Opinion: Less publishing, more data is the challenge for the Web

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.

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

in public.

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

growth lies.

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

online publications.

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



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