Tag Archive for 'advertising'

A solution for the newspaper industry

Newspaper executives around the world are scrambling at a solution to the new marketplace. NewsCorp’s CEO in Australia remarked a few months ago that they only make 1/10th of the revenue on websites as they do through print – but with declining print circulation due to the popularity of online news – this is really affecting the bottom line of the industry. Unfortunately, they’ve been attacking news aggregators despite the fact that that’s the solution to their problems – it’s now a changed marketplace that they need to embrace.

The market dynamics are different now
Newspapers existed at a time when information was scarce. They performed the role of aggregating news (as well as creating it), and distributing it to the public through expensive channels which could not be easily recreated.

In today’s age, information is in abundance and is drowning out consumers – with a distribution environment that is now cheap. Further, the role of news aggregation can be done more efficiently through online tools. However this has caused a problem – because in the value chain of online news, the aggregators are the ones that are able to monetise the content. Because people don’t have time to read all the news now, they rely on aggregators that pull content from a variety of sources – and then only click on stories that capture their attention. These aggregators can place sponsored posts or advertisements alongside other articles, and so have found a new way to monetise content in the ‘click economy’.

However from the content providers point of view, they’ve invested time and money in creating unique content, only for it to be ignored by consumers because they no longer have a captive audience – and for aggregators who do, to be monetising content they didn’t pay for.

Google News - aggregator

Newspapers need to drop advertising and think about the entire value chain
Content can no longer rely on advertising as a revenue model – as I’ve argued before, it’s a broken bubble economy. But premium content can exist as a paid subscriber service. This seems to be the direction newspapers are heading. But I think it’s a mistake to enact paid subscriptions on all newspaper websites – it will kill demand and will not scale across the entire industry, other than for the few globally recognised newspapers and strong national brands where their location gives them a comparative advantage (ie, LA times for entertainment; Washington Post for US politics; Wall Street Journal for the capital markets).

Rather than charge consumers to subscribe to a newspaper, what the newspaper companies should be doing is creating a new type of organisation that can pool their resources. They should do this in the same way they did with the associated presses around the world several decades ago, where they can source expensive overseas content in a cooperative, which can then be distributed by newspapers in their niche markets.

Newspapers should create niche aggregators modeled in the same way Google News, Techmeme and its political cousin memeorandum (shown below) have done. Consumers will pay a subscription fee to these aggregators to get access to certain sources of information. And newspapers will get proportionally remunerated through the co-operatative making money on the aggregators service, but also control the distribution of their premium content which can be monetised further down the value chain (ie, once a consumer visits their website).

memeorandum

The model scales because a consumer has only one organisation to deal with, and can control their content consumption and payments. The aggregators also allow the consumer to define what sources of information they value. Better still, this controlled environment of information distribution puts more onus on the content creators to generate quality product. If people include them in their aggregator subscription but never click on that particular organisations content, no one can be faulted but the content creator themselves for not creating compelling content.

Better still, market dynamics can come into play. Part of the function of an aggregator is to cluster stories. This allows for a fair way of distributing the content – the news source that pays a premium can get a higher weighting in this clustering. So an aggregator may have 50 sources that all get clustered as one headline; based on a sources ability to pay per headline, will determine how much the dominate in weighting. This then puts the onus on the newspaper to create a better sales force that can monetise content later down the value chain, which can subsidise this discovery phase of the value chain.

Is this the answer?
Who really knows but its a step in the right direction. With consumers paying to subscribe to an aggregator, they’re getting better value through diversity of inputs – and newspaper companies will get remunerated on how much content they provided as a proportion of the total attention by a consumer on the aggregator. The future of content will be driven by the subscription model, and this is a way that achieves that with the best value for a consumer.

Newspapers are reliant on the aggregators as a source of traffic and discovery. Rather than trying to kill them – they should copy them, license the technology and control the discovery phase of news consumption now crucial for today’s information-overloaded consumer.

What’s holding back newspapers from going down this path? They are too used to being the aggregators themselves. Instead, they need to realise that they must specialise now. They should focus on creating great content (a discussion in itself), and let technologists drive the discovery phase.

Rethinking copyright and its scope creep

Modern copyright has been influenced by an array of older legal rights that have been recognised throughout history, whose legacy development may be harming our future. It traditionally protected the moral rights of the author who created a work, the economic rights of a benefactor who paid to have a copy made, the property rights of the individual owner of a copy, and a sovereign’s right to censor and to regulate the printing industry. I’m not going to say copyright is dead, but perhaps now irrelevant, given the evolution of media. As I’ve argued before, access to information is more valuable than ownership and modern copyright law doesn’t recognise this fully.
Is copyright a little fuzzy?

Rethinking media
Media, content, and other related words essentially are words that reflect human expression. When you read a book or a newspaper article, it’s another human being expressing something to you. That expression in turn, generates an experience for you – such as (but not limited to) interpretation, entertainment and reflection. You can’t “capture” media and lock it in a jar – you can only remember it. No one can own the individual words in a body of text because no one owns a language. But that power of provoking emotions in other people is powerful and outright scary if you truly realise the power.

We are now seeing a dramatic evolution in the media landscape. The disruptive influence, of what was called “user generated content” yesterday and now called “social media”, is making us rethink the media in our world. The thing is, it’s the same thing as any media – it’s human beings expressing themselves. The only difference now, is that the means of that expression has changed – less so technologically and more so the actual process – to one that is many-to-many.
This image is copyrighted

Rethinking value
Social media is about discussions rather than broadcasts. It’s about the producer and consumer of the information interacting. Everyone has an opportunity to respond to my blog post here, and sometimes I respond. Other times I don’t, but that doesn’t matter because it still impacts me and future readers of my blog post with an alternative perspective.

