Back in June 2010, I wrote a post ("Something's Gotta Give") that challenged the stability of the page view/ad impression economy. Now that that economy is in full retreat - if not free-fall -- I think it's time to revisit the theme once again. Here's a thin slice of what I wrote back then:

"If you're a content publisher in today's environment, you're feeling a more than a little squeezed. You're tortured by the unforgiving math of trading of site traffic for ad serving opportunities. The game goes something like this:

  1. We need to make our number for the quarter.
  2. To do that, we'll need lots more traffic on key pages, since traffic means page views and page views mean impressions... the commodity we ultimately sell.
  3. Since we don't have them, we'll go out and get them, either by syndicating our content, through search marketing and optimization, or by getting some poor schlubs to click on OUR ads."

Now the situation's even worse. Those extra ad impressions you worked so hard to generate are losing value faster than Confederate currency in 1865. An entire cottage industry - let's call it the Ad Tech Industrial Complex - has sprung up to remove cost and friction in the trading and exchange of our now heavily-discounted impressions. But no company or industry ever saved its way into massive growth. So the publisher and sales leader are still scratching their heads and asking, "Is that all there is?"

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Enlightened pubs and CROs are starting to fight back and reassert control over their futures. Some are reducing supply - cutting down the number of ads available on their sites or networks - while also embracing bigger, more dynamic ad units (like the IAB Rising Stars) or spending more time developing "native" ad opportunities. Even so, a deeper change in attitude and perspective is needed. So I'll again outline the four-step program I recommended to publishers and sellers 28 months ago. Repeat after me:

"(1) I am no longer in the business of monetizing pages on a website. (2) I am now in the business of monetizing the value of my content and (3) creating value for marketers. (4) I will embrace a strategy that is based on syndicating and distributing my message and my environment across the greater web. (Read points 2 and 3 carefully: they are NOT the same as point 1.)"

This is not about iterative strategy or a change in marketing materials. It's an existential question about what we do. I hope that publishers and CROs take it that seriously. An economic crisis is a terrible thing to waste.