Yet I hear advertisers dying to reach customers via influential blogs, and I hear bloggers dying to get their money. This infant medium is growing fast. Media research firm PQMedia's just-released study of blogs, podcasts and RSS pegged 2005 ad spending at $20.4 million and forecast a 145% rise this year, to $49.8 million, with growth of ads on user-generated content expected to continue at an annual rate of 106% through 2010.
Imagine if it were actually easy to buy ads there; citizens' media would explode.
So how do we accomplish that? I propose an open ad marketplace that would allow advertisers to find the best blogs and bloggers to find the best ad deals. Here's what I think is needed:
First, of course, advertisers crave metrics. We need an open-source standard for measurement that tallies not just audience and views but other key values of citizens' media. Technorati.com counts links to blogs as a measure of authority. We also can track which blogs start conversations. And advertisers can buy sites based not just on the audiences' demographics but also on the authors'. (Want to launch a new teen idol? Buy ads on blogs by teens.) Ad agencies should be able to search site descriptions and verified traffic data to aggregate the perfect ad hoc groupings of blogs for their campaigns from among the 34 million sites out there.
Second, we need an open-source code for placing ads from any advertiser or network on any participating site. Blogging software should make it easy to include these ad calls, at a blogger's option. Podcasts and videos, too, need a way to serve and track ads.
Third, we need systems of trust. At the lowest level, advertisers need assurance that a person, not a spamming robot, created each blog. At a higher level, blog networks, ad agencies or media companies will seek out high-quality blogs and vet them to create valued networks they can tailor and sell to marketers. Some direct-response advertisers may be fine with their ads appearing most anywhere, if they get the clicks. But brand advertisers must protect their reputations and will want someone to know and trust the authors.
Eventually, we also need an auction system to automate negotiation of rates. I've used systems where I set the rates and others where advertisers set prices, but I believe we need the means to negotiate from both sides to establish true market value. Even before that exists, though, if advertisers can manually find, measure and vet blogs and place ads on them, I am confident their dollars will flow to this new world.
Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, Publicis Groupe's think tank, agrees about the potential of advertising on citizens' media. "Brands are trustmarks, and to earn and retain this trust they must remain relevant by marketing in environments which resonate with both brand and consumer values," he says. "Today, increasingly, various forms of citizen media such as blogs are becoming such environments, but clients need not only a way to filter the appropriate places but also cost-effective and measurable ways to do so."
By creating this infrastructure, we take the friction out of the ad marketplace: Every blog is an atom and every ad campaign is a molecule that attracts the best. Thus advertisers and media each gain control and increase their effectiveness and their value. In this post-scarcity world of the Internet, freed of the limitations of the page and the clock, you could argue that as no end of ad inventory becomes available, rates will only drop. But I also believe that advertisers will pay higher rates for the right sites that perform efficiently for them. Thus, high-quality sites will earn more and advertisers will waste less. That is the value of openness.
Openness has another key virtue: It is the best response to a monopoly. And if media big and small do not challenge Google's growing hegemony over advertising-not just online but next in print and broadcast-then we will have only ourselves to blame.
There is still a great deal to be tried and learned about effective advertising in a customer-controlled world. I've experimented with many ad networks on my blog and it's clear to me that advertising in the mass of niches must be highly targeted from the advertiser's perspective and highly relevant from the customer's. But there is already money to be made. I've made a few thousand dollars from my blog and have even fielded advertisers' RFPs (though even as a media guy, I had trouble figuring them out; we do need to translate adspeak to civilian blogspeak). My teenage son and Webmaster earns more from ads on his blog (JakeJarvis.com) than from his allowance. The vlog (video blog) Rocketboom.com just auctioned its first week of advertising on eBay for $40,000. I know bloggers and podcasters who are earning a living in our new media. So the greatest benefit of the open ad marketplace I propose is that it will support an even greater explosion of citizens' media and choice for advertisers.
So what's next? Jarvis Coffin, president-CEO of BURST! Media, and I are beginning to organize a trade group for citizens' media, which could begin to set measurement standards and perform research on the medium. An open-source ad call could be established by a meeting of interested parties. Agencies, media companies and analytics companies can then use these tools to find, vet and aggregate high-quality collections of citizens' media. And some smart entrepreneur-or perhaps eBay-could run an auction marketplace. There's a brand new medium out here owned by all our customers that's just waiting for us to act.
Jeff Jarvis is new-media columnist for The Guardian and head of the interactive journalism program at CUNY’s new Graduate School of Journalism. He blogs at Buzzmachine.com.