One of my predictions back in January was that there would be no more predictions from me — that I would retire or otherwise significantly change what I do in this space at some point during the year. Well that point — the first of several, actually — is almost here. If my PBS blog was Cringely 1.0 and this space has been Cringely 2.0, get ready for Cringely 3.0, which will start subtly in a couple weeks with a change in how I use advertising on this rag.
We read a lot about how newspapers and magazines are dying at the hands of the Internet but there is hardly anything written about how the Internet is dying at its own hands, too. That’s certainly what’s been happening here. My advertising revenue from this blog is down 75 percent over the last 18 months despite an increase in readership. I suspect something like this is happening across the board. You haven’t read about it not because it isn’t newsworthy but what publication is going to narc on itself? Only me.
There’s a structural problem with the Internet news business that is slowly killing that golden goose. At the same time Internet publications are undercutting paper ones, Internet ad networks are killing the very web sites they serve. Ironic, eh?
Here’s the problem. The ads on this rag come from IDG TechNet, which is no worse as far as I can tell than any other ad network. They purport to represent a lot of tech advertisers but you may notice that not all the ads here are about technology and sometimes Google ads are even inserted to replace the banner at the top. The fact is that while IDG TechNet or any other ad network would like to sell all ads for top dollar, there’s always more space available than ads in the current economy, so they take what they can get for that extra space.
This wouldn’t happen in quite the same way at publications that have their own ad sales teams. The key difference is there’s no feedback between IDG TechNet and constituent web sites like mine and no shared understanding whatsoever about our respective financial situations. It’s every man for himself. This has led to a precipitous drop in ad rates.
You see IDG TechNet plays no role in the financing of this blog or buying shoes for my kids. They don’t know what my costs are nor do they care. All they care about is selling every ad for whatever they can get, which these days isn’t very much. If blogs like this one sold our own ads we’d deliberately limit supply to keep prices up. But it’s too late to do that now, because even if some of us sold our own ads most would still use ad networks and the downward effect would continue. Those of us trying to maintain ad rates would just be hurting ourselves because that game is already lost.
It’s gotten so bad that for readers from places like Kazakhstan where IDG TechNet perceives no valid business, the ad network charges me a fee for not sending ads.
So the advertising business model is broken and unlikely to be saved. Even moving ad sales in house won’t likely change that. That doesn’t necessarily mean an end to life as we know it here, just a change of business model.
I could go to a patronage model as Robert Scoble has done so successfully first with Seagate and now Rackspace. But I don’t like to be so directly beholden to an outfit I’ll inevitably insult and Scoble’s grammar is so bad that I simply can’t see myself emulating him in any way.
I could go to a subscription model, charging you an annual fee for reading. That’s the so-called pay wall that has become so popular with newspaper web sites for exactly this reason, though they never explain it this clearly. The problem I have with subscriptions is that they deliberately limit readership and I want as many readers as possible, not just because I have a big ego but because I’ve always made more money from public speaking than from writing and the more readers I have the more speaking gigs (and TV shows) I’m likely to get.
So I’ve chosen Door Number Three, which involves booting the ad network in favor of using strictly house ads. I’m going to sell ads only to myself because as an advertiser I’m stupid enough to pay whatever I demand. What a patsy!
This is all funny money, of course — good for money laundering and nothing else — that is unless I actually come up with something to sell. And so I have.
While I could have gone with t-shirts or coffee mugs and even took a serious look at doing a Cringely Android phone, we’ll start by selling words. I’ve set up an eBook publishing operation called Cringely Media that’s a new division of NeRDTV. We’ll publish 5-10 eBooks in the coming year that I’ll write on the sort of topics I tend to cover here, most of them sold for very reasonable prices in the $1.99 range, which I hope will make them attractive as gifts.
That’s Cringely 3.0, which begins in a couple weeks. Then December will bring Cringely 3.1, which will be something really different.