Home' Technology Review : January 2005 Contents 36
I , commercial media would
consist of equal partnerships be-
tween three parties: publishers, the
audience, and advertisers. In real-
ity, advertisers, the group with the
most money, hold all the cards. Publishers
have been relegated to the role of suppli-
cant, and the audience---well, we pretty
much have to swallow whatever deal the
publisher and the advertisers cut.
For the most part, the Internet has in-
herited this model from print publishing:
on the Web, there are far more publish-
ers trolling for ad dollars than there are
advertisers doling them out. But the In-
ternet s interactivity suggests an alterna-
tive economy in which the long-standing
imbalance between publisher, audience,
and advertiser could be corrected. A sys-
tem of Internet-based marketing, which
I ll call Publisher-Driven Advertising, or
PDA, may be soon possible. In this sys-
tem, publishers would pick and choose
from a vast supply of advertisers.
The rst step toward building such a
system has already been taken: the pay-
per-click (PPC) network. If you have ever
visited Google or any content site that runs
Google s ads, you ve seen it (for more on
Google s advertising networks, see p. 38).
Those text-based ads on the right side of
the screen represent two shifts in the tra-
ditional relationship between publishers
and advertisers. First, the advertiser pays
only when the ad performs---when some-
one clicks on the ad itself. Second, paid
search networks "disaggregate" advertis-
ers from publishers---that is, advertisers no
longer purchase space on the publisher s
site but instead pay for keywords.
When PPC networks were rst intro-
duced, publishers were understandably
concerned. PPC undermined what they
had worked hard to build: a community
of loyal readers. PPC networks claimed
that those readers were only valuable if
they acted---that is, clicked on an ad.
Advertisers initially loved paid search
for one simple reason: it worked, driving
valuable leads to their sites. But the pub-
lishers concerns were well-founded. After
all, paid search can undermine the value
of a publisher-created community. It also
fails to garner the bene ts of a publisher s
in uence and endorsement. Finally, ad-
vertisers care a lot about where their ads
appear. A big question arises: can we cre-
ate an advertising model that has all the
bene ts of paid search and at the same
time values the relationship between pub-
lisher and audience?
Imagine that we start with the idea of
PPC---that advertisers pay publishers only
if their ads are acted upon by readers.
Next, imagine that, instead of buying into
PPC networks or speci c sites, advertisers
release their ads onto the Internet.
Because an Internet-based ad is already
a little piece of software, it can be tagged
with information about its target audi-
ence, how much the advertiser is willing
to spend to reach that audience (and how
much each click will cost), what kind of
websites are acceptable or forbidden (such
as porn sites), and any number of other at-
tributes. Most important, each ad could
communicate with a "home" application
that tracks its progress and status.
Once these tagged ads are let loose,
publishers could simply copy and paste
them into their own websites. Through
connections to their home sites, the ads
would report which publishers have pasted
them where, how many clicks they ve re-
ceived, and how much money is left in the
advertiser s bank account. The ad propa-
gates until it runs out of money. If it is
working, the advertiser simply lls up the
tank with more money.
Why is this model better than the cur-
rent one? Because publishers know their
audiences best. There s no incentive for
publishers to place ads that don t perform
or that o end their readers.
Smart Web ads could restore balance to media
A New Idea for Publishing
Megaphone John Battelle
John Battelle is a cofounder of Wir ed
magazine and was the founder of Standard
Media, the publisher of The Industry Standard.
His thoughts on media can be found at John
Battelle s Searchblog (battellemedia.com).
How might such an idea take root?
Weblogs. These "micropublishers" have
credibility and in uence with their online
communities, and if they decided to run
PDA-based advertising, it could be taken
as tantamount to an endorsement of the
This adds yet another element to the
PDA system: publisher in uence. PDA al-
lows publishers to declare their support of
certain advertisers by deciding to r un their
ads. This new system of advertising might
even incorporate a "cost-per-in uence"
metric that would reward publishers for
propagating ads to other sites*.
Although there are technological and
business problems that still need to be
ironed out, Publisher-Driven Advertising
could work, especially because it bene ts
all the parties involved. When PPC was
rst proposed, it was dismissed as a joke.
Today, it s a $5 billion industry. ■
*This article was inspired by many things,
but particularly by Ross Mayfield s "Cost
Per Influence" post at ross.typepad.com/.
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