By Kevin O'Keefe

With advertising in decline, will advertisers buy blogs from publishers?

Only 14% of people trust advertising. Newspaper and magazine circulation are in steep decline. That’s bad news for both the companies who advertise and for the publishers who rely on advertising to survive.

What’s the answer? Publishers sell blogs to advertisers. For advertisers it’s a medium that enables them to engage their target audience in a fashion that breeds trust. For publishers its a new revenue stream.

I’ve been thinking about the concept for the last couple weeks so I was struck by Michael Learmonth’s article in Crains yesterday that Forbes intends to just this, sell blogs to advertisers. Companies will publish under the company’s banner.

The pitch is this: We’ll sell you a blog, and your content will live alongside that of Forbes’ journalists and bloggers. This isn’t the ‘sponsored post’ of yore; rather, it is giving advocacy groups or corporations such as Ford or Pfizer the same voice and same distribution tools as Forbes staffers, not to mention the Forbes brand…….The product itself is called AdVoice, and the notion is that in a world of social media, corporations have to become participants and, in a sense, their own media companies. Corporations these days also have to face the practical problem of fewer business reporters left to pitch.

Per Lewis DVorkin, a former Forbes editor who just sold his blogging startup, True/Slant, to Forbes:

For the last however many decades of traditional media, you’re a reader so your stuff can only go here. You’re an advertiser so stuff can only go here. And our stuff? It goes right here. But there’s a flow of content that’s contextual. Anything can appear in any place as long as it’s contextual — that’s the web and we are bringing that sensibility to the magazine.

And Chief Revenue Officer of Forbes, Kevin Gentzel:

We feel in a very transparent and clearly labeled manner that these voices can commingle under the Forbes brand umbrella to provide a rich experience for our users ‘If an auto manufacturer is in the midst of a new-car launch and has a great story behind the creation of a high-performing engine, they should be able to tell it and to stream into our tech topic flow, or automotive topic flow, as long as it’s clearly labeled.

So long as Forbes is transparent, Stephen Shepard, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York does not see major problems.

It’s all about how advertiser content is presented. The golden rule from an editorial point of view is there should be a clear distinction between what is produced by editorial staff or a blogger and a marketer who is paying for space on the site. You don’t want to deceive the reader. Readers have to understand what they are getting and the source of it.

With the advent of social media, marketers are realizing they need to participate in media. They may have no other choice. One, because advertising is not trusted. And two, there are far fewer reporters covering stories in which marketers can get their word out through PR and the like.

May sound crazy, but publishers selling blogs to advertisers may play a role in the future of publishing. Am I nuts?

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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