The convenience and accessibility of online booking of newspaper advertisements has made it transformational as an experience for both current and new advertisers looking to leverage the reach of the print medium in India. This value proposition extends from plain vanilla classified text ads to full page spread display releases, all of which can be booked online.

First-time and occasional advertisers, who typically have low spends and limited access to large agencies that can assist with designing and planning campaigns, have seen these barriers being eliminated. The collapse in transaction costs caused by the Internet has expanded the advertiser pool, allowing for rate transparency, accountability and most significantly ease of use. The Internet enables the aggregation of small-ticket, location-constrained one-time advertisers that conventional agencies cannot service.

There is great potential to extend the web solution towards premium display advertising inventory, such as front page, back page and full page advertisements in newspapers. However, the industry needs to tackle a few challenges to realize this potential:

Pricing Disparity : Display inventory has always been bought and sold by big advertisers through large media buying agencies. The formal publication ‘rate card’ serves as the signal bearer to proceed the round of negotiations which are to follow for any significant print media plan. The rates quoted by most publications depend on the advertising scale of the customer, with large advertisers getting access to lower rates. Given this predisposition towards large advertisers, smaller businesses are shut out of the market. Further in anticipation of greater business and given the cut-throat competition, agencies often pass on their commissions, switching roles from media consultants to asset traders. Hence, selling the same inventory via the web charging an “official rate card” marks insignificant value creation.

Media Buying Hierarchy & Awareness : Ad inventory has generally been sold via various intermediaries of newspaper sales teams, partners and the media buying agencies. The advertiser seldom looks to buy direct from the publication without following this chain. If a publication were to develop an online platform for sale of residual inventory, it would also have to drive awareness and interest among small advertisers who would be best served by it, just as Google Adwords has proven to be an effective tool for small businesses. This would be a fine balancing act for publishers, who could end up antagonizing agency stakeholders if they are not careful.

Integration of Print with Internet and Mobile: Advertisers today realize the need to be present across different mediums. Even though print retains a dominant position for India, publishers need to leverage all Print and Digital inventory as a package to help an advertiser meet marketing objectives. The same applies more strongly to the classifieds verticals – where print publications have faced significant competition from web-only challengers. The medium-agnostic integration of a classified advertisement across Print, Internet and Mobile drives a powerful and unique value proposition to every advertiser.

Even though these challenges may sound significant, surmounting them would bring about a disruption in the age-old advertising industry. There exists an opportunity for newspapers to include new, regular advertisers into their fold with regular yearly campaigns while utilizing their inventory with greater efficiency, creating a win-win solution for both the advertiser and the publisher. Superior Internet pricing methods via auctions and flash sales can effectively deploy residual inventory making it affordable for smaller companies to advertise in leading print publications and newspapers.

Leveraging the distribution power of Internet and the lowered transaction costs offered by computing platforms to design innovative pricing mechanisms to supplement conventional inventory sale methods can catalyze a new paradigm for the media industry.

We have experienced that one can build scalable businesses by creating innovative web-based tools to service the offline classifieds space, and are now moving towards doing the same for offline display advertising. The Internet can be a friend or a foe, and the reality is it’s here to stay. It’s best for publishers to devise solutions by innovating on the Internet, not just to publish content but also to optimize advertising.

Sharad Lunia is the founder of releaseMyAd – India’s leading newspaper advertisement booking service. He also launched findMyMatch – a matrimonial classifieds platform  integrating the  Print-Web-Mobile medium. He was previously with Microsoft in their Digital Advertising Solutions Group in New York.. Sharad is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Twitter: @sharadlunia