What we are seeing now is a move way from the mass production of media, and a growth in the mass socialisation of media. It’s not about how many people you can push your content to, but how engaging your content can be. The economic models supporting content are still evolving, but it’s engagement that pays the bills. An engaged reader will be more receptive to advertising (which is increasingly important as advertising performance is now more accountable) and for the subscription model of content, engagement is what retains a customer. To retain a readership, you need compelling content.

However this old media adage about compelling content is changing. The socialisation of content isn’t just about pushing content, as insomuch discussing it. It’s about building a community of people that are passionate and interested: an expertise network where value comes from being in the same place as others that are like-minded. An example of this can be see with Read Write Web, who have created an exclusive community manager community. GigaOM, another innovator in the media space, has done the same thing for premium content that runs in parallel with its popular (free) blogs. Compelling content is now about building compelling communities. Copyright works well for static objects – but not so much for people interacting freely.
RWW aggregator

Rethinking copyright
This is a complex subject and I by no means am being definitive here. But I simply want to raise a question of what really is the value of copyright? If content is an expression that generates an experience in a human, then specific types of expression need specific treatment. And if compelling communities are now a new form of engaging with content, requiring a lock down on the content produced may actually hurt value. As another form of content, news has value in its immediacy and is useless a day later as the news is constantly evolving. There’s no value of copyright there as ‘time’ is where news derives its value from – not long-term protection.

Should copyright be dead? No, that’s not what I am arguing – rather, it needs a rethink of what exactly it’s protecting, with its scope reduced. Like a parent protecting a child, if you protect them too much, they might never actually experience life, be happy and potentially ignorant to future dangers – which is what a parent is ultimately responsible for. The aggressive remarks of newspaper executives I’ve heard in the last month about being more aggressive in their copyright may not be the right solution. Protection of assets is valuable only when it enhances future value.

Let’s be careful we not lose sight of what we are protecting and why.
Copyright is for losers

Can the newspaper industry please stop their damn whining

Google is not a blood sucking vampire. In fact, the newspaper industry is a spoilt little brat.

Search engines such as Google and aggregators (like the constantly criticised techmeme) provide a huge amount of economic value for the newspaper industry. They enable discovery by people that are not regular subscribers to their content. They provide traffic, which drive up the page views, that enable them to sell inflated prices for perceived access to an audience.

Newspapers put their content on the web for free by their own choice. They have plenty of ways of excluding their content from being freely accessible, either through a paid wall or technology conventions like the robots.txt…But they don’t want to completely do that, because they lose the traffic.

Subscription models will be the future revenue model for content. One where people will pay for constant access to a particular information provider (as fresh access – not static objects – is where the real value comes from in information and especially in news). Of course, this means people with established brands can only do this as people will not pay unless they know what to expect. However despite their current lead in this game due to their century-old mastheads, the newspaper industry is refusing to solely go down this route. And the reason for this, is because they still rely on advertising for the majority of their revenue mix – and advertising is driven by traffic.

Newspaper executives want the economic value provided by search engines and aggregators in discovery and traffic – but they whine consistently because these innovative new businesses in the information age have found a way to monetise this function in the value chain.

The solution is simple: cut public access, and put all content behind a paid wall. And only participate in exclusive aggregators. The search engines and free aggregators no longer have your content to add to their mix – and yes, you Mr newspaper executive no longer get as much traffic. But that’s what you get for being a whining little kid.

I am sick and tired of hearing industrial age executives refuse to compromise with information age business models.

Why Twitter will make advertising an endagered species

twitter-logo-small Twitter has transformed the way we communicate in the world. That’s a big deal, because as human beings, the ability to communicate is how we broke free from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our entire society is based on this fact, and so it should come as no surprise that so are some of our biggest industries. Advertising, the billion-dollar industry that funds the web and media, is literally about communicating to the public.

More fundamentally, that’s how the market economy operates. There are three elements to a market: conversations, relationships, and transactions. In the industrial age, we forgot about this and came to associate markets as purely transactional: we see a price attached to a mass produced item, and that is meant to convey everything we need to know. But as Doc Searls shares the story with his African friend, the conversation at the market is how selling used to be done, underpinned by a relationship.

My firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is one of the biggest firms in the world. In Australia, we are almost twice the size of our nearest competitor and manage to charge more than our competitors as well without consequence. I’ve often wondered how this could be, but it was only until I broke down the fundamental components of the market that I realised. Price matters – but only when you don’t know anything else. When someone gets to know someone at the firm, they have conversations – and build a relationship. Those relationships are what makes PwC the behemoth it is. It’s not that price is irrelevant, but now with additional information to inform an economic buyer, it’s no longer the sole determinant.

Demand and Supply, sitting in a tree
Twitter co-founder Isaac “Biz” Stone recently defended the company’s stance on advertising as a revenue model. He rightly says the banner ad model is dead – no kidding. But his brilliance comes through when he says that they are exploring ways in “facilitating connections between businesses and individuals in meaningful and relevant ways”. Those words so simply explain more than just Twitter’s opportunity, but the entire future of advertising.

My half-cousin Alex Lambousis has created his own fashion label. Primarily a Jeans business, he controls the entire design process as he owns an industrial laundry, and so can compete on the global scale with high-end jean product. Like any startup, he’s trying to crack new markets.

