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Major Newspaper Publishers Plan Joint Online Ad Sales Initiative

Gannett, McClatchy, and Tribune are joining forces to sell online ads.

Misery loves company, and there are few businesses more miserable these days than newspapers. With lackluster stock performance in 2006, the nation's three largest newspaper publishers could use some consolation and camaraderie.

Faced with prospect of declining print adverting revenue across the newspaper industry -- TNS Media Intelligence predicts a 0.9% decline in newspaper ad revenue in 2007 compared with 2006 -- Gannett, McClatchy, and Tribune are joining forces to sell online ads. TNS foresees 13.4% growth in Internet advertising revenue in the same period.

In a December speech at a Credit Suisse conference, Gannett CEO Craig Dubow outlined the plan. "One of the projects we're working is a national network of ad sales for Gannett's Internet sites," he said. "However, in addition to our sites, we will have a broader network in conjunction with Tribune and McClatchy."

Once the network is up and running, it will be open it to any other company that wants to participate, said Dubow.

A spokesperson for Tribune confirmed the plan. "We are in active discussion with Gannett, McClatchy, and others about creating an online national sales network," he said. "Discussions are in the formative stages, but anything we can do in print or online to make options for our advertisers more attractive is the direction that we'll go." A spokesperson for McClatchy declined to comment.

The troika of newspapers faces some competition in the online ad business: Yahoo and a group of seven newspaper chains -- Belo, Cox Enterprises, E.W. Scripps, Hearst, the Journal Register, Lee Enterprises, and MediaNews Group -- said last November that they planned to work together to deliver search, content, and local applications to newspaper's online sites. And Google has been testing a system to sell print ads through its online service at over 60 newspapers, including those owned by Gannett and Tribune.

News publishers have tried this before: In 1995, Advance Publications, Cox Newspapers, Gannett, Hearst, Knight Ridder, The New York Times, Times-Mirror, Tribune, and the Washington Post formed the New Century Network to sell online ads. The venture ended in March 1998, reportedly because of members' inability put aside their own agendas for those of the group.

Dubow may have been alluding to this failure in describing his company's current plans. "The goal is to create the largest network of newspaper-developed local sites for any advertiser to reach local consumers," he said. "However, unlike past efforts in the industry in print or online, we need a network focused on customer needs, so business rules will include guaranteed inventory availability, standard pricing, and simple billing."

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