Billion dollar bye bye

I come from the “follow-the-money” school of journalism, so I’ve written about more than my share of billions over the years. But Alan Mutter took my breath away with his post cataloging the staggering volume of dollars that have fled newspaper help wanted, or so-called “recruitment” ads.

Newspapers have lost more than half of their print recruitment revenues since the category hit an all-time high of $8.7 billion in 2000, the peak of the Internet bubble.

Though final numbers aren’t in for 2007, print recruitment revenues will be lucky to hit $4 billion for the year, making for a sales drop of about 54% in the seven-year period.

That money — and perhaps half again as much — went to the Web, according to the Mutter’s top-notch citations:

By the conservative estimate of Peter Zollman, the founder of the Classified Intelligence consulting group, some $3.5 billion in recruitment ads were sold in 2007 by such online entities as Monster, Hot Jobs, Dice, Ladders, 6FigureJobs, Craig’s List (which charges a nominal price for help-wanted ads in the largest metro markets) and scores of small sites like Gas Work, which specializes in positions for anesthesiologists.

Gordon Borrell, who heads a research firm bearing his name, believes the total online expenditure for recruitment last year was a much larger $6.7 billion. His estimate includes not only money spent on sites ranging from Monster to Gas Work but also the funds that companies spend on the recruitment environments they build on their own websites.

So by either measure — $3.5 billion or $6.7 billion — recruitment revenues didn’t evaporate or shrink, as some industry execs have tried to claim. That money and more quite literally fled to places that work on the Web.

Let’s move the argument about newspapers’ sorry state away from crying in their beer over the unreasonable demands of Wall Street and the (yes) gargantuan profit margins the industry has enjoyed.

This isn’t about margins, it’s about blind incompetence.

In any other business, anyone with such an incredibly expensive case of arrogant disconnect would have been fired one year into this seven-year slide.

It’s not hard for anyone who has tried to hire or be hired to know what happened. If you really want to hire someone, you use what works, and that’s not an ad in the local paper or its online component.

When I needed to fill an online editor’s slot at the news Website I ran in San Antonio, the general manager insisted that I take out a print display ad (for free to me, $400+ to anyone else). I also chose to pay $75 to run an ad at, where I got scores of responses, including from two people I later hired. If anyone had replied with a paper resume to the print ad (I can’t remember ever getting a response) I would have suspected they didn’t possess adequate Web skills to do the job for me.

My online place of choice for ads speaks to the Long Tail side of things. Who knew there was a hugely successful online help wanted service for anesthesiologists called Gas Work? And then again, why not? I’d much sooner target the ad to my audience than waste perfectly good trees aiming an ad at people I don’t want, and who don’t want me.

Then there’s the self-serve aspect. Or, as I’ve put it in reference (and deference) to the in-person retail experience at Neiman Marcus, make it easy for me to give you my money — please!

Knowing my schedule back then, I probably put the ad on at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., after a long day of meetings. As for the ad in the paper, I had to do a mockup, print it out, send it over in interoffice mail to the right department by Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., or it wouldn’t make it into the paper that weekend. Sheesh! Before the weekend paper’s classifieds were printed on Saturday, I already had responses to my online ad.

I’m hardly a kid, and in my entire adult life, I never, ever, ever found a job in the paper. I always found jobs through my network of friends, either by word of mouth, email or some other online connection. That’s why I know there is huge potential of help wanted advertising on sites from LinkedIn to Facebook — again, far from the world of newspapers, and even further from the ones that can’t spell social networking anywhere besides the local country club’s golf course. (Yes, Virginia, editors and publishers still do that, sigh.)

So why keep killing trees for recruitment ads? The Chicago Tribune last month announced it will pull its print help wanted ads back to two days a week and focus on its online recruitment ads.

But if you look at newspapers’ online ads, many are still (!) using interfaces that replicate the print model online. With the old-world arrogance of a paper that’s the only print game in town, too many newspaper managers ignore the aspects that make their online recruitment competitors successful. (Just as they still ignore online journalists who warn them not to mirror their print product on the Web. But that’s another story for another day.)

A quick check of some major metro papers’ Websites showed they are charging $359 to $400 for one 30-day help wanted ad, which won’t go up until the next business day (say what?). The character limits were as low as 1,000 (why?), and there’s no mention of any online functionality, from anything as simple as an email mask (provided automatically on Craigslist) or online resume storage or sorting (provided automatically on, or live searches or RSS feeds, which places like Cragislist make easily and freely available. As for access to a resume database, provided routinely to advertisers at industry-specific help-wanted sites, the only mention I saw on a newspaper site was the Chicago Tribune, which charges $600 extra for the service.

I know from personal conversations with some print news execs lately that, as much as they whine/complain/blame sites like Craigslist, and they haven’t even gone there and they sure as heck don’t know why their users (and I) like the other guys better.

And they call themselves journalists?

Mutter wonders if newspapers can act quickly enough to save the rest of the business.

I say they should just give it up.

Do it in the name of global warming. Think of the trees!

And with apologies to Will Rogers, who said it first and better:

When you find yourself in a $4 billion hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.

And stop blaming everybody but yourself.


Saul Alinsky would be proud

The students and I talked current events today in my Web Publishing and Design class, and the chit chat wasn’t about the Super Bowl or Super Duper Tuesday. It was about Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo and what that could mean for all of us.

One among them knew that Google’s CEO reportedly called Yahoo’s CEO to offer help in the battle, as Reuters reported here.

For some context and food for thought, I screened the short Flash movie Epic 2015 for the class, and we talked more about mergers and the media and the future of journalism. (Note to the creators — it needs updating again!)

I was surprised again at how many elements of that movie have become routine parts of our everyday lives, and tickled that it seemed to anticipate something Twitter-like, even though it saw Friendster and not Facebook.

Some of the students said the movie left them depressed, just as it had been a downer for my print journalist friends when I first showed them Epic 2014 back in 2004, and the remake in 2005.

But I think perhaps the movie doesn’t give adequate credit to the indomitable spirit that lives in all of us who can self-publish (for free!) to places like our blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and wherever.

So here is why I am smiling, and thank you Laughing Squid, for pulling it together:

In response to Microsoft’s hostile acquisition bid for Yahoo, many Flickr users are expressing concern for what might happen if Microsoft is successful. They have even created a Flickr Group to address this issue, Microsoft: Keep Your Evil Grubby Hands Off Of Our Flickr, complete with photo pool of MS/Flickr takeover images, including some that envision what a Flickr website re-design might look like with Microsoft at the controls.


They are using the system to fight the system — as it should be.

I’d like to think that somewhere, Saul Alinksy is smiling upon them.