2026 is set to be the pivotal year when digital newspaper ad revenue will surpass print newspaper ad revenue, according to the most recent Global Entertainment & Media Outlook report from PricewaterhouseCoopers. The U.S. will be the first big market to see that shift. “The historic moment, which will eventually be replicated in many other countries across the world in the coming decades, has been accelerated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on existing trends affecting the U.S. newspaper market,” said the report.
Frequency trends for print, as we know, are heading away from the full seven-day print delivery. “But I would say it’s probably happening on longer timelines than a lot of people anticipated coming out of COVID,” said Kevin Rehberg, vice president of client development at Illinois-based Alliance for Audited Media. We caught up with Rehberg recently to see what AAM is up to in the shifting marketplace.
AAM, a North America-focused nonprofit that does digital, print and other publisher audits, made some changes in the wake of the COVID onset, simplifying the reporting practices newspapers follow. Now papers report their overall circulation data twice a year instead of four times yearly.
Also, in 2020, AAM launched a third-party audit program for digital publishers as a tool to ease concern over digital ad fraud and to increase media buyers’ trust. The AAM Digital Publisher Audit focuses on verifying publishers’ traffic sources by analyzing their business operations, website traffic and traffic-sourcing policies. Audited publishers are included on the AAM Audited Domain List, a file of all publishers who have gone through the process.
“It’s a fantastic way for publishers to show that they have low bot traffic coming through their website, which is very important because ad fraud continues to be a growing problem in the advertising and marketing landscape,” said Rehberg. More than $11 billion was lost to ad fraud in the U.S. in 2020, according to the cybersecurity firm Cheq.
New York-based IAB Tech Lab (self-described as a “nonprofit consortium that engages a member community globally to develop foundational technology and standards that enable growth and trust in the digital media ecosystem”) lists Digital Publisher Audit-certified publishers in its compliance registry at iabtechlab.com. “AAM was the first company listed here and is a great example of how the industry supports our efforts to distinguish quality digital inventory from everything else. Digital-savvy buyers can then prioritize these publishers and conduct more direct buys with them, equipped with the confidence of knowing that the audience they are gaining access to is being verified by an independent third party,” said Rehberg.
Best from the rest
The Alliance for Audited Media is also participating in trust.txt, an industry initiative developed by the nonprofit JournalList to help identify publishers as members of trusted industry organizations and associations. It’s a way for legitimate publishers to stand out from other websites, according to AAM.
“We have a trust.txt file on our website, and we’re one of the initial groups that jumped on the trust.txt bandwagon. All of our news media clients and magazine clients that are verified and audited are on our trust.txt lists,” Rehberg said.
It separates the best-practice news media companies from the rest, said Rehberg. There’s a lot of ad fraud based on faking news media website URLs when there’s no actual content behind it, he said. “It’s such a programmatic and volume-based environment from the buy side that the buyers don’t realize when placing their buys.”
The Association of National Advertisers founded AAM in 1914 as the Audit Bureau of Circulations to bring order and transparency to media, said the group. Advertisers, the buy side and publishers are members of AAM. Its board of directors is comprised of publishers, advertisers and agency people.
Mary Reardon is a writer and editor based in Wisconsin.
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