Think about Alex’s issue. He’s a wholesaler, who relies on retail outlets to sell his product – not exactly the best of customers. He’s reliant on celebrities wearing his clothes, and negotiating special rack space in high end fashion outlets, to get exposure of his world-class product. But it’s a hard market to crack – he’s had success, but is not where he wants to be. What’s a man to do?

Have a look at this search query I just did on Twitter’s community. Twitter allows you – in real time – to search for what people are talking about right now. My first attempt, without trying to be creative with the search string, yielded the following results:
new jeans - Twitter Search

A new customer just appeared on the market half a minute ago. A few of the others can be identified as market opportunities. Imagine if Alex simply responded to them, giving them a discount on his range or just pointing them to a blog post where he can show case his in-depth knowledge. Before the Internet, for a wholesaler like Alex to make money, he relied on advertising in fashion magazines. Now he can interact directly with his customers, and even if he can’t make a sale – he can at least invest in a relationship for future sales.

He’s having a conversation and building relationships. Price is no longer the only source of information for the customer. Those curves on the demand and supply curve have now been personified. That’s better than some poster stuck on a billboard – that’s a return to how our world used to work before factory’s pumped our standard-issue Model T’s.

I might not have solved Twitter’s revenue challenge in this post, but I sure as hell am excited about the future opportunities afforded by tools like Twitter for the economy.

The WSJ nails it with their iPhone app

For years, people who have bothered to think, have known the newspaper industry was going on a downward spiral. But now that everyone is fretting that this industry is collapsing due to sudden events, it’s time people joined the thinkers about the future of the newspaper industry because there is hope. Having spent a few days with the Wall Street Journals iPhone app, I think I see a light in the tunnel for them.

I don’t read newspapers for a simple reason: I don’t have the time to. During the day, I’m out at client sites under the pump that I barely even read the online news. After hours, I am either out or working on one of the many projects I am involved in. I might be only in my twenties and still early in my career, but my workaholism has made me busier than you think. Did you hear that newspaper exec who’s spent a decade worrying how you’d catch my generation?

WSJ iPhone app - main screen

Which is why the iPhone is a God-send for me. My attention is limited, and information creators need to work on my schedule if they expect me to consume – hence why the WSJ app that was released a few days ago, hits the spot for me. I am able to read the news and my emails on the go, whenever I have down time (like catching a train to work).

Just look at the screen shots. You’ll notice it’s easy for me to scan the news -like a newspaper. It allows me to mark and share the news, which is a feature that draws me to using it. In fact, it’s just plain enjoyable reading the news – the same sense of enjoyment you get from putting your feet up and reading the weekend broadsheet. Newspapers are an experience, and this application is the first time I’ve felt a digital newspaper experience reawaken that feeling.

WSJ iPhone app - article screen

But forget about me for a bit, because that’s not why the application has nailed it. Have another look at the screenshots, and tell me who is the #1 business software company?

As you may have heard me before, I believe advertising is a bubble economy. It’s going down, down, down – and that is the real problem with the newspaper industry, which has relied on it as it’s revenue model. However, just because I think it’s a bubble, doesn’t mean I think all advertising is dead – just some types.

The reason why advertising is not really working on the Internet, is because the traditional media relied on the assumption their audience was captured (on the Internet, they’re not). When an ad plays on the TV or the radio, there is little you can do but put up with it. Most people change the channel, but no one could prove that. Unlike the Internet, where people genuinely can ignore ads (either through banner blindness or block-out technologies)…and which can be proven because online advertising is more measureable.

The thing about mobile and why it’s so promising, is because the audience is once again captured. Because the screen real estate is so precious, any advertising that gets shown, is genuinely noticed by the consumer. The phone user has less control on manipulating their viewing experience, which they do on a desktop computer.

I actually clicked on that Oracle ad three times, which is amazing considering I rarely click on ads. The first time was because I genuinely was interested to see what was behind the link. But the other two times were because my tapping on the screen to read an article was mistaken thanks to my fat fingers. It might have been accidental, but as far as Oracle and the WSJ is concerned – I’ve just shown them engagement. And even if I don’t want to follow through on the ad, I sure as hell noticed it.

Semanticising Twitter for a revenue model

Twitter It was interesting to read the 11 business models for Twitter. Here’s one that I rarely see ever get mentioned: semantic conversations.

The assumptions.
Before I jump into it, some context as to why I think this is a solid approach.

advertising sucks in the traditional sense. Showing ad’s blindly, is like throwing pamphlets over the Amazon hoping that your target market catches some of them. Or another example: if you’re looking for some relief, do you walk down the main street of your city with your pants down yelling out "I want sexy time"? Sure, some people will approach you – but it certainly is not the most efficient way.

search advertising is the window into the future of advertising. The reason why Google does so well is because when a user searches they are flagging their intent. No more blind guessing – now it’s just a matter of accurately matching that intent to something. To extend the analogy using sex, this is like going to a single swingers party – you know everyone there is hungry, so to speak.

Word of mouth marketing beats any other form. Imagine you’re at a nightclub with your best friend. A model stops in front of the two of you – looks at your friend – and asks what cologne he’s wearing. He replies, she smiles – and then walks off giving him a wink.
You tell your little brother the next day about the incident who’s just run out of cologne. Next thing you know, he’s at the department store calling you and asking what’s that cologne’s name. Unlikely story? Have a think about the last time you bought something – we tend to rely on people we trust to guide our decisions.

