Media owners are making a big mistake channelling their funds into
doomed e-zines. Instead it is time to give advertisers what they really
want, Alex Letts says.
When an organ as pivotal to Euro marketers as the Wall Street Journal
leads with a doom and gloom story about the prospects for publishers on
the Web (no ad revenue), it’s fair to expect a stampede to the
You won’t read much about this, of course, because most media owners are
also heavily financially exposed with their own blighted e-zines.
Agencies know this already but they’re keeping mum because they fear
loss of face for all the bandwagon-riding they have been engaged in over
the past year. Also, the interactive media guru’s job depends on the
agency management believing that the floodgates will open any minute now
on vast new ad placement revenue streams.
However, the fault lies not with the publications themselves, which are
worthy enough given the impossibility of the editorial and design
The problem doesn’t even spring from the ads and agencies which are
beginning to understand the medium and use it intelligently.
The fact is that the medium is just not ideal for publishing. As things
stand today, there’s no real market in Europe for online publishing.
That’s not to say the publishers should pack up and go home, but they
need to get a perspective, which they may already have, but won’t admit
Interactivity, with all its apparent benefits, has a darker side that
people won’t or don’t want to see. It means you, as a consumer, have to
do more than have a passive relationship with your media. And that’s not
what the majority of consumers want in most instances.
The Web is ideal for interaction in a transactional situation or in a
relationship. But for media consumption, it’s a dog.
Yes, there are many occasions where searching and grabbing information
from the Web is a boon. It’s one that millions (commercial or not) use
every day. However, the source is rarely an online ’publication’, more
often an online databank, frequently accessed via a search engine, which
is where most of the current ad money is spent and where the future
So my tip is this: watch the relative stagnation of online publishing
ventures and the continuing aggressive acquisition of search engines and
databanks by people who are already invested up to the eyeballs in
They need to build this business and I believe they will. But the
publications themselves, and the advertising medium they deliver, will
diminish even further in importance.
The challenge for the media owners will not be the development of more
expensive and unread e-zines but the ownership of raw information that’s
sold or given to the zillions of agents who will soon be roaming the
These agents will have the capability to negotiate and will probably be
able to sift out advertising. So bargaining with them will be in the
nature of: ’I’ll give you this information if you’ll take the ad that
comes with it.’
Suddenly, the future for publishers looks interesting. The ads will be
available to audiences by precise target in mass volumes. The
interaction will be trackable by typology because the agent will have to
identify itself and its owner.
All this means good business for the advertiser and a premium rate for
the publisher. Within this model a healthy, vibrant and commercially
successful advertising business can and will be built. It’s one that
will offer agencies and publishers a real challenge to exploit to the
limits of its immense potential.
But meanwhile, if you value your shirt, steer clear of the online
publications and publishers still investing in acres of prettified cyber