AP turns to Twitter and restaurant receipts

Unconventional revenue strategies in the wake of new year's member losses

The AP rolled out two unconventional money-generating strategies this week: It sold advertising in its Twitter feed and cut a restaurant receipt ad deal.

Just 22 percent of the AP’s revenue come from American newspapers. And this percentage will drop—Tribune Co., owner of papers like the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, ceased use of the wire service this month (except for sister paper the Los Angeles Times, which continued with the AP under a separate contract).*

On Monday, the AP announced that it had a deal with Samsung to tweet twice-daily sponsored tweets to its 1.5 million-plus Twitter followers during this past week’s Consumer Electronics Show.** The tweets were written and handled by “staff outside the newsroom,” according to the AP’s press release, to avoid “compromising its newsroom values and principles.”

While other media companies have featured sponsored tweets in their feeds, there was still considerable backlash to AP’s move. (AP social media editor Eric Carvin described reactions as “mostly surprised or maybe intrigued” in an interview with Muck Rack.) Interestingly, the AP managed to cut Twitter out of any revenue-sharing, as Nieman Lab’s Mark Coddington explains in his weekly roundup.

On Tuesday, Washington, DC, restaurant The Old Ebbitt Grill announced that it was teaming up with the AP to print headlines on its receipts alongside paid advertisements, which would serve diners who really want to know what happened while they were eating but somehow don’t have access to a smartphone. This strategy is decidedly more old school than the AP’s more digitally focused revenue streams (as spokesman Paul Colford pointed out, the AP’s YouTube channel sells ads via Google and its mobile app is ad-supported). Old Ebbitt is the only restaurant trying this so far, but Colford says it “holds possibilities going forward.”

It may have to. Tribune papers aren’t the only ones dropping the AP. The Las Vegas Review-Journal gave its two-year cancellation notice on December 31, though editor Mike Hengel told Jim Romenesko that the paper was still evaluating its options and might ultimately re-up its membership. The Bangor Daily News, out of Maine, started the new year AP-free, according to online editor William P. Davis, electing instead for Reuters America, McClatchy, Washington Post, and Bloomberg’s wire services. The decision wasn’t solely based on the AP’s higher fees, Davis says; what the AP offers simply doesn’t fit the Daily News’s Web-first strategy, which prioritizes offering Maine-focused content readers can’t get anywhere else over national and world news.

The money saved by going with cheaper wire services has already helped the Daily News beef up its Maine coverage; Davis says that the paper has been able to add several positions to its newsroom.***

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story neglected to mention that the Tribune Company’s decision to stop using the AP did not include one of its biggest papers, the Los Angeles Times, which continues to use the service under a separate agreement.

**This passage adds context and clarified language.

***An earlier version of this piece featured an additional sentence of commentary.

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: , ,