Any way to set up a "charge per word" ad system?

Katrina B's picture

Our newspaper wants to offer people the ability to place orders for classified ads online. In my head, I can picture how the system could work -- but I can't figure out how it could be done in Drupal.

The ad rates would be based on a per-word charge. For example, the first 12 words would be $12, with each additional word 35 cents extra.

If I could design the perfect system, there would be a field that would provide a dynamic count of the total number of words.

Then the system would run a calculation of how much the ad would cost.

The user would be presented with that final cost and would be able to adjust the ad length accordingly.

Once the user agreed to pay for the ad, the payment would go through PayPal, and our Classifieds department would receive an email with the ad copy and a confirmation that the ad had been paid for.

We're already accepting ad orders (and PayPal payments) through Ubercart for "Celebration" ads (announcements of births, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and engagements); however, those ads have a fixed cost per size (1x4, 2x7, etc.).

But how to set up a system that would work for our Classified ads? I'm not sure where to begin -- or if it can even be done without custom programming (which I can't do).

Any thoughts?


In the same boat.

shrimphead's picture

Our paper is also in the same boat. Our publisher wants to use a word count to determine ad price. While all the people I've talked to to insist that we should move to a character count as it would be more accurate and easier to implement.

I would be very interested to learn what you discover.

I'm not sure where to begin

greggles's picture

I'm not sure where to begin -- or if it can even be done without custom programming (which I can't do).

Unfortunately, this is a case where it can't be done without custom programming.

Even with custom programming things like dynamic prices are somewhat difficult to do in Ubercart, though they are easier to do in Drupal Commerce (for Drupal 7).

An example of a word counter

dwadson's picture

An example of a word counter for a text area is

Computed Field can be used with the PHP str_word_count() function to get the number of words in a field:

$word_count = str_word_count($node->body);
$node_field[0]['value'] = $word_count;

Why there isn't an off-the-shelf solution

yelvington's picture

Here's why there isn't an off-the-shelf solution for charging by the word: It's not a good idea. I know this isn't what Katrina and Shrimphead want to hear, but it's true and should come as no surprise: Most print publishers have no idea how to deal with the Internet, and fall back on familiar, outdated models rather than making optimal use of the medium.

Buyers want to buy, sellers want to sell, and you want to make money by helping them connect. The straightforward solution is a simple three-tiered pricing model -- silver, gold, platinum packages. In terms of maximizing your revenue, this plays well with buyer psychology, and it works extremely well online, where your costs are relatively fixed.

In print, your costs are variable, so you'll want to protect yourself with limits on the length of an ad. You can do this easily with a character count, and there are lots of Javascript tools that will tell the user when he/she is approaching the limit.

What you should not do is attempt to replicate your print pricing, which is a train wreck that confuses and frustrates your customers. There's nothing wrong with category-specific pricing, and you shouldn't give that up, but quit charging by the word or line. McDonald's does not charge by the french fry. They keep the menu and the decisions simple.

If you're worried about people complaining that online pricing and print pricing don't match, just refuse to take any more ads by phone. Seriously. Your processing costs are killing you, and you should not be shy about letting your customers know that. If you're really worried about the tiny minority of last-century leftovers who don't have net access, just double your phone placement rates.

I'll take a guess that the

dwadson's picture

I'll take a guess that the reason she's looking for how to achieve per-word pricing is in order to integrate with online purchasing of print ads. Our Classified system, AdManagerPro, does have an online option available but it's $$$ and even if we were willing to spend the money on a dying arm of the business, it likely won't integrate easily with a Drupal website.

The main reason I've resisted on online payment is that without the process being completely integrated with the Classified system, then there's marginal, if any, savings of time and resources doing it. That's probably why Katrina mentions receiving an email with the ad copy in it - so it can be copied and pasted into the print system. While there's some time savings to be gained on the ad placement process, there's just as much work to get the ad into your print workflow and some workload increased having to keep track of revenue coming through Paypal and your website.

No disagreement here

Katrina B's picture

I don't disagree at all that the solution I'm being asked to come up with is not the best solution. However, I'm not in a management position where I can make any operational decisions, so I don't get much input on how things are done.

