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Merger mania marks Web maturation

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For the past few months I've been joking about doing a Web Price Index survey comparing the costs for buying a Web developer in six cities.

One-third of our participating developers have been involved in some sort of merger in recent months, and some of them, such as Agency.com and Eagle River Interactive, have bought each other.

So why all the merger mania, and why now? It's just another growing pain in an industry struggling to find its place between the suits (read: Corporate bean counters) and the old Web developers.

Initially, orange-haired and ponytailed developers were the rule and made the rules. The Web was far more about technology and education than serious business. But as more money started pouring in, marketers wanted to know how that investment was going to be returned.

Recently, it became obvious that it was time for many shops to get serious and cut their hairĂ…"or cut their losses.

Merger benefits

Some developers find the mergers to be in everyone's best interests, at least according to all the press releases they issue. For others, the money proves difficult to pass up, especially if the company personal aspects of the medium begin to distance themselves.

As the merged shops expand into the realm of full-scale interactive agencies/information technology consultants, marketers will find that the medium really is ready to support itself, given the right planning from the outset. The recent Future of Advertising Stakeholders summit, sponsored by Procter & Gamble Co., brought together marketers, agencies, developers and media sites, and is a strong indication that business wants to find the ticket to Web success.

It's important to note that this industry is suffering the same problems as any other. When two companies join, one tends to get subsumed. The culture of one overrides the other. One keeps its name, while the other's brand disappears or gets hyphenated, dotted or mushed into an entirely new entity.

Web pioneers

Then there are the personnel costs. The Web was initially staked by a community of exceptionally creative, forward-thinking rule breakers who drooled over the prospect of a fascinating frontier with a fast flow of funding. That generation matured quickly. Some sold out just because they burned out on the long caffeine-fueled hours. But many of the people who carried the Web this far are finding that they don't fit in at their own party any longer.

The Web is not ready to lose these people. Some are getting out of the industry altogether, but others are going to new, younger markets.

This month, the Web Price Index again looks at costs in college towns. The marketers tend to be a bit behind the Silicon Valley/Alley/Prairie companies. For these developers, education is still a big part of the sales job. Perhaps the coming months will find an influx of experienced, talented developers in these smaller towns, looking for the opportunity to create and evangelize anew.

And another shot in the arm, more than any summit or integrated business plan, is what will really cement the Web's coming of age.

David Klein will return next month.

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