Affiliate marketing is one of the most successful ways of making money on the web. My friends at Tjoos.com, help people find coupons – and they make a stupid amount of money because of affiliate deals. Affiliate marketing is rooted in a traditional concept for selling – there are suppliers like a manufacturer, and there are the retailers who onsell the supply like we see with clothing shops. With affiliate marketing, you act as a store pushing a product – and you get a cut of the final transaction if successful.

On Twitter people talk and share The use cases of Twitter are a different topic in itself, but let’s think of one of the most common: people share links with other people. As a case in point, monitor this search query I just constructed. Within minutes, you will see hundreds of new results returned. That’s a lot of links been shared.

Semantic conversations explained
Let’s say I just suggested that people read the book "Growth Fetish". People that follow me know me well enough to look into it as a legit thing. Perhaps some even trust my judgement to blindly buy the book (like I do with some people I know).

Now imagine, if instead of just saying the name of the book or pointing to the authors website – I had an easy way to embed Amazon affiliates. When people read I liked a book or a product, and they see a link – two things happen: they likely will follow the link to see what the fuss is about, and after reading up they will potentially make a purchase depending on how impressed or how much they trust me. Because the link tracks that I was the person recommending it, it connects the sale of that product by that person to me. And they don’t need to make the purchase right there – it can happen up to 45 days later and I still get recognised for it (as is the case with most affiliate programs).

Twitter affiliated

Implementation
It’s going to take a bit of thinking on how to implement this easily. For example, it needs to be drop dead easy for people to find the correct link and embed it. Twitter should tweak its system so that it recognises true hyperlinks that have words aliased, rather than just raw addresses. A way of guessing what the person is promoting and matching it to a Amazon code would be ideal (ie, “findbook:growth fetish” will have Twitter make a suggestion to link it to).

It would have to be a revenue share program, meaning Twitter and the user get a cut. That’s a good thing, because everyone’s interests are aligned. But it also means it needs to be thought out as it’s an art to get the right progressive scale between motivating and killing.

Good luck Twitter: I’m counting on you and Facebook to work out a monetisation model, as you will drive the next wave of growth which builds the industry (like Google did post the dotcom years).

Blog posts on Liako.Biz for 2007

Continued on – a series of posts that summarises content created on Liako.Biz

You can also read 2008 and 2005 summaries.

December 2007

November 2007

October 2007

September 2007

August 2007

July 2007

June 2007

May 2007

April 2007

March 2007

A milestone year in my life

I try to avoid writing about personal stuff on my blog (even my travel writing is like a tour guide talking, as opposed to a description of my day-to-day activities). However I thought I’d share this as you will understand both my past experience and future direction better – as after all, this blog is a conversation between you and me right? And I’m going to do it in one hit, because you won’t hear me navel gazing like this again for another ten years!

elias fish kiss

Basically, I’ve hit a milestone in my life in whatever way you look at it. I completed the two-year postgraduate diploma which has had me locked in a room; completed the three-years mentored work experience that accompanies the diploma; and completed my formal education goals, which if you count my three-year undergraduate degree, has taken six years (seven if you count the year I took off to travel). At 17, I made the decision to go down this path (well one of them) and now as a 24-year-old, I have finally made it.

So this is an explanation of what I’ve been doing and why. How things are evolving in my career are quite random. Hopefully this will have you understand how my background experiences lead me to where I am now.

A career in business – the undergraduate degree
At about the age of 15, I had decided to pursue a career in business in some way – don’t for a minute think I had any idea what that meant, but my dad suggested a Bachelor of Commerce which was about as broad as they get, so it seemed like a plan (I like vague and broad – allows flexibility). However in the next few years, I experimented with student media and based on the amazing feedback I received from everyone (my folks complained at parent teacher interviews, all they talked about was the newspaper and not my academic performance), I seriously contemplated a career as a journalist. Worried about what path to take, my father gave me some advice which sealed the deal and which was passed down from my grandfather’s experience who was a newspaper editor: “You will never be your own boss, kid”. The thought of me being paid terrible money and forever hostage to a superior authority, made me decide I can always write for fun but it would better to invest in an education that you can’t pick up easily without formal study. So business it was.

I received an okay mark in my final year of school (93.10%) and was accepted into the university and course of my choosing – a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney (you needed 93.00% – with my education, I seem to have a magic touch for doing just enough but not too much work). My eldest half-sister, a banker with JP Morgan at the time, told me her biggest regret was not becoming a Chartered Accountant. She told me to steer away from the subjects girls flock to, like marketing, and to do the more ‘hard’ subjects like accounting and finance. Even though I didn’t even do maths in my final year of school (all humanities, mostly history), I decided to pursue this path despite it not being something I was naturally good at. In retrospect, I decided finance was not for me in terms of a career choice and I regret not doing marketing. But I went along with the accounting thing – I could understand value in that if I wanted to become an executive one day.

GradDipCA
My undergraduate degree was simply a prerequisite to get into this course which I would start in 2006 and finish in 2008. I’m still in shock that I finally got through it

A career in media – the second curricula
I didn’t ignore my interest in journalism however. Six months in, I decided I wanted to start a newspaper because the crap on campus was exactly that. I also wanted to take aim at the mainstream media whose bias was repeatedly distorting our world. It turned out James Fraser, a guy I went to high-school with, wanted to do the same thing. My partner-in-crime approached this as a business venture, but I pushed for a society because I knew in 2.5 years I would be out of university and my motivation was to learn (not profit). And so we shook hands later in 2002 and created the Sydney University Journalists Society which grew to over 200 members.

