Category Archives: advertising

all the news that’s fit to search

Placing a long-term bet on online advertising and the power of search engines, the New York Times will, effective tomorrow, close down its two-year-old “Select” subscription service (which was actually making money for the paper) and opened up access to columnists, Select blogs, and archives from 1987 to the present, and 1851 to 1922. Nice!
From PaidContent, quoting the Times’ own coverage:

The change is because of what’s happened in the internet in the past two years – ?particularly the power of search.” She [Vivian Schiller, senior vp and general manager of] added later: “Think about this recipe – ?millions and millions of new documents, all seo’d [search engine optimized], double-digit advertising growth.” The Times expects “the scale and the power of the revenue that would come from that over time” to replace the subscriptions revenue and then some.

under the influence

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting (and free) piece on a new class of individuals — filters, recommenders, editors, curators, call them what you will — that is becoming increasingly influential in directing attention traffic across the Web. The article focuses primarily on top link hounds at user-filtered news sites like Digg, Reddit and the newly reborn Netscape, sites whose aggregate tastemaking muscle has caught the attention of marketers and product placers, who have made various efforts to buy influence through elaborate vote-rigging schemes and good old-fashioned payola. The article also makes mention of some notable solo filtering acts including a regular stop of mine,, a video archive operated by a young Canadian named Jeff Hoard. At the end of the piece there’s a list with links of other important “influencers.”
While I was reading this I kept thinking of Time Magazine’s “The Person of the Year is You”, which caused a minor stir last December with its cover containing a little mirror in a YouTube-like screen. On one level the piece was simple trend-spotting, a comment on the phenomenon (undoubtedly reaching new heights in ’06) of social media production. But it could also be read as a thinly camouflaged corporate memo announcing big media’s awakening to the potentially enormous profits of an ad-based media network in which the users do all the work of filtering. And it’s precisely the sorts of “influencers” in this WSJ piece that are the “you” on which they are hoping to capitalize. The “you” that convinced Google that $1.8 billion was a price worth paying for YouTube, or Rupert Murdoch a half billion for MySpace (I would have liked to have heard more in the article about the way this phenomenon is playing out on these two sites through the video “channels” and friend networks).
It all adds up to a pretty astonishing redefinition of what “the media” is. The front page, the lead story, the primetime lineup — all in constant renegotiation, constantly rearranged. Yet still in so many ways dependent on the established sources for the materials to be filtered (and probably in the future for personal income, as is already beginning). Feeders and filterers. The new media ecology doesn’t destroy the old one, it absorbs it into a new relationship.

on business models in web publishing

waiting cart.jpg

Waiting cart stacked with newspaper advertising inserts — by, via Flickr

Here at the Institute, we’re generally more interested in thinking up new forms of publishing than in figuring out how to monetize them. But one naturally perks up at news of big money being made from stuff given away for free. Doc Searls points to a few items of such news.
First, that latest iteration of the American dream: blogging for big bucks, or, the self-made media mogul. Yes, a few have managed to do it, though I don’t think they should be taken as anything more than the exceptions that prove the rule that most blogs are smaller scale efforts in an ecology of niches, where success is non-monetary and more of the “nanofame” variety that iMomus, David Weinberger and others have talked about (where everyone is famous to fifteen people). But there is that dazzling handful of popular bloggers that rival the mass media outlets, and they’re raking in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in ad revenues.
Some sites mentioned in the article:
TechCrunch: “$60,000 in ad revenue every month” (not surprising — its right column devoted to sponsors is one of the widest I’ve seen)
Boing Boing: “on track to gross an estimated $1 million in ad revenue this year” over a million a year “on pace to become a multimillion-dollar property.
Then, somewhat surprisingly, is The New York Times. Handily avoiding the debacle predicted a year ago by snarky bloggers like myself when the paper decided to relocate its op-ed columnists and other distinctive content behind a pay wall, the Times has pulled in $9 million from nearly 200,000 web-exclusive Times Select subscribers, while revenues from the Times-owned continue to skyrocket. There’s a feeling at the company that they’ve struck a winning formula (for now) and will see how long they can ride it:

When I ask if TimesSelect has been successful enough to suggest that more material be placed behind the wall, Nisenholtz [senior vice president for digital operations] replies, “The strategy isn’t to move more content from the free site to the pay site; we need inventory to sell to advertisers. The strategy is to create a more robust TimesSelect” by using revenue from the service to pay for more unique content. “We think we have the right formula going,” he says. “We don’t want to screw it up.”

