Online Edit For Sale
Another article covering in-text ad links recently ran on WSJ.com. It’s one of those radioactive subjects that gets its fair share of love-hate coverage. The technology is not new, and allows advertisers to buy keywords within an article that are hyperlinked via mouse-over to a pop-up text or video ad. Advertisers pay a prearranged price when a user clicks on the ad.
There are several vendors that broker this service between publisher and advertiser, selling keywords on a pay-per-click basis – anywhere between $5 and $20, according to the report. In fall 2004, Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT product caused a minor sensation at Forbes.com when the editorial staff rejected its brief implementation.
There’s a place for this technology, for sure, but I fall on the “intense dislike” side of the fence. As a writer, I’d hate to see my stories appear online peppered with hyperlinked keywords that have been sold to a vendor. It’s product placement. And the unmistakable odor of sell-out is there, and even if editors and writers have no prior knowledge or input on which words are selected and sold, readers will inevitably notice. And publishers simply shouldn’t even go there for fear of tainting the edit brand.
Other disheartening points the article makes:
Hyde Post, vice president for the Internet at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the paper restricts in-text ads to soft-news sections such as entertainment and sports. The paper hasn’t received any reader complaints, he says. “You have to try new things,” Mr. Post says of the paper’s decision to start running in-text ads earlier this year. “I look at the medium as very evolutionary.”
I realize papers often get knocked as Internet neophytes, and perhaps the AJC closely examined the implications of using the service – I don’t know and the article doesn’t say. But, no, you don’t have to try new things just because the medium allows it. And just because the experiment is in the “soft-news sections” doesn’t mean a negative brand impact will extend into the “hard news” sections.
Still, in-text advertising is gaining traction, in part because it appeals to many sites on the Web that don’t focus on hard news, such as feature magazines, trade publications and blogs.
Since when do feature magazines and trade publications ignore hard news? Or blogs, for that matter? Magazine publishers have used their Web sites as the platform de jour for news-focused content. And, again, I don’t get this hard news vs. soft news distinction. It’s all content critical to a publication, both online and off. The implication here is that “soft news” is somehow less deserving of ethical oversight.
Update: Paul Conley abhors in-text ads even more passionately. Check out today’s post at his blog, where he makes two excellent points: 1) that the story’s author concludes consumer and trade publications are somehow responsible for the practice’s traction (see second grab); and 2) VNU has also been there and back again.