College Paper Site Readers Say, “Keep it Local”

Online campus newspaper readers want more local ads. That’s one of the findings of Y2M’s recent 2006 College Newspaper Readership Survey, which recommends that college papers focus more on what’s happening around the student union than around the rest of the country. The report also suggests that college newspaper publishers ditch Google AdSense ads and put more effort into selling Web ads directly to local advertisers at higher rates than they’d get from the search giant.

Of the more than 7,500 undergrads, grad students, alumnae, parents and faculty campus media readers who responded to the survey, 64 percent want to see more ads for local restaurants on their campus paper’s site. Fifty-seven percent want more job recruiting ads, 51 percent more entertainment ads and 50 percent more ads for local retailers. Fifty-six percent of respondents were students or recent graduates, and 44 percent were older alumnae, parents and faculty.

“Users are clamoring for local advertising,” affirmed Paul Pennelli, director of Web products for Y2M (Youth Media and Marketing Networks), which owns College Publisher, a content management service and college newspaper ad network of 450 sites that runs ads for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Samsung, and Target. According to Pennelli, most college paper publishers place more emphasis on selling print ads because sales people earn higher commissions for them than they do for Web ads.

Most campus papers are “pretty content to allow College Publisher to [sell] advertising on their site,” said Bryan Murley, soon-to-be Faculty/Online news adviser at Virginia’s Emory and Henry College, and Webmaster of College Media Advisers (CMA). As shown in CMA’s “Online trends in college student media” report released in March, 44 percent of the group’s members said their student media Web sites include local advertising sold by campus representatives.

Though free listings services like Craigslist could be cutting into usage of online campus paper classifieds, they came in fourth in the top five online newspaper features as ranked by Y2M survey respondents. Article commenting, polls, weather, and restaurant guides were also in the top five. Usage of online campus media classifieds by respondents was down from 31 percent last year to 26 percent this year according to the study, which was released last month.

Both Murley and Pennelli agree that college newspapers should offer free classified listings on their Web sites. “The idea of this demographic being accustomed to free classifieds is very real,” observed Pennelli, who believes that these publishers, unlike some other newspapers, still have the “luxury” of selling their print classifieds at a premium.

Y2M also asked college newspaper readers what types of ads they pay attention to. Fifty-two percent of respondents named text ads as their top choice. Game-based ads were of interest to just 8 percent of participants, and pop-ups are appreciated by a measly 5 percent. Despite the apparent appeal of text ads, the survey suggests, “Don’t take the Google AdSense bait. Though AdSense is indeed textual advertising, Google attracts the very local clients your newspaper should be selling directly to at a higher CPM than what you would receive from Google!”

Graduates who have moved away from campus are visiting their alma mater’s newspaper Web site to keep abreast of school happenings. Sixty-nine percent of all respondents visit their college paper’s Web site at least once per month. On the other hand, a full 20 percent fewer undergrads read their college newspaper site at least once each month (57 percent) than do their campus print paper (77 percent).

Whether they’re doing it online or in print, most seem to read their college papers for the same reason: to get local campus news. In fact, 90 percent of respondents said that’s why they read these publications. Other top content categories included commentary and opinion, entertainment and campus sports.

Suggested Y2M’s Pennelli, college media sites should focus on “providing value around coverage that is centralized around customizing content to the individual environment of the reader.”

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