***Subsequent thought: I’m not so sure. Initial indicators may be good, but I still think that the pay wall is a ticket to irrelevance for the Times’ columnists. Their readership is large and (for now) devoted enough to maintain the modestly profitable fortress model, but I think we’ll see it wither over time.***
Also, in the Times, there’s this piece about ad-supported wiki hosting sites like Wikia, Wetpaint, PBwiki or the swiftly expanding WikiHow, a Wikipedia-inspired how-to manual written and edited by volunteers. Whether or not the for-profit model is ultimately compatible with the wiki work ethic remains to be seen. If it’s just discrete ads in the margins that support the enterprise, then contributors can still feel to a significant extent that these are communal projects. But encroach further and people might begin to think twice about devoting their time and energy.
***Subsequent thought 2: Jesse made an observation that makes me wonder again whether the Times Company’s present success (in its present framework) may turn out to be short-lived. These wiki hosting networks are essentially outsourcing, or “crowdsourcing” as the latest jargon goes, the work of the hired guides. Time will tell which is ultimately the more sustainable model, and which one will produce the better resource. Given what I’ve seen on, I’d place my bets on the wikis. The problem? You, or your community, never completely own your site, so you’re locked into amateur status. With Wikipedia, that’s the point. But can a legacy media company co-opt so many freelancers without pay? These are drastically different models. We’re probably not dealing with an either/or here.***
We’ve frequently been asked about the commercial potential of our projects — how, for instance, something like GAM3R 7H30RY might be made to make money. The answer is we don’t quite know, though it should be said that all of our publishing experiments have led to unexpected, if modest, benefits — bordering on the financial — for their authors. These range from Alex selling some of his paintings to interested commenters at IT IN place, to Mitch gradually building up a devoted readership for his next book at Without Gods while still toiling away at the first chapter, to McKenzie securing a publishing deal with Harvard within days of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. piece profiling GAM3R 7H30RY (GAM3R 7H30RY version 1.2 will be out this spring, in print).
Build up the networks, keep them open and toll-free, and unforseen opportunities may arise. It’s long worked this way in print culture too. Most authors aren’t making a living off the sale of their books. Writing the book is more often an entree into a larger conversation — from the ivory tower to the talk show circuit, and all points in between. With the web, however, we’re beginning to see the funnel reversed: having the conversation leads to writing the book. At least in some cases. At this point it’s hard to trace what feeds into what. So many overlapping conversations. So many overlapping economies.

book trailers, but no network

We often conceive of the network as a way to share culture without going through the traditional corporate media entities. The topology of the network is created out of the endpoints; that is where the value lies. This story in the NY Times prompted me to wonder: how long will it take media companies to see the value of the network?
The article describes a new marketing tool that publishers are putting into their marketing arsenal: the trailer. As in a movie trailer, or sometimes an informercial, or a DVD commentary track.

“The video formats vary as widely as the books being pitched. For well-known authors, the videos can be as wordy as they are visual. Bantam Dell, a unit of Random House, recently ran a series in which Dean Koontz told funny stories about the writing and editing process. And Scholastic has a video in the works for “Mommy?,” a pop-up book illustrated by Maurice Sendak that is set to reach stores in October. The video will feature Mr. Sendak against a background of the book’s pop-ups, discussing how he came up with his ideas for the book.”

Who can fault them for taking advantage of the Internet’s distribution capability? It’s cheap, and it reaches a vast audience, many of whom would never pick up the Book Review. In this day and age, it is one of the most cost effective methods of marketing to a wide audience. By changing the format of the ad from a straight marketing message to a more interesting video experience, the media companies hope to excite more attention for their new releases. “You won’t get young people to buy books by boring them to death with conventional ads,” said Jerome Kramer, editor in chief of The Book Standard.”
But I can’t help but notice that they are only working within the broadcast paradigm, where advertising, not interactivity, is still king. All of these forms (trailer, music video, infomercial) were designed for use with television; their appearance in the context of the Internet further reinforces the big media view of the ‘net as a one-way broadcast medium. A book is a naturally more interactive experience than watching a movie. Unconventional ads may bring more people to a product, but this approach ignores one of the primary values of reading. What if they took advantage of the network’s unique virtues? I don’t have the answers for this, but only an inkling that publishing companies would identify successes sooner and mitigate flops earlier, that the feedback from the public would benefit the bottom line, and that readers will be more engaged with the publishing industry. But the first step is recognizing that the network is more than a less expensive form of television.

Wikipedia to consider advertising

The London Times just published an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in which he entertains the jimmywales.jpgidea of carrying ads. This mention is likely to generate an avalanche of discussion about the commercialization of open-source resources. While i would love to see Wikipedia stay out of the commercial realm, it’s just not likely. Yahoo, Google and other big companies are going to commercialize Wikipedia anyway so taking ads is likely to end up a no-brainer. As i mentioned in my comment on Lisa’s earlier post, this is going to happen as long as the overall context is defined by capitalist relations. Presuming that the web can be developed in a cooperative, non-capitalist way without fierce competition and push-back from the corporations who control the web’s infrastructure seems naive to me.

beautiful? if so, why?

Sony Europe is promoting a new screen technology with a TV commercial featuring 250,000 brightly colored balls rolling down a San Francisco street. despite the maudlin soundtrack the sight of a quarter of a million balls floating chaotically down the hill is spectacular. this is partially because the piece is silly, fantastical, and brilliantly executed. i wonder though, if part of the reason people like the ad so much is because real balls are rolling on a real street — because the absence of any computer graphics is so unusual in our increasingly everything-so-neat-and-clean digital mediascape? this is not meant to be a rhetorical question. what do you think?

marketing books on mobile phones

Harper Collins Australia’s new MobileReader service beams information about new titles and authors, and even book excerpts, to a cellphone. They’re beginning with promotions of Dean Koontz, Paul Coelho and others.
(via textually)