In early 2003 after all the admin had been finalised, we went about creating our first product: “idMag”. Between the two of us, we did everything. I focused on the editorial and James more on the design, which we did at night. During the day, we would walk into small businesses and try to sell them advertising space based on a double-sided rate paper (ie, thin air delivered by two pimple-faced kids in suits). Of the dozens (hundreds?) of businesses we talked to, I would talk and James would give me immediate feedback on how to improve my sales pitch. I also tried calling the big companies (I think it was Vodafone), and will never forget getting absolutely roasted by a company’s advertising agency, who with her hard questions purposely demolished me to prove I was wasting her time (and perhaps intended, she taught me a valuable lesson about media). Nevertheless, we raised enough money to fund 4000 semi-colour 24 page magazines. I then learned one of my biggest lessons in the media world: distribution is key.

The magazine was a flop because without a distribution strategy, you don’t have an audience, and without an audience, you won’t have advertisers spending money on you again that second time around (so I assumed, I didn’t have the guts to re-approach our advertisers). During this time, I played with Microsoft Frontpage with blinking text and other cool (!) Frontpage features to create a website for the magazine, and after we published it, I decided to devote more attention to building it. It was in 2003 that I realised the future of media was on the Internet as the barriers to distribution were removed (so I thought, new barriers now exist -but sweet baby cheeses it was cheaper!). We experimented with a few other things that year, but I got distracted by an election to be voted on the campus newspaper I detested. I paraded around university telling people to “think outside of the box”. We didn’t get on, but I developed an awesome suntan.

"Think outside of the box"

It’s funny to trawl through my online footprint because up until then I was a tech savvy consumer, but that’s all I was, because at the age of 13 I made a conscious decision to unhook my interest in computers to not become a “geek” (ie, learning how to code) and instead became a jock of sorts. Now in 2003, I invested some time in the Kuro5hin.org community, which had me learn the potential of online media communities. When I finally got an article approved, I moved on – I had enough of the trolls. But in my quest to build a new media organisation, I actively reached out and had to learn about things like registering & resolving a domain name, hosting a website, and teaching myself CSS to get that Drupal installation looking how I wanted. It was amateur stuff that seems stupidly basic now, but that’s how I learned.

In 2004 one of the products we launched, which was a weekly news digest, became an absolute hit (as I recently wrote about). When the year ended, I ended my tenure as President and got the green light that all subjects had been passed. But before I end this chapter, I will share that in November 2003 before my corporate finance exam, I had a Eureka moment that newspapers in the future would be printed using e-ink technology (probably from something I came across my favourite blog at the time, PaidContent.org). I researched the idea and in the process of doing this ended up putting together a business case to apply for the Yellow Pages business grant (my idea had evolved to an innovative model for advertising, which to this day, I am still thinking about as it overlaps with the VRM Project). I didn’t get the grant (or even make the finals) – but boy, when you do things like that, it opens your eyes up to things.

USYD Degree

I left university with not just a degree in business, but a realisation that although I may never become a journalist, I was passionate about having a career in the business of media. And that the Internet was where it was at. It’s not something you will find on my undergraduate degree certificate, but it’s what I walked out of university thinking.

The corporate world
PricewaterhouseCoopers offered me a graduate job, following an early 2003 summer internship (60 positions, 1000 applicants). Having spent the last few years at a restaurant as a waiter, my discussions with the backpackers that came through the place made me itch to do a big trip overseas. And so in 2005, I managed to defer my contract (I got it in March 2004; deferred for up to two years) and went travelling for nine months (which is how this blog came into creation). I had always wanted to blog but never did because I didn’t want to keep an online diary – a travel blog seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment with this form of media.

I returned from my trip and started as a graduate in December 2005 in the assurance practice (external audit), specialising in media & technology companies (our clients are Cisco, IBM, VeriSign, Getty Images, and a whole alphabet soup of that kind). However I couldn’t help myself with ideas that were flowing through my mind. And in April 2006, on a train, I wrote a to-do list note on my phone: “start a wiki at PwC”. It seemed stupidly obvious that the world’s biggest knowledge firm didn’t have a wiki (which was another experiment during my time at the Journalists Society that I thought was massive). Unfortunately, to get technologies like that switched on is not quite what you think. People that have been through the pain of creating change or innovating within a large organisation know exactly what I mean – and I was a nobody trying to influence people 15-30 years older than me in senior management.

tug of war

I pitched the idea to my manager in May 2006, and she must have been having a bad day, because she ripped it to shreds. Slightly taken aback, I dropped it, but it stayed at the back of my mind. Then, after a nasty month of work in August, I repitched it to her with recent experience as examples and using the language she shot me down with (“I don’t know what you said differently, and I know it’s the same idea, but I like it now!). She gave me advice which I ended up ignoring, and went about determining a strategy to pitch it to the partners after my exam. Preparing for my first CA exam in October, I randomly came across Charlie Perry who it turns out had been wanting to set up a wiki at the firm as well. We met up, decided to “join forces”, and rolled. What happened next I would never have imagined.

We pitched the idea to a group that had recently formed, and who were called “Service Innovation”. It turned out there was a big problem in the firm that the boss of Service Innovation had to solve on order of the CEO. Fed with information, I wrote a formal business case for how Social Media could fix this problem. The idea was approved right up to the CEO level and I then went about implementing it which is a story in itself but not one I can publicly share :).

