Cry Me a Big Media River

While doing my daily online advertising reading this morning I came across an interesting article that both distressed me and made me laugh at the same time. It was written by one Jim Spanfeller who among other things is the president and CEO of In his article, published on, Spanfeller went on the Google assault. In it he waxed absurdly about how "the parasitical nature of its business" is causing Google to be rewarded disproportionately for other people's work. Spanfeller argues that because of the "ill-conceived" last click attribution model Google is winning big as most web users utilize their search box as a navigation tool online. You see, a user searching for Honda's website might type "honda" in their search box then click on the paid link among the search results returned. By selling these branded search terms to the very brands that own them, Spanfeller argues, Google is muddying the value chain and maximizing on the flaws of the last click methodology. Spanfeller even goes as far as to suggest, however poorly, that Google's business model threatens to destroy "the core building blocks of our democracy". I'll spare you the rest of his poorly contrived argument.

First, let me say that nothing spells clear desperation like when the CEO of one company writes an article blaming the problems of his company, and entire industry, on another company. Further, to try and link the destruction of the established web publishing industry to the destruction of our democracy is both ridiculous and pathetic. While many of the points that Mr. Spanfeller makes are with merit, his conclusion is nothing short of absurd. The problem with the branded professional journalism institutions is not a search engine, it's their revenue model. A model which they adapted from print and is both outdated and completely inappropriate for online. This revenue model assumes that content created by branded professional journalism institutions should be held above all other content for the mere fact that it was created by said institutions. It also assumes that advertisers should be willing to advertise on this "premium" content for a premium price. Both are completely wrong assumptions.

Yes, I agree "the advertising lifeblood for branded professional journalism seems to be shrinking ". But, the world doesn't need big brand journalism institutions, all we need is good journalism. One does not necessarily produce the other. Further, the days when the big players like Forbes held a monopoly on reach, circulation, and research resources are over. Now anyone with enough time can research and produce compelling content and put it in mass circulation all from the comfort of their homes. This is a reality that you must come to grips with Mr. Spanfeller. Your "premium" content isn't so premium anymore. So stop complaining that Google does not consider "paid" journalism over user-generated blogs. For years the established media outlets have abused their power with undeclared agendas. They've pushed products, politicians, and causes all disguised as news. They've vilified their opponents with little accountability for years on end. Well, now the audience is revolting. Readers vote with their clicks and if they would rather visit over, then the vote is in and you loose.

Further, what is premium content anyway? In the measurable, finitely trackable world of online advertising premium content is really any content that drives conversions for an advertiser. What that means Mr. Spanfeller is the notion that advertisers will pay higher CPMs to run advertising on your content just because it's produced by Forbes doesn't hold water online. Any advertiser with half a brain is looking directly at the ROI. The bottom line is your content isn't driving enough ROI to warrant paying you disproportionately for it. If it did, rest assured you would be getting your due.

So, your content cost too much to produce and is not compelling enough to draw huge numbers of web users. It also isn't generating the advertising ROI to warrant a profitable price. Who is to blame for this Mr. Spanfeller, Google? Is this your answer to your industry's woes? You clearly lack any idea for a solution, needless to say a thorough understanding of the dynamics of online media. Here is an idea, rethink your approach, change your model, use technology don't attack it.

If you don't like the fact that Google is profiting from directing users to your content then block the Google spider. While you're at it block all the search engine spiders because they're just as bad, right? With that logic you must also hate yellow pages and directory assistance services too so stop all business activities with them, they must also be part of the problem.

Oh, and about the last click attribution model, yes it's severely flawed. However, and other such publishers had absolutely no problem with the last click attribution model when they were successfully demanding $50+ CPMs for their inventory. Now that their premium content isn't exactly premium anymore they're all pointing fingers and looking for a scapegoat. The stream of each industry is constantly changing. Those companies who are leaves in the stream adapt and flow with the stream, e.g. Apple, IBM, Amazon. Those who are rocks in the stream wither and die. Don't be a Rock Mr. Spanfeller, nobody likes rocks.
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