an advertising role reversal

by Hugh

I’m just fiddling with Amazon ads for another web project soon to be launched (stay tuned). If you scroll down on the left-hand sidebar (on my homepage, here), you’ll see some amazon.com ads on this blog (they won’t last long). Here’s one too:

As I’ve been playing around, it occurs to me that a revolution in how we approach advertising is about to happen … maybe it’s already happened, I don’t know.

Traditionally, publishers (eg TV stations and Newspapers) courted advertisers to get their business. This meant that content producers worked for the advertisers – with all sorts of implications for what kind of content was allowed.

Now, it seems to me – on parts of the web at least – that advertisers will increasingly have to do the courting, and it’s the content-makers and publishers who will decide what sorts of things they want their content (writing, music, movies) to help sell.

Looking at the ads I just put up here, I have a list of 12 items – 2 gadgets (the sexy itouch I’m dreaming of, and a the mic set that helped me get LibriVox rolling), and 10 books, 3 of which were written by friends of mine (Umm, Regret the Error, and Abandon). The other 7 books are books I’ve read and enjoyed this year, and I would recommend them to anyone.

It costs me nothing to put these ads up. And I am happy to help sell these things which I believe in (though as mentioned, I will soon take the ads down – I don’t want to have a commercial relationship with you here; though I have a couple of explicitly commercial projects where I am/will be putting ads).

In effect, here I am really just recommending to you some books that I really loved this year, and that I think you ought to read, and giving you a mechanism to buy them – and support the authors. While Amazon gets their cut, I don’t care about Amazon, but I do think that these writers should be supported and rewarded so that they will write more wonderful books. Few people read this blog, but if I had a big readership and wanted to put ads up here, I would have to work to put ads here for products that will really sell to my audience. That is, ads for things I think my audience will want.

Now it turns out the only things I can think of to tell you to buy at the moment are books, and a couple of gadgets. If I put my mind to it I could come up with any number of things I think you should spend your money on (maybe some good Scotch, for instance). But I would refuse to sell you things I don’t believe in – things I don’t think you want or need.

In the old model: a publisher (say, NBC TV) tries to convince the advertiser (say, Kraft Dinner) that his audience will buy the product, so that the advertiser will give him money to show Kraft ads on NBC TV.

In the new model: the publisher (me) has to try to figure out what kind of products the audience (you) actually wants, and then advertise them.

Further: the old model was pretty inexact, I convince you to give me money to advertise your product, and no on knows really what the effect is.

New model: I decide what I sell, and I see if it’s selling well or not – which I can tell by clickthrus etc. If it is, I keep advertising it; if it’s not, I’ll start advertising something else.

That’s a pretty significant difference.

Now it so happens that Amazon is the de facto commercial mall these days – but they are just the middle man, and I think their stranglehold on this space might be … well … getting commodified. The value of Amazon as online seller will decrease in coming years, I think, even if their volume increases. In part, maybe for the reasons above: if I am going to sell things, I’d like to sell things I like, and Amazon *has* to carry them if they want my business… because otherwise there is a good business figuring out how to help me sell those things. A business that is overdue I think.

We are in the netherland right now, between states. We haven’t got to the kind of advertising market I’m thinking of. Now, more or less, the Google model says: we’ll read your stuff, and serve ads I think are relevant. Which they almost never are. (For instance, I have Amazon on one of my test sites, and it keeps trying to sell an mp3 download of “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves … wtf?)

Adbrite and similar services say: tell me what your site is, and we’ll try to find advertisers who want to advertise there.

But as publisher, what I want is a good advertising clearinghouse so that *I* can find the ads *I* want to have near the stuff *I* am publishing, ads I think *my* audience will respond to. And all I ask in return is a cut of the sales you make from people I send your way.

Again, I think there is a big business opportunity here to make such a clearinghouse. Or maybe someone is doing this already.