The tech industry
Just after we got the pilot approved, Charlie randomly flicked across an e-mail. We ended up getting in contact with Marty Wells who ran Dinner 2.0 and would invite us (I think he thought he could wrangle sponsorship money out of PwC!), and in February 2007 I started mingling with investors, entrepreneurs and other people in what was an exclusive Sydney networking event. Talking to Marty that night, I told him and others I had a business idea I wanted to work on. “Well there are going to be a lot of developers at Barcamp”. So I went to Barcamp, restarted this blog, and joined the APML workgroup which I thought was a brilliant solution to advertising. (Remember that business idea of mine at university? Things you research, “fail” in, and move on come back to haunt you in a good way).

I attended more events, made more friends, started building a presence. I gave Chris Saad from the APML workgroup introductions and advice on his product, and in return, he introduced me to more people – which is how I was invited to explore the concept of a workgroup around data portability so early on. In January 2008, that workgroup exploded in attention and I suddenly was working daily with people across all the different continents. Separately, my involvement in the local community made me passionate about it, and quite randomly actually, I created something that has been played up that I am some kind of Big Deal when in fact I’ve done nothing other than moderate spam messages, host some drinks and create some podcasts.

December 2008
My official certificate recognising admission into the Institute of Chartered Accountants
So here I am. Milestones and goals achieved. At this age, all I hoped to achieve was to become a CA (which I was formally admitted earlier this month). In the process I’ve done things I never would have imagined.

As you can see, accounting is simply a stepping stone to what I really want to do: build and run companies. It’s great having a goal, but now I’ve got to work out what comes next! I’ve got some ideas – like plucking myself out of my comfortable life here and living in Silicon Valley in the midst of raw innovation – but who knows. The only thing I do know is that you need to meet as many people as possible and genuinely build a relationship with them with no desire to get anything out of it. They will open doors for you when you least expect it – keep giving (it feels good anyway) and they will hit you on the head back with something one day. And secondly, when you have an idea, just do it. Expose yourself to random experiences – just participate and the dots will connect one day.

So in 2009, I’m going to jump and see where that leads me. Wish me luck!

Why you shouldn't give me alcohol #4

Online advertising – a bubble

I just recorded a podcast with Duncan Riley and Bronwen Clune – two New Media innovators I greatly admire, to discuss what the future of media was. Unfortunately, the podcast recording came out battered and my normal analytical mind wasn’t in gear to add fruitfully to the discussion.

So Dunc and Bron, here I go: why I think advertising on the Internet has a future that will repeat the property bubble that fueled the world’s economic expansion these last few decades. (Y’know -the one that just burst.)

Advertising has been broken by the Internet
Let’s think about this from a big picture first: why do people advertise? It’s to get an outcome. Ignoring elections and government campaigns, the regular market economy has advertising so companies can make money. Pure and simple. Whether it be "brand" advertising which is a way of shaping perceptions for future sales, or straight-off-the-bat advertising pushing a product – the incentive for companies is to get a response. That response, ultimately, is to take that cash out of your wallet.

Now’s lets jump into the time machine and think about companies in the 1970s and 1980s – before this "Internet" thing became mainstream. How could companies get exposure for their products? Through the media of course. The mass media had captured audiences, and they were able to monetise this powerful position they had in society by forcing people to consume advertising as they were dealt with servings of information they actually wanted.

It worked in the past, because that’s how the world worked. That is of course, until the Internet and the Web completely transformed our world.

Companies jumped on the web thinking this was simply an extension of the mass media but so much better. And they were right to some extent – it was much better. A bit too good actually, because it now exposed the weaknesses of the concept of advertising.

Take for example one of the undergraduate students that works at my firm. Apparently, this 19 year old never watches television – but he is on top of all the main shows. He does this through peer to peer technology, where he is able to download his favourite shows. I asked him why does he do that and he responded quickly: "because I can avoid the ads". What’s happening with the Internet is that consumers can control the experience they have when consuming information now, unlike the past where they marched in line according to the programming schedule. The audience is no longer captive.

The Internet did another thing: it made advertising more accountable. In the past, savvy agencies would ‘segment’ the population and associate various mass media outlets as better being able to connect with the ‘target market’. To measure, print used circulation and readership – working out how many people bought the publication, and some number out of some Actuary’s head of how many people read that same copy (through statistical techniques of assessing patients in doctors’ surgeries, no doubt). Broadcasters on the other hand, would randomly call households and using statistical methods, would estimate the number of people that tuned in.

Perhaps the fact I took statistics for my undergraduate degree, is why I am so skeptical. Even my stats lecturer admitted it was bullshit – albeit in an ‘educated’ way. In relation to the mass media, the bigger issue was the fact this educated bullshit was not disaggregated. What I mean, was that when a newspaper has a readership of 100,000 people – there is a massive assumption that if you advertise in that publication, you will actually reach them. You might have bought a newspaper to read this one article your friend mentioned – and yet, your act of purchase enables the newspaper to justify all the other pages to advertisers with a simplistic metric.

The Internet completely changed this because we no longer are relying on statistics, but actual data collected. In the past, advertisers would get a plane and fly over an Amazonian forest they picked and pay to drop one million pamphlets hoping that at least 50,000 of their target market would catch the pamphlets and respond. Of course, indirect sales activity could indicate the effectiveness of a campaign, but in reality it was all a guess. Now with the Internet, a lot of the guesswork is not required any more – and quite frankly, advertising on the Net looks bad but the reality is that the truth has now been set free.

