Bitchmeme: Do blogs deserve ads?

Louis Gray — the social media blogger who seems to be everywhere lately — has gotten the weekend blogosphere “bitchmeme” started early, it seems, with his post on how the majority of bloggers “don’t deserve any ad revenue.” According to Louis, most bloggers simply echo the posts that appear on TechCrunch and Mashable and other top tech blogs, and therefore they aren’t really adding any value, and as a result they don’t really deserve to have any advertising. He also says:

“Urged on by the success of mega blog networks like TechCrunch and spurred forward by stories from ProBlogger, or corner cases like Dooce.com, Daily Kos and others, an inordinate amount of people are hoisting ads on their blogs… in the hope of turning their daily rantings into big dollars that could possibly change their life.”

It seems to me that Louis is saying several different things here. On the one hand, he is saying that most blogs don’t get enough traffic to justify any substantial amount of advertising, and therefore they are never going to get rich, or make enough money to “change their life.” That seems fairly obvious. And while it’s probably worthwhile to let people know that the “get rich by blogging!” pitch is false, most of the people who think that will soon be in Vegas or signed up for some multi-level marketing scheme anyway, so the problem is somewhat self-regulating.

Louis also seems to be saying that for a blogger who wants to make money, copying the same content that dozens of blogs have isn’t really adding much value, unless you have an incredibly devoted and unique following. This is also wise advice (although arguably also fairly obvious). But does it follow that most bloggers “don’t deserve any ad revenue?” I don’t think so. There are lots of bloggers out there with original voices, who appeal to specific markets, and I think they deserve all the ads they can get.

Why shouldn’t they be able to defray the costs of their hosting, or their bandwidth, or their computers? That’s what micro-publishing is for. Louis says that “some bloggers act as if it’s their God-given right to write, post a few ads and start raking in cash.” I haven’t come across any of those, but he is quite right that they are mistaken. I just don’t think they’re as common as he thinks they are. And if the others can make a few dollars and advertisers are willing, then who are we to say they shouldn’t?

Corporate vids: Chock full of fail?

Update:

According to Microsoft, the first video is an inside joke — poking fun at such cringe-worthy corporate videos. Suuuuuuure it is. Whatever makes you guys feel better. I suppose all of these incredible lame videos were in jokes too, right?

Original post:

The following video will likely make you cringe, even if you aren’t a Springsteen fan — and even if you aren’t a Windows fan (thanks to David Crow and MG Siegler for this one):

But is it as bad as the following one, or better? At least this guy can sing:

Can OpenX compete with Google?

Interesting news from Kara Swisher at the BoomTown blog, that former Yahoo executive Tim Cadogan is taking the top spot at OpenX — the open-source ad server company that used to be called OpenAds (and before that was phpads). As Kara notes, Cadogan was involved in the launch of Yahoo’s much-ballyhooed Panama ad search product, and before that he was at GoTo.com. His inaugural blog post is here.

OpenX is an interesting story. It is clearly going after medium-sized to large-scale Web publishers (including TheStreet.com and TechCrunch) that are looking for an alternative to the behemoth that is Google/Doubleclick, and the fact that OpenX is open source makes it appealing as well (the company also recently launched a private beta for a new hosted version). Google has its own similar ad serving software, called Google Ad Manager, but that’s hardly much of an alternative.

I think there are probably lots of publishers out there who are leery of entrusting everything to the Great Google, no matter how un-evil it might be, and are looking for easy (and cheap) alternatives to joining this or that ad network. If OpenX can be the friendly alternative, it could go a long way towards making a business for itself — and it doesn’t have to kill Google to do it, it just has to chip away a little bit of market here and there. Being a strong second or third is perfectly acceptable.

NAA to newspapers: advertise this

We’re long past the writing-on-the-wall stage for newspapers and advertising, it seems — the recent report from the Newspaper Association of America is more like a billboard, with one of those huge searchlight things they use for movie premieres and the opening of new car dealerships. And what it says is (pardon my French): You guys are totally screwed. Advertising has been declining for the past few years or so, but now the NAA is talking about the biggest decline since the association started keeping data — bigger than after September 11, 2001.

Some of that (full data here) is undoubtedly a result of the U.S. economic situation, which has everyone from banks to car dealers pulling back the reins and spending less. But the uncomfortable reality is that advertising in newspapers is declining for a bunch of other reasons as well, including the fact that newspapers appeal primarily to an aging population. At a recent meeting at one newspaper, an editor said that she felt a piece on hip-replacement surgery should be played more prominently because “that’s our core demographic.” Sad, but true.

But an even more important reason why paper ads are declining is that their cost-to-value ratio is way out of whack with what advertisers can get elsewhere, particularly the Internet. And it’s not just Craigslist.org decimating the classified business. Even traditional newspaper ads are difficult (if not impossible) to measure. Online ads can not only be targeted more specifically, they can also be tracked a dozen ways, and it quickly becomes obvious which ones are working — plus they are an order of magnitude cheaper than the paper version.

The NAA’s press release, of course, focuses on the much more positive news that online advertising for newspapers continues to grow at double-digit rates — but it still only accounted for revenue of $3.2-billion, compared with overall print revenue of more than $42-billion. It’s going to have to start growing a heck of a lot faster than that before it even starts to make a dent in the decline of print advertising. Update: Chris “Long Tail” Anderson doesn’t think it’s all that bad if you look at it properly.

Ad networks: Inventory vs. the brand

There’s been lots of talk recently about the value of ad networks, including a recent piece in MediaWeek about how ESPN has decided to opt out of the ad network game. The central question seems to be: Are ad networks a great way to package up unsold Web inventory and monetize it, or do they take traffic away from a brand and potentially interfere with that brand’s ability to market effectively to its audience? It may not help, but I would say the answer is probably yes to both of those questions.

Aggregating space on blogs and other sites that could have value to advertisers makes sense, and that’s presumably why Forbes is setting up a blog network, and why Federated Media is also in that business — which John Battelle talks about in a Q&A here, and why large-scale blog networks like b5media exist as well (in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I am part of the new Forbes blog network). At the same time, however, it’s not at all clear whether such networks can ever really compete with algorithm-based and search-targeted advertising.

If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better for a brand — such as ESPN — to focus on building a better relationship with its core audience, rather than running ads from some ad network that may or may not be relevant, and could take eyeballs elsewhere, all in return for a crappy CPM rate? That’s obviously the conclusion that ESPN has come to, and others have as well. To some, chasing the low returns of ad network banners isn’t worth the investment. Others, however, will see it as better than nothing — particularly if it involves inventory that’s going to go stale anyway.

Maybe it’s just the spillover from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, but in some cases packaging remnant inventory and selling it through an ad network reminds me of the Wall Street practice of bundling underperforming or questionable mortgages together, and “securitizing” them in order to unload them onto outside investors. That kind of strategy works really well — right up until it doesn’t.