Op-Ed: Web Ads (1996)

Something sad and foreboding has happened.

Web Review online magazine has announced its last issue. It is closing down because the advertising ezine model has failed to generate enough revenue to sustain the Web Review staff.

Does this mean that online magazines are doomed? Hmm. I have been mulling this one over for a while. It is a difficult question. After all, this column is entering a new online mag in a few weeks. Am I setting myself up for a fall?

The news of the week is more Network Computers by the way, yeah yeah, boring.

So back to my mulling: I am going to go out on a limb here and get kinda complicated, so if I lose you, don’t worry, I’m lost myself.

What makes money on the web? Hits. Hits are Power. If you can sustain hits on the web you can sell advertising and generate revenue. How many hits is enough? That’s the key; it’s a lot more than you than you think. It is so much that almost any operation that can command that many hits is so expensive that the ad sales do not even begin to cover them. So what is the answer?

You need to max out on hits with very little staff or maintenance. Example: Playboy sells a lot of ads because they get a lot of hits. Why? Because of Name Recognition and naked women. Some sites have it all. Another example: Infoseek. They have a computer do all the work. Problem is: Only half a dozen good search engines and the rest are fairly obscure (and lacking in good ad sales).

What I am getting at is that the web doesn’t support ad sales in the same fashion that TV or radio or print does. Good demographics are not technologically possible right now and effectiveness is even more hazy. despite strong improvements in encryption and secure commerce software, online purchasing is sadly anemic. The web sucks pretty bad right now. It doesn’t move fast and it offers very little, BUT it offers a glimpse into the future.

Within a few years the web will grow into a full-fledged medium with its own rules and success models. It will be taken for granted that a company can not try to make an ezine and hope to sell enough advertising to sustain a large staff. A company will have to do one thing and the ezine parallel, each facet helping the other. Example: C/Net succeeds in using its TV show to promote its web site and vice versa. They also advertise on the web to gain hits which translate into ad sales for C/Net. It’s an upward spiral which ultimately gains the most important piece of the puzzle, Name Recognition.

OK, I’ve babbled long enough. I hope this gives a small spark to the brainstorming which is already going on. Email us with your ideas on the subject. Success is elusive, it might hit you in the ass while you’re not looking.

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