This is looking at it from an accountability point of view, but looking at it from a practical view as well, there are issues. The holy grail of advertising, is targeting. The reason being, if you can target an ad better, you are more likely to get a conversion. However there is a natural friction with targeted advertising and it’s called privacy. As I’ve said before, privacy is the speed hump for the attention economy.

Advertising on the net technologically offers a great ability to target, with marketers licking their lips at the opportunity. However this is coming with a complete misunderstanding, that technology may be an enabler but culture and society will be a breaker. People do not want better targeting. The thought that some company profiles you scares the crap out of people. Yes, I’ve even convinced myself that when advertising is relevant, it’s useful – but this is looking at it after the fact. The problem with targeted advertising, is that whilst it may run a world record 100 metre dash, it might not get the chance to actually get off the starting blocks. Just ask Facebook if you don’t believe me.

The structural impact the Internet has had to ruin advertising
The Internet is great for measuring – but there are a few too many measures. The lack of a consistent measurement system creates several problems. More significant is the fact that different types of Internet services compete based on what model works best for them. For example, pay per action is something advertisers love because they are getting a better return on their investment by seeing a follow through. This works with contextual advertising like the kind Google uses – it’s actually in Google’s interest for you to click off their pages.

Contrast that with video sites where a person is engaged with the content for ten minutes. An advertiser can’t compare ten minutes of engagement on a video site easily with click-actions on contextual advertising sites. What this creates is a vacuum, where the ad dollars will bias those that offer a better likelihood of making a sale. After all, why would you care about capturing someone’s attention for ten minutes, when you can simply pay for someone clicking on a link which is directly linked with an e-commerce sale on your site.

This creates a real problem, because it’s not an equal playing field to compete for the advertising. Certain types of services do better under different models. Banner advertising will die, not just because people are realising the usability issues surrounding banner blindness , or the fact that banner advertising is simply a copy and paste model of the mass media days , but because competing advertising models that better link them better to final sales will become more popular. When we hear about the great growth rates in online advertising, don’t forget to dig a little deeper because the real growth comes from search advertising which makes up about half of that.

There’s another structural problem with the Internet: there’s too much competition. In the mass media days, the media had an established relationship as "the" information distribution outlets of society. With the Internet, anyone can create a blog and become their own publisher. Additionally, the Internet is seeing growth not just in New Media ventures, but utility and commerce ventures as well. Same advertising pie theoretically (ignoring the long tail effect for a second, where small advertisers can now participate), but a lot more "distributors". This creates a fragmentation, where advertising dollars are being worn thin. It’s for this reason the larger internet services tend to manage to get by . Just looking at the face of it though, you know there’s a problem in the longer term even for the bigger players when you operate in such an environment.

It’s not just other Internet services to worry about however: it’s the advertisers themselves. In a world of information, democratised by search engines judging quality content – you as a publisher are on the same foot as the company paying for the ads. Why would Nike want to advertise on your website, when it can just improve its own search engine ranking? Companies can now create a more direct relationship with their customers and future customers – and they no longer need an intermediary (like the media) to facilitate that relationship. That’s a Big Deal. It’s not just search though – the VRM Project is doing exactly that, creating a system that will facilitate those relationships.

Concluding thoughts
I could just as much put an argument in favour of online advertising, don’t get me wrong – there will be a lot of growth occuring still. But what I want to highlight, is that taking a step back at the facts, there is something seriously wrong with this model. If advertisers no longer need that intermediary to facilitate a relationship; if advertisers are chasing the industry down the tail of measureable ads that better link to a final sale; if the entire industry is not consistent and competing with each other both in inventory and in methods, in an infinite battle; and if consumers are no longer captive to the content distribution experience – it makes you question doesn’t it?

According to Nielsen over a year ago, about a third of all U.S. online advertising dollars spent in July came from the financial sector–with mortgage and credit reporting firms representing five of the top ten advertisers. Together, those companies spent nearly $200 million on search, display and other Web advertising, meaning that a slowdown would degrade fairly significant annual revenue streams. The writing was on the wall that long ago, what analysts are only now saying are troubled times for online advertising.

Just like we knew a year ago about the credit crunch, before a drastic turn of events turned it into the most dramatic economic shift in our world in our collective memories, so too will the advertising bubble burst. It will be years – perhaps decades – before this happens. However one thing is for sure – the Internet has not only ruined the newspaper, music and traditional software industries, but it’s also ruining the world of advertising. Like how newspapers, music and software are currently evolving into new models which we still are not sure where they will end up, so too will advertising be transformed.

Mr Online Advertising and Ms Media Company relying on it as a revenue model – you are growing on the basis of some very shaky foundations.

Advertising on the Internet needs innovation

On the weekend, I caught up with Cameron Reilly of the Podcast network , and he was telling me about his views on monetising podcasts. It got me thinking again about those things I like to think about: how content can be monetised. Despite the growth in online advertising which is tipped to be $80 billion, I think we still have a lot more innovation to go with revenue models, especially ones that help content creators.

