A ChicagoTribune.com story about the upcoming baseball battle between hometown teams the Cubs and White Sox features sponsored links to buy tickets to the games. Now, similar paid text links for Dodgers, Angels, or Lakers tickets could make their way onto Tribune-owned LATimes.com. The publisher yesterday announced it will integrate paid text links – often frowned upon by editorial staffers – into select article pages and blog posts.
Referring to the move as a “pilot program,” the company said paid links to sites such as Amazon and TicketNetwork will appear in articles in Health, Food, Travel, Sports, Entertainment, and other sections on LATimes.com. The ads will also appear in blogs including music blog Pop & Hiss, arts blog Culture Monster, and sports blogs dedicated to Dodgers and Lakers coverage. News stories and columns will remain paid link-free.
The ads “will serve as both a reader service and a revenue opportunity for the company,” stated editor Russ Stanton and managing editor/online Sean Gallagher in a memo sent to company staff and featured in a blog post on the site. Newspaper publishers are still searching for ways to monetize online content without offending readers with too much ad clutter.
“Health, travel, entertainment – the traditional features sections are where there’s a clear call-to-action that if you’re reading this, you’re in the market for something,” said Ken Doctor, affiliate analyst at Outsell, a news publishing industry research firm.
Sister site ChicagoTribune.com has included the green text links for the past six months. A review of the Sigur Ros show at Chicago’s Vic Theater last night, for instance, includes a link to Amazon.com’s CD and MP3 sales page for the band. Another story about the upcoming series of games between crosstown rivals the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, now sponsored by BP, includes links to tickets.chicagotribune.com, and also features a link at the bottom of the story that reads, “Sponsored Link: Buy tickets for the Crosstown Classic.”
“I would just urge the LA Times to make the disclosure as prominent and pervasive as possible…in terms of protecting their brand,” said Doctor.
Editors often are concerned about sponsored text links because they can be construed as blurring the line between editorial content and advertising