Industry Insights
Conducting a Digital Business: 90% Direct Ad Buys on


Robert Niles
Director of Advertising and Technology



For those of us that aren’t familiar with, please tell us a little more about your online publication and audience. is global community of violin performers, teachers, students, and fans. We offer daily coverage of violin-related news, advice for teaching and learning the violin, as well as on-going discussions.


According to Quantcast, you have over 160,000 uniques to per month, which is no trivial feat for such a specialized audience. Has verification of your audience by 3rd parties like Quantcast helped with direct advertiser interest?

I believe that third-party verification helps to confirm our credibility with advertisers who haven’t worked with us in the past, and might have concerns about audience reach, based upon bad experiences with other publications in the past.


How has programmatic advertising affected your business?

The violin is perhaps the ultimate analog instrument, so I suppose it makes sense that the businesses in our niche tend to be focused more on personal, off-line relationships than building programmatic approaches to their challenges. Almost all of our advertising is booked in person or on phone calls, from independent businesses that do not use agencies. But that’s our niche.


Typically, what does a sponsorship, or or direct ad buy on your site look like? (banner ads, takeover, posting on social accounts, email blast, etc)

Our typical sponsorship is a mix of banner ads, directory listing and links, all on the website. We have not included commercial appeals in our social media.


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges verticalized/specialized publishers face today?

Programmatic advertising that targets what it believes to be the interests of the individual reader undercuts publishers and readers when it delivers ads that do not reflect the context of a specialized website.

When readers are on, they’re thinking about the violin, about classical music. They are not thinking about tires for their car, refilling a prescription for medication, or whatever else they were browsing online before coming to us. Those potential sales moments are over. By continuing to try to close a sale whose moment has passed, individual-targeted programmatic advertising just manages to put readers off banner ads in general, hurting us and our advertisers.


In your estimation, what do you think the revenue breakout is for a specialized web publisher, between revenue from ad networks/exchanges, and that of direct advertiser relationships?

It really depends upon the nature of the niche. On, 90 percent of our revenue comes from direct sales. On, which we also run, 100 percent comes from networks. But niche travel lends itself well to networked sales. Networks are almost nonexistent for mid- to high-end violin sales and instruction.


How do advertisers typically discover your ad offering? (comScore, already known in the Violin community, etc)

They know us because of our long-time standing in the community. We meet people at industry events, and build relationships off line.


What are some core tools you use internally for things like ad operations/serving, trafficking, and campaign measurement?

Ultimately, we use a lot of Google’s tools – DoubleClick for Publishers to manage ad inventory, AdSense for unsold inventory, Analytics for traffic data. The only non-Google tool we use is Quantcast, for public third-party verification and demographics.


What are some innovations going on in the digital advertising industry today that you are excited about?

Wow. We’ve been around for so long that we take a very skeptical view of anything new. We would love to find some networked assistance in selling ads that performs better with contextual targeting than AdSense. But everyone who’s tried that has been all talk and little action up until now.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of direct ad buys for specialized audiences?

Again, it all depends upon the niche. If your niche attracts an audience that is valuable to big players, networks will provide your best revenue. But if your niche appeals mostly to mom-and-pop-style businesses, as ours does, then direct sales will continue to drive the majority of your revenue for the foreseeable future. is a global community of violin performers, teachers, students and fans. Founded by Laurie Niles, a professional symphony violinist and newspaper reporter, reaches more than 250,000 readers each month.

Our first book, “The Interviews: Volume 1″ includes a foreword by Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn and exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today’s best-known violinists, including Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, and Maxim Vengerov. It is available at

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