Advertising is a revenue stream that has traditionally enabled content-creators to monetise their products, in the absence of people paying a fee or subscription. With the Internet, content has undergone a radical changing of what it is – digital, abundant, easily copied – whilst the Internet has offered new opportunities for how advertising is done. However, the Internet has identified the fundamental weaknesses of advertising , as consumers can now control their content consumption, which allows them to ignore embedded advertising altogether. Content on the other hand, still remains in demand, but means of monetising it are slipping into a free economy which is not sustainable. I make that point to illustrate not that professional content creation is a sunset industry – but rather there’s a big market opportunity as this massive industry needs better options.

time mag

"Hey man, there’s this new thing called the Internet. Sounds pretty cool"

One of the biggest innovations in advertising (and enabled by the Internet) is of contextual search advertising. This has been popularised by Google, which now makes 98% of its $17 billion revenue from these units. This advertising dominates online advertising (40% of total) because of its pull nature, whereby key-words stated by a consumer in effect state their intention of what they are interested or would like to purchase. Whilst this is a highly efficient form of advertising, it also has its weaknesses – for example, it is not as effective outside of the search engine environment. Google makes 35% of its revenue from the adSense network , where these contextual ads are placed on peoples personal websites. Evidence from high traffic bloggers suggests they barely make enough money through this type of advertising. Another point to consider is that aspects of the Google network include significant partnership agreements like the one with AOL which accounts for 10% of Googles revenue (this is a 2005 figure which has likely changed, but Google does state in their 2007 report "Our agreements with a few of the largest Google Network members account for a significant portion of revenues derived from our AdSense program. If our relationship with one or more large Google Network members were terminated or renegotiated on terms less favorable to us, our business could be adversely affected.". AOL most recently reported for Q1 2008 half a billion dollars largely from search advertising ).

Other attempts at creating more efficient advertising which have existed for over a decade, have come in the form of profiling or behavioural tracking. However, these forms of advertising has also highlighted the growing awareness of consumer privacy being eroded, and is under heavy scrutiny by activist groups and government. Facebook is a company that is best posed to deliver new forms of advertising because of the rich profiling data it has, but it itself has faced massive backlash .

My view is that the majority of online advertising for successful individual publishers at least, has largely come from traditional approaches to advertising – a masthead blog with a sales team that uses display advertising. How effective this display advertising is is debateable with widespread banner blindness and consumer control over their content, but it would appear that this is more a case of advertisers seeing this as the least bad on the overall scale of opportunities. The fact it replicates the mass media approach of number of unique consumers viewing the content, and not the types of users, means this isn’t anything new other than being done in a digital environment.

Digital content is in need of a better monetisation system.
Targeted advertising is the most efficient form, yet consumer privacy is a growing force preventing this. What we need, is not a new advertising technology, but a new way of thinking about advertising – in a way that can help the content economy rather than riding on it without giving benefit. Contextual advertising sounds great in theory as it calculates key-word frequency of words on a website, to match it to a key word ad – but it’s proving in practice these ads are not very relevant. Yet trying to think of a smarter way to advertise, may be the wrong question – perhaps half the problem itself is advertising as a concept?

perspective

Are we running down a tunnel, only to find there is nothing there?

Content which comes in the form of news (historical and breaking), analysis, and entertainment can be monetised via a persons attention or through a transaction (ie, subscription, fee, etc). Both this approaches have different barriers.

– Attention: The key driver is increased dollars per unique person, over a period of time. The barriers to this approach is the challenge of identifying the individual in a way that gives advertising that is highly relevant and will result in a conversion. In other words, privacy privacy privacy.

– Alternative payment: Requiring consumers to pay for content is a barrier due to the paid wall. What is more problematic for digital content, is that the ability to replicate it freely makes it not just easy to do for the masses but has created a culture of if it’s not free, it’s not worth purchasing unless its really necessary. There needs to be a strong value proposition for a consumer to purchase content, and in the absense of a brand and marketing, the restriction of what value the content offers is a barrier for consumer demand as they don’t know what they are missing out on.

So as you see above, content creators are in a difficult position. Charging people reduces their opportunity unless they are really established, but even then, due to the digital environment they don’t have any control over subsequent distribution (with rampant piracy). Yet advertising is fraught with being irrelevant and hence not effective (so advertisers go to other forms) and any attempts to make it more relevant, gets held back by the concerns of privacy advocates (and rightly so). Whilst the Internet parades itself as an advertising growth machine, it’s growing in new areas but not the old areas that have traditionally been the medium for advertisers.

This advertising growth is largely being driven through utility computing products that aim to make information retrieval more efficient (ie, search). However, the growth for the content creators, is not happening. As Cam was telling me, in a market like Australia – small content organisations like TPN and Bronwen Clune ‘s Norgs , don’t have access to the big end of town for a sales team. And he didn’t have to tell me, those Google ads for the smaller guys, are not enough to pay the bills. That small to middle end is not being really catered for.

But before you jump on the phone and create some mid-tier advertising network that caters for a niche, think about the real problem: content creators need a better solution to monetise their content. But advertisers also need a better way of selling, other than some slick-talking sales person who can sell ads on pageviews (a broken model with weak alternatives ) They need advertising that is suited for their product, but the market now includes other products media outlets never had to compete with like marketplaces now happening online and utility computing products. Whilst the technology community obsesses about search , let’s also remember we have yet to see a new way to monetise content that is superior to the old world. Contextual advertising of text is the latest new thing area, but that technique is nearly a decade old. As I prove above, outside of the search environment, it is showing to not be that effective.

Where is the innovation going to come from? Not through technology but with a new paradigm shift like how content creators operate . New ways of thinking about the way we ‘sell’ like what the VRM Project is challenging. But perhaps more fundamentally, is an understanding that the holy grail of targeted advertising has got a speed hump called privacy – and that may actually be a sign of not going faster towards better targeting, but changing the vehicle all together.