Thursday, July 04, 2013

USAT | Audit by the numbers: 36 pages, 12 ads

I don't see USA Today in print very often because I do almost all my reading online. But I got a free copy of Tuesday's edition when I boarded an American Airlines flight, giving me a chance to revive a page and advertising audit I started in 2010, when the paper launched a major restructuring.

The Tuesday edition of a holiday week isn't the most representative. Still, my latest audit is of at least passing interest as Gannett's marquee brand struggles to regain traction.

The good news, I found, is that the paper is doing no worse than three years ago. On the other hand, with digital advertising growth slipping, the print edition's fortunes remain important as ever.

The audit
From Tuesday's edition, I counted pages and advertisements. I didn't include what appeared to be house ads. Here's what I found:

A section, 12 pages, three ads: General Motors (a two-page double truck), Progressive Insurance and Ross Simons. I didn't count a full-page that looks like a trade involving USAT's Experience Las Vegas portal.

Money, six pages, two ads: Sprint and Marketplace Today classified. Not counted: a full-page Empire State Relief ad because it looks like a public-service promotion.

Sports, 12 pages, two ads: Yamaha and Sprint. Not counted: Learfield Sports Directors' Cup, which looks like a giveaway by USA Today Sports. The near absence of ads in Sports is especially striking, given all the resources Corporate is pouring into the Sports Media Group.

Life, six pages, five ads: Penguin books, Marketplace Today (classifieds and small display), Kelly Rowland, Best Buy, and Wale Official.

The bottom line: Even if I counted all the giveaways as paid, the paper's ad count for the day would still be ominously low -- a finding that underscores the amount of work still ahead for Publisher Larry Kramer, now in his second year of another turnaround attempt.

Advertiser showcase
The Scrapping the Bottom of the Barrel Award for worst advertising goes to the Life section's, which claims to sell drugs only available with a doctor's prescription. Included in the site's pricey Viagra (two 100-mg. tablets for $79, not including shipping) is a "free" doctor's evaluation.

Only last week, the FDA announced that it had shut down nearly 1,700 sites for selling counterfeit or substandard medication, or for selling drugs without appropriate safeguards, according to CNN. The most common scams advertised popular drugs such as Viagra.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's website features a list of approved online pharmacies, plus those to avoid. Viamedic doesn't appear on the list of approved ones, however.


  1. Viamedic got stiffed by the pharma board, hah!

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  4. I don't think you can discount "house ads". Any advertising director will tell you the company is their best client.

  5. Counting the number of ads is vague and subjective.

    If you were really performing an audit since 2010 you would have ad percentages to share along with the trends you have noticed since 2010 at a minimum by year, six-months or quarter. This was a one-shot, meaningless excercise that told me very little. In fact, your opinion that the paper is doing "no worse" than 2010 is dubious at best.

    Give us objective information or save your time and breath!

    1. My readers don't pay me enough to do that kind of work.

      What I'm presenting here is simply a snapshot in time. And yet these have been fairly reflective of USAT's trajectory. The 2010 restructuring was a failure. That's now clear.

      How will the paper fare under this latest reorganization by Publisher Larry Kramer? We're about to find out.

      But no matter how you slice it, 36 pages and a dozen ads speaks volumes about the paper's viability.

    2. "My readers don't pay me enough to do that kind of work." Wow there is a statement if true defeat. I think USAT isn't the only product with a sooner than later end date. No Mirror awards for taking the easy way out

    3. 9:17, you're probably right. Jim will be looking for the next group to fleece pretty soon.

    4. Jim, maybe people WOULD pay you more if you did that kind of work. This sounds a lot like what you acuse Gannett of doing - crap product and expecting people to purchase it. Otherwise, what you did do is meaningless and not even a snapshot in time (more like a snapshot in waste of time) if you only count the number of ads. So I count the number of ads at some point in the future: what will that tell me? Nothing because it isn't the number of ads and it is all about percentage of advertising.

      It is all about the percentages, something any business reporter would - oh, sorry, you were a business reporter. That explains much.

    5. An examination of advertising to editorial ratios in this particular issue of USAT will only show how dire the paper's financials have become. Even using the most generous ad space figures, here's what you get:

      A section: 23% ads

      Money section: 4%

      Sports: 10%

      Life: 8%

  6. Kramer is simply buying time before a massive round of layoffs. There is no turnaround or rorg that will reverse losses. Quit dreaming.

  7. Is that why he hired a deputy publisher and his pal to become Media Editor?

  8. Correct...the ad / edit ratio hasn't improved at all since multiple restructures ago. ('perfect' ratio = 50 / 50 and a heavier balance toward edit means ads not pulling weight). So...after jettisoning lots of loyal employees in favor of newer / younger / smarter / better people from your network of pals....USAT has improved exactly how? Circ keeps dropping, so advertisers aren't returning, so there are fewer ads still. But Banikarim and Beusse get credit for new logos, and a zillion people get VP titles now. Whoop de whoo...

  9. This seems to mirror the dailies. "World Class Sales" initiative didn't save the day there either. Would love to see some crowdsourcing on this topic, Jim.

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  10. I like the way Kramer rolls the dice. Unfortunately, he doesnt know how to play the game. Hiring a media editor who hasnt had a real journo job in decades? A deputy publisher? An editor in chief who has no feel for newspapers, the big picture or managing people? A Broadway app? Letting the Money section deteriorate into the huge mess? One silly memo about the future after another? Even Hunke was a better salesman. This isnt your personal toy, Larry.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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