At times, there's nothing more amusing than watching a blogger in the middle of a meltdown. Barry Ritholz, the CEO of stock-research firm Fusion IQ, has apparently been seized by panic over an interesting, but unthreatening, development: Big media companies getting into the business of selling ads for blogs. They've already built up an expensive ad sales force, and often find it difficult to grow traffic on their websites faster than their salespeople can sell it. A natural solution: Approach blogs covering similar topics and offer to sell ads on their sites, sharing the revenue. The Washington Post was one of the first to do so, and now, apparently, Reuters is getting into the game. The part that has Ritholz alarmed, though, is a requirement that the blogs "assign" their traffic to the larger company for purposes of getting counted by Nielsen/NetRatings and ComScore Media Metrix, the two largest Web-traffic research firms. Why does Ritholz find this so alarming — and why is he utterly wrong?
To Ritholz, this spells some kind of Internet apocalypse, bringing an end to reliable measures of traffic. The big media companies, in their efforts to become ad reps for smaller blogs, are insidiously "buying" traffic. "Reuters is creating a new financial 'blog ghetto,'" Ritholz fumes. And advertisers, he claims, should be wary.
Nonsense. For one thing, blogs are already in a ghetto, too small, one by one, to even show up in Nielsen's and ComScore's measurements. These agreements are routine, and, in fact, required by Nielsen and ComScore, rather than pushed by the media companies — that explains why the contracts Ritholz has seen are all so similar. And why are they required?
For advertisers, of course. Media buyers understand that they're buying ads that run across a network of websites, and of course want to know the traffic for the entire network, not just the flagship property. So if, say, Reuters salespeople are now selling ads on a bunch of financial blogs, they'll naturally want to report that traffic as part of the advertising buy.
In his effort to spin this as some kind of industry-destroying conspiracy, Ritholz misses out on the natural trend. Naive bloggers like to think that their websites are unique, and that advertisers will want to seek out their audiences, however microscopic, for their special charms.
Charming, but false, of course. Advertising remains a numbers game, a scale business. And Ritholz's hand-waving conspiracy theories just serve to obfuscate the main issue here.
Small blogs have a number of hard choices. First, there's signing up with the likes of Google AdSense, the online-ad networks which pay ludicrously low amounts — low, of course, being better than nothing. Then there's striking an alliance with an online ad-rep firm like Federated Media, or a large media company which chooses to have its salesforce act as third-party ad reps. Lastly, there's the hardest choice of all: Actually spending money to hire your own salespeople. Which, of course, will be tough going if your blog traffic isn't high enough to register on Nielsen or ComScore's listings. (Photo by ">king-edward)