In addition, our newspaper is located in an area that is too far from the nearest major city to be considered "suburban" -- but populated enough not to be quite "rural." That said, the vast majority of our readers, subscribers, and even our website visitors are over the age of 35 (50 percent of our website visits comes from the 35-54 age group; 25 percent comes from 55+). I don't know that there's enough of a computer-savvy audience for us to abandon the telephone for placing Classified ads; my sense is that we'd actually be better off abandoning the idea of an online service for placing Classified ads.

But thank you all for your input. I really appreciate it.

Site builder, writer, trainer, graphic designer

Ahem.... I would not be so

Sunshiney's picture

Ahem.... I would not be so quick to dismiss that age group as not being computer savvy. Long before you young folks, us experienced folks were using and making computers. I am on the plus side of 50, work in tech, and all of my age group is quite tech savvy. My first go-around with a computer was in my 20s -- as was everyone around me. Actually, we do a lot of helping of the young folks. There was a survey not long ago that showed that people beyond retirement age were more computer savvy than younger folks; plenty of time in retirement to get deeply into computers.

And as far as not being in management -- that's no reason to believe that you cannot affect decision-making. A good manager greatly respects (and promotes) workers who contribute knowledge to the organization. I would suggest that you develop a strong, persuasive case for the per character pricing, ask for a meeting with your manager, and present your case.

I think if someone is

dwadson's picture

I think if someone is "computer-savvy" enough to purchase a classified ad online, they've realized that eBay, Kijiji, Craiglist, etc. are cheaper, easier and more effective than print classifieds. Just as the average subscriber age is leaning towards the older end of the scale, I'd be willing to bet that the age of the average paying classified customer is right up there too.

Let's face reality here - except for obituaries, public notices, career ads, etc., paid classified ads is a dying product. Whether it's per-word or per-character is going to be irrelevant soon as the number of people willing to pay to advertise the old fridge or car or dining room set they want to get rid of is rapidly dwindling.


Katrina B's picture

My apologies. I did not intend to suggest that age alone would indicate someone's level of computer ability. I know plenty of people over 30 (myself included) who are quite computer-savvy.

What I was trying to describe is that the majority of our readers are older adults who work in mills, on farms, or other manual-labor jobs, and I'm wondering, if we built an online classified ordering system, just how much use it would get. And if we completely shut down the opportunity for people to place classified ads over the phone, we would probably receive as much of a backlash as we have over our paywall.

At the moment, the possibilities I'm looking at are these:

  • Purchase an existing online classified ordering system. (Not likely; I doubt we have any money in the budget for this.)

  • Investigate a per-character system for charging for ads. (I need to do more research on how this would work, or if it could work at all on a Drupal site.)

  • Investigate the possibility of a tiered system where each level has a maximum number of words. (That, at least, could be accomplished with the Maxlength module.)

  • Suggest that an online classifieds ad ordering system may be beyond our reach at the moment.

Any other alternatives I should add to the list?

Site builder, writer, trainer, graphic designer

The one task I do not see in

Sunshiney's picture

The one task I do not see in your list is research, both primary and secondary, to ascertain what buyers will use, prefer, and understand the benefits to be. This helps management know if they should walk down the online ordering path or not. While nothing is ever definitive, research facilitates calculated risk-taking rather than gambling. Inexpensive and quick research can be done that will help give you answers from your prospects/buyers rather than from assumptions, intuition, or even experience. You can do your primary research by first determining the objective (what you want to know) and then developing both closed-end and open-ended questions. You could use Survey Monkey and meld the responses with informal questioning of current buyers when they call to place their ads. Be sure to gather demographic data so you can associate use with what we call "publics" (target groups). Secondary research involves the study of the results of others research, of published literature on the topic. At the very least, one can poll -- for free -- those who call to place ads. The more knowledge you gather, the better the calculated risk.

Best would be to offer

frob's picture

Best would be to offer different buying options with groups of words at different price points. 0-10 for $5 11-20 $9 and so on. Then have each be a variation of a content type with a max on the body field.

This is kind of quick and dirty but would work. I am assuming you know how to set up the ubercart portion.

Project is on hold

Katrina B's picture

I was recently informed that this project is on hold, and that the media company that owns our newspaper (and a handful of other papers) will be implementing one third-party solution for all the newspapers. No word yet on what that will be.

Many thanks to all of you who responded. At the very least, it was another good learning exercise for me, exploring what is and isn't possible in Drupal.

Site builder, writer, trainer, graphic designer

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