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I, Cringely’s “Stop the Presses!” Rebuttal

In a recent I, Cringely article Robert Cringely argues the traditional publishing industry is dying at the hands of Internet pay-per-click advertising.

More pay-per-click means more online content but ultimately less money for producing that content. Print publications fade from sight or continue primarily as art forms, rather than businesses. It will take another decade to happen, but happen it will.

Cringely is right- traditional print will decline dramatically. Maybe sooner, maybe later. But pay-per-click does not “ultimately mean less money for producing the content.” Certainly less money will be spent on untargeted, unmeasurable advertising and more will be spent on effective targeted advertising. The two trends will at least offset each other if not actually increase total ad spending and the total money spent producing content.

Comparing ad density of traditional magazines to the ad density of web pages Cringely concludes, “there is no way a print publisher can switch to all on-line without shrinking in just about every respect.”

The densest web page will have one banner ad at the top, eight to 10 Google ads down the right side, and maybe another Google ad or two at the bottom. That sounds like a lot, but on a strict real estate basis, it is very hard to exceed an ad-to-edit ratio of 50 percent, and most web pages have three times as much editorial content as ad space — the exact reciprocal of the experience with paper publications.

If the total advertising space shrinks and the ad’s are more desirable (effects are more measurable therefore pay-per-click ads are easier to optimize and improve) advertisers will pay more for the ads. Scarcity and increased value combine to push prices up.

Another way to look at the situation is to consider advertisers are buying customer’s attention. Today they buy it though more traditional media. In a decade they will probably buy more Internet media to capture the customer’s attention. If they can buy more customer attention for less money the advertisers will not choose to spend less money for the same amount of attention. They will spend the same money or more for more attention from their customers.

Advertising isn’t dying and advertising agencies will not let their clients shrink their budgets. Less may be spent in magazines or newspapers but a smaller overall budget is unthinkable.