which is none of those things. Instead, it's worth far less.

A company called Perfect Market has been trying to correct that imbalance for the past three years, providing publishers with tools that enable them to squeeze the maximum ad revenue out of the content they're already producing. Its signature product, already in use at a number of Hearst and Tribune papers, employs semantic analysis of text to make articles more visible to search engines and ensure that readers who come to them that way see the most relevant possible advertising. Now Perfect Market is introducing a new tool, one that places responsibility for revenue optimization directly into the hands of journalists.

It's called The Vault, and it grew out of information the company has been collecting all along as a matter of course about such things as ad click-through rates and keyword frequency. "The data set has been getting smarter and smarter as we've been growing our customer base," says Julie Schoenfeld, Perfect Market's president and CEO. "We realized that data was also interesting to content creators."

The Vault is designed to help editors "meet real-time audience demand" with the aid of a virtual dashboard that tells them how well the articles they're editing take advantage of search trends. By adding suggested keywords to headlines or tags, they can improve that performance.

But here's the potentially controversial part: Beyond merely suggesting those tweaks, The Vault's dashboard tells users how much more revenue the tweaked article could be bringing in. "It's really a tool that gives the newsroom information about the amount of searching that's going on, the amount of money that's being made and the amount of opportunity that's being left on the table," says Schoenfeld.

Perfect Market is largely run by newspaper industry veterans -- members of its executive team hail from the Washington Post, Tribune Co. and the Los Angeles Times -- and Schoenfeld is far from naive about how The Vault could be perceived in an industry where journalists have traditionally been shielded from business-side concerns as a matter of principle. "It creates a big debate in the industry around, if you knew this story was going to make this much money, would that change what you publish?" she acknowledges. "So you have to walk a balance. It certainly is an editorial decision as to how far toward the revenue side you lean and how much you make those tools available to the newsroom."

But while purists may bridle at the concept, they can't deny that the fastest-growing online news outlets, from the Huffington Post to the Business Insider, are those that make effective use of search optimization methods. "The fact is the competitors who are the upstarts are all looking at that data," says Schoenfeld. "The question we're looking at is: How do you bring newsrooms into this century and help them to thrive in this environment?"
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