So I’m gong through my usual routine, sipping my coffee and visiting the usual handful of news sites. Eventually, I land at the NY Times and I’m confronted with this:
It’s not your reliable Times home page with some ads, it’s your reliable Times homepage infested and overwhelmed with an advertisement. The ad not only completely dominates the above-the-fold experience (and my “fold” is generous here, 682 pixels high) but it’s moving around, people are talking (thankfully with the sound turned off) and the whole thing just overwhelms the newspaper reading experience.
Now, it’s worth noting that the New York Times is fully aware of this and provides a Minimize Ads control near the top of the page (you can actually see it in the snapshot, it’s the little gray box). It’s thoughtful of them to provide this. I’ve actually written about this “Off Switch” before. But here’s the thing: you don’t actually see that button the first time you’re greeted with that monster ad. Only if you refresh or revisit do you see it.
Anyway, the goal of this post is not to beat up on the NY Times advertising policies. The NY Times, in my opinion, is the best (if not one of the best) news destinations on the Web. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I still perceive nytimes.com as a digital representation of the paper newspaper. In the paper version, we would never see this kind of compromise for advertising on the front page. If you gray out the actual non-content on the above the fold, we’re left with this:
As you can see, a good 70% of the real estate is useless. This isn’t a newspaper anymore. It’s television. Ultimately, this is about controlling the experience. Television and radio, with it’s doling out of valued content over time, can place advertising along the experience timeline. To get to the stuff we want, we pretty much wait. Print publications are different in that I can jump to and go to anything I want. If I’m interested in the Science section, I’ll just “fast-forward” right to it. My options are far less linear and my ability to jump is unencumbered.
Content delivery and advertising on the Web is sort of it’s own animal. It borrows conventions from both TV and radio and print. I guess it feels wrong to me because, in my mind, you’re not supposed to move sections and words around on me when I’m reading. The physical placement of these information “objects” has become familiar to me. I’ve grown to know the lay of the land. When you move them around, I’m left annoyed and slightly cheated.
I can fully appreciate the Times’ motivation to sell ads. The newspapers are going through a lot of turmoil right now as they transition. My hope is that we’ll find a balance and that newspapers and magazines on the Web will hold strong on the things that compromise the reading experience and more importantly, their identity as news sources for reading news. I don’t want the NY TImes to turn into the NY Times Web Channel.