Is Frictionless Ad-Buying Good for Publishers?
Jeff Jarvis’s latest column for The Guardian (see BuzzMachine) proposes an “open ad marketplace”:
“By doing this, we take the friction out of the ad marketplace: every blog is an atom and every ad campaign is a molecule that attracts the best. Thus both advertisers and media gain control and increase their effectiveness and their value. In this post-scarcity world, freed of the limitations of the page and the clock, you could argue that as no end of ad inventory becomes available, rates will only drop. But I also believe that advertisers will pay higher rates for the right sites that perform efficiently for them. Thus quality sites will earn more and advertisers will waste less. That is the value of openness.”
I agree that media buying, selling and the metrics that inform them both are in need of serious improvement. Today most of the control is still in the hands of a few enormous media companies that don’t have a vested interest in innovation or upgrading the current system.
But I don’t think that a “frictionless” open marketplace benefits buyers and sellers equally. Much of the friction in today’s model comes from the publisher side, ie, the content producers and their appointed media sellers. The folks who put their hearts and souls into a magazine or TV network or web site want to make the case to advertisers that the editorial product they produce, and the conversation it engenders, are unique. That uniqueness, they argue, deserves a premium. While an advertiser can find those same people — say the few million people who watch The West Wing — watching other shows or reading certain websites, there’s extra value to reaching them when they’re watching The West Wing. And making that case, god forbid, usually requires a bit of high-friction human contact.
Google has shown us that algorithms can work wonders for direct marketers looking to drive clicks at the lowest cost. Whether or not marketing algorithms can create the next Absolut, Starbucks or Nike, is — to say the least — an open question. Great advertising is about more than “efficient performance,” and best publications do something that even the most thorough spreadsheets can’t compute.
My worry is this: Create a frictionless, rational, performance-oriented marketplace for ads, and content quality and editorial innovation go down the drain.
Related, Jeff’s reply.