How to Understand Advertising Rate Cards

Advertising Rate Cards Define How Much an Ad Buy Costs

A rate card is a document provided by a newspaper or other print publication featuring the organization's rate for advertising. It may also detail any deadlines, demographics, policies, additional fees, and artwork requirements. The smaller the publication, the less information that may be available on the rate card.

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The Purpose of an Advertising Rate Card

Some larger newspapers may have a rate card for a particular kind of advertisement. They may have their rates broken down by classified ads, retail advertising, and even national ad rates.

Rate cards help the retailer understand what types of ad sizes, discounts, and other advertising the publication have to offer. When choosing a newspaper or print media, you can use rate cards to compare ad rates based on circulation before you buy advertising space.

Before placing an ad, be sure you understand the terms and conditions of advertising with the publication. In many cases where there may be a conflict between the insertion order and the rate card, the rate card will be the deciding factor. This does not mean the prices on the rate card are fixed. Most retailers will find the paper's sales representative will offer special rates for first time advertisers or other discounts.

If you're interested in advertising within a particular publication, check their website or call the office and ask for a copy of their current rate card. Many newspapers and magazines have their rate cards available online in a PDF format for quick reference. These rates are always negotiable

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Readership vs. Circulation

On most rate cards, the organization will show its coverage area, demographics, and circulation. Some publications also list their readership. Circulation is the number of newspapers or magazines that are printed and distributed each day. Readership reflects the actual number of people who read those newspapers. Since many copies of these materials never get sold or read, the trick is to look at both. You want the readership rate to be close to circulation. You will waste money if you advertise with someone who circulates 1,000,000 copies and half are never read.

Also, unlike with digital publications, there really is no way of knowing if the reader is even looking at the page where your ad is located. Try placing a promo code or coupon in the ad to help you track its effectiveness. 

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ROP (Run of Paper)

Run of Paper (ROP) means your advertisement can appear in any location within the newspaper. With some papers, display ads may not appear in the classified section. If you plan to advertise infrequently during the year you may choose to purchase your space at the open rate. If you plan to advertise more often, you will want to sign a contract.

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Frequency Discounts on Display Ad Rates

A frequency discount is a contract rate offering one of the best discounts for display ads. The best commitment is usually running a minimum size ad each and every week for a 52-week period. Some newspapers also have shorter periods such as 13- and 26-week contracts.

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Open Rates and Bulk Space Contracts

Publishers offer an open rate without discounts. This is the rate that you would be charged for running a single, one-time advertisement. This is sometimes referred to as the non-contract rate.
A discount offered for an advertising commitment to a certain number of ads within a specified time period is called a bulk space contract. For example, if you agree to place 300 inches of advertising in the newspaper within the next year, your per-inch rate would be lower than if you ran one ad one time that year.

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Display Advertising Mechanical Measurements

There may be some variation in measuring ad space in different publications. Here are the definitions of column inch, standard advertising unit, and pica:

  • Column Inch: This is display advertising's primary space measurement. It is generally 1 column wide by 1 inch deep. It may vary by publication.
  • Standard Advertising Unit (SAU): An SAU is the size format that may be accepted in different daily newspapers. This standard was created to make it easier for a large advertiser to place the same ad in many different newspapers without adjusting the ad to different column specifications.
  • Pica: A pica is a typographic unit of measurement. Twelve points is equivalent to 1 pica or or 0.166 inches, and 6 picas is equal to 0.996 inches.
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Calculating Display Ad Rates per Column Inch

When calculating the rates for a display ad, determine the number of column inches in an ad. Multiply the number of columns wide by the number of inches deep using the following formula:

  • __# of columns x __# vertical inches x __rate per inch
    = ___ total ad price

In our example, this business card size ad in our diagram is 3 columns by 2 inches (6 total column inches). If the newspaper's columns measure 1.375 inches then we can assume this ad is 3.375 inches wide by 2 inches deep. The open rate is $8 per column inch, which is 6 column inches multiplied by $8 for an ad total of $48.

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Advertising Page Layout With Ad Sizes

Not all rate cards use per-column inch to calculate advertising rates. Many specialty newspapers and magazines offer certain rates based on pre-calculated ad sizes. This diagram shows a few typical ad sizes.

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Fill Ads

Many newspapers are looking for retailers to fill "dead space" in their paper. For example, a news article might only cover 90% of the page and they have a small hole in the bottom corner that needs content. In a "fill" ad, the newspaper has the right to place your ad in that spot. Your contract with the paper allows them to place your ad a minimum number of times per week, and that determines your rate.