Google Halts Print Ads Program

Service Was Supposed to Send Ad Revenue to Newspapers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In what is probably not great news for newspapers, Google has given up on its endeavor to sell ink-stained print ads.

The company will shutter Google Print Ads on Feb. 28, according to a post on the Google blog. Google will continue to serve ads in newspapers through Jan. 31. The announcement came in the middle of President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities.

"In the last few months, we've been taking a long, hard look at all the things we are doing to ensure we are investing our resources in the projects that will have the biggest impact for our users and partners," wrote Spencer Spinnell, director of Google Print Ads. "While we hoped that Print Ads would create a new revenue stream for newspapers and produce more relevant advertising for consumers, the product has not created the impact that we -- or our partners -- wanted."

The idea behind Google selling print ads was that the company was "media agnostic" -- it only cared about making ads easier and more efficient to buy.

The real problem
Google originally tested ads in magazines in late 2005, but switched its focus to newspapers in 2006. It appears that the problems weren't necessarily with building out a network of papers. It attracted more than 800 newspapers and, in October, Mr. Spinnell told Ad Age the network was "very healthy."

In 2007, publishers such as The New York Times and The Seattle Times told Ad Age they saw promise in the product and claimed they had seen incremental revenue from clients that haven't previously advertised with the paper.

That means the problem must have been with attracting advertisers.

When Print Ads launched, Google executives said they wanted to bring new advertisers to newspapers -- the kind of advertisers that populate its popular search ads system. Google wouldn't comment on the specifics that led to its shutting down Print Ads, but one likely problem is that it's hard to measure the effect of a newspaper ad for clients who had been trained to follow clicks and conversions to justify their spending on search ads.

Will focus on online
Google still sells radio and TV ads through Google Audio and Google TV Ads. A Google spokesman wouldn't comment specifically about why the company still sees promise in those offline media even though print didn't work out, but one possibility is that radio and TV are increasingly delivered digitally, making them easier to measure. Google said it will continue to focus on how newspapers can make more money -- but online, not offline.

"We will continue to devote a team of people to look at how we can help newspaper companies," Mr. Spinnell wrote. "It is clear that the current Print Ads product is not the right solution, so we are freeing up those resources to try to come up with new and innovative online solutions that will have a meaningful impact for users, advertisers and publishers."

Google has been able to maintain its profit margins, despite a slowing economy to which even search isn't resistant. But the company has been more aggressive about monetizing previously ad-free areas and has cut projects that aren't expected to have a clear contribution to the bottom line. Another recent victim of the cuts include Google's virtual world experiment, Lively.

The people working on print ads will be moved to other roles within Google; Google has confirmed there are no layoffs associated with this move.

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