Media's future

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It's time for an inefficient media buying system to begin planning for the day when more of its marketplace moves to the Web. New online markets for business are starting with nuts-and-bolts parts and supplies, but their architects can see a day when advertising is bought and sold at these sites as well. Media sellers and buyers can't afford to lag behind.

The Internet can be an ideal business-to-business interchange. That's why b-to-b dot-coms such as FairMarket are so hot. (It's also one of the reasons why the Ad Age Group today launched its new magazine, B-to-B.) Such online markets need not treat all media as commodities, but constructing them will not be a simple task. It requires more compatibility between buyers' and sellers' computers than probably exists today. By helping to automate more of the buying process, however, online marketplaces can take costs out of the system and reduce errors by cutting paperwork. That's a good incentive to take more buying online through central portals where deals can be made.

Nor will such a step end media selling as we now know it. Smart advertisers always will be interested in the environment in which ads appear, and in differences in content and quality among competing magazines, TV programs or other media options.The best media buyers prove themselves not simply on price but by choosing media properties with the right audience and environment and value-added options. Such media are sold, not just bought, and that requires media reps who will work the phones and hit the streets.

Consumers buy books at partly because its prices are fair (and partly to avoid sales tax), but mostly because Amazon helps them shop efficiently and tells them everything they need to know to select the best books. The metaphor translates to media buying: The Amazon.coms of media buying will load buyers with every fact they need to help make an intelligent choice.

Advertisers face overwhelming media options. Moving more of the task online will simplify the process and lead to smarter, more-informed buying decisions. That's a good media plan.

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