What price native advertising? Publishers’ rate cards investigated

November 10, 2016 7:01 pm

native-ad-word-cloudIn a short series of blogs here on Collective Content we’ve been looking at the evolving nature of native advertising and how brands are working with publishers to put this kind of content in front of readers. In this post we’ll try to outline some of the ways in which publishers structure pricing for this native content and how much they charge.

To briefly recap, my colleague Tony Hallett first revisited the whole term ‘native advertising’ to explain the difference between native and sponsored or brand content and what is driving its growth. The buffeting of the traditional display ad publishing revenue model has forced publishers to embrace native advertising as a way of filling that gaping hole. In this model, native is produced by a publisher’s in-house creative teams and is designed to look and feel more like regular editorial, with the promise of greater engagement with its readers.

Increasingly, that’s done through a separate in-house studio or agency at the publisher, which we’ve charted through the rise of publisher studios such as BBC StoryWorks, Guardian Labs, The New York Times’ T Brand Studio and Wired Brand Labs. As we’ve covered in a post on ethics, there should be a clear division between a publisher’s regular editorial team and those working on content for brands.

Most publishers claim they do this. For example, Reuters says freelancers and not its editorial staffers create its Content Solutions native content for brands. Likewise, BuzzFeed maintains what it calls a “clear glass wall” between the two teams because its editorial staff must also be able to write objective hard news (as well as all those viral listicles).

How much?
Which brings us back to the million-dollar question. How much would a leading publisher charge you, as a brand, to produce this native content through its in-house lab or studio?

A quick search of articles on this reveals a few oft-quoted figures from some of the leading publishers. DigiDay (which also has its own native ‘lab’) is one of the most-cited sources on this. In a three-year old article, DigiDay quotes figures like $100,000 for up to five posts created by BuzzFeed’s in-house creative services team. At the higher end, Gawker charged $300,000 to $500,000 for 12 to 16 pieces of content. A more recent DigiDay article from 2015 quotes the Huffington Post as charging $30,000 per article for three million impressions and the Daily Mail charging $10,000 per article with creative built in for 40,000 guaranteed views.

We contacted 21 publishers, including all of those on our list of publisher studios to try and get up-to-date figures for what they charge brands for native content. Not surprisingly, of those that responded (just six of the 21 did), none was prepared to reveal exact pricing details.

The BBC said that, for commercial reasons, it doesn’t disclose its charges for BBC StoryWorks. The Washington Post also declined to give out any details. Guardian News & Media stressed that the presentation of content produced through GLabs for brands makes it clear how the content has been commissioned, produced and funded. It added in a statement: “The pricing of the funding varies from project to project as it depends on many factors which can be exclusive to each project. These include length of the project, necessary manpower, technology needs and how expansive the project will be.”

BuzzFeed also declined to reveal any specific figures but confirmed that those quoted by DigiDay are out of date. BuzzFeed adds, however, that its metrics are geared more towards overall impact and engagement and vary according to the type of content and the various channels of distribution. That’s a step away from the basic CPM model that some publishers still use for this.

BuzzFeed cites successful native campaigns with brands such as one with Baileys, which used the Proper Tasty video format to create recipes with a Baileys twist. According to BuzzFeed, that resulted in 14 million views and 274,000 shares. Another campaign for Skoda to encourage kids to reconnect with nature hit 20.5 million views.

While it’s difficult to get absolute clarity on pricing and charging structures, there is already a divide emerging. On one side, some of the higher-end publishers are charging top dollar to create premium native content for brands that fits well alongside regular editorial and engages their readers. That can be seen in the likes of the New York Times native article on women prison inmates to promote the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and the Wall Street Journal’s interactive piece, ‘Gaming the American Dream’, for the TV show ‘Billionaires’.

On the other side of the fence, some publishers are driving down prices with per-article, CPM-based models, and it’s likely that some of the prices listed by DigiDay and others in the past few years have come down.

As the Daily Mail’s Jon Steinberg told DigiDay: “I can’t charge what the New York Times or Wall Street Journal does. Part of what I want to do is be competitive and easier to work with. And I’m looking to disrupt them.”
We’d warn the latter approach potentially threatens the quality, integrity and impact of publisher-produced native advertising content. And that’s bad for everyone.

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