by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. XXXV
For the Week of September 3, 2001

This Week's Clue: Something New in the World

This Week's Clue: Something New in the World

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

SP (Shameless Promotion)

Understanding the "Pop-under" Controversy

Not All Ideas are Practical

Treat Users Like Adults

Clued-in, Clueless

Why don't e-books sell better? I think the answer is obvious. They are no better than regular books - in fact they're quite a bit worse.

An e-book, when you dump the trappings and the controversy, is just a very long electronic file, usually produced in an Adobe or Microsoft format, that is read on some computer screen. Compare it to a printed book and the disadvantages are obvious. The printed book offers better resolution, you can lend it to your kids without worry, and it's very easy to hold your place in it with a piece of paper or cardboard.

The e-book readers that have come available, like RCA's Gemstar , are simply client devices. As such they're prone to become obsolete . I have 150-year old books here that aren't as obsolete as, say, the Rocket eBook. 

For e-books to succeed they have to be better than books. They can't just be books transferred to an electronic format. They have to take advantage of everything an electronic format has to offer.

This means they have to be interactive. In order to be interactive they have to be connected. They have to be Web-enabled, in other words, and backed by all the interaction the author, publisher and distributor might bring to a Web site. 

In other words, they must be something totally new in the world.

Now that it's written (and will soon (hopefully) be available for purchase) I've found my "Living on the Internet" to be the "Steamboat Willie" of this new genre. It's not great literature. It's not a book that's aimed at the market, because it's too broad. Its birth was, on the whole, a solitary venture, and that is its weakness. But it is interactive, it is filled with links, and it's about the most relevant subject in the world today. When you're creating something new in the world, you're going to be alone, and the result will be a solitary vision -- that is the book's strength. 

The Internet has changed us more profoundly in just six years than any invention ever in such a time. The industry's boom and bust cycle has obscured the reality. Friendships and enmities now fly around the globe at the speed of thought. Research that once took weeks now takes minutes. The implications for our law and politics are just now coming to light. Yet even as all this happens the Internet is changing again, with mass-market broadband, wireless access and clients that have the power of servers. 

No book can hold this change in its hand, so I didn't try. Instead I filled my book with hyperlinks, and I've committed myself to regular e-mail updates. If I can gain even a modest success I'd like to turn the book into a community, with interactive forums and a digest e-mail list, done not just by me but an entire staff.

Yeah, I'm dreaming. But that is how change starts, with dreams turned into action. What's needed now is support, not just from readers, but from someone in the market who can do what no writer really cares to spend their time doing, execute a successful marketplace strategy.

That someone could be you. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

The draft is done. "Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is now in the hands of the folks at eBookAgent , which is arranging for electronic distribution. I'm hoping to add a monthly newsletter as an up-sell, available free to all buyers of the book. Your testimonials would be appreciated. Drop me a note if you need a sample chapter first .

You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, at Boardwatch, ISP Executive, Sitepoint  and the new (paid) version of WorkZ. More deals are being sought. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

You have a little list, but how do you make the most of it? You turn it into a database, you query the database, you audit the results and you deliver market research to yourself and to others.

Permission is just the first step. An audit is the second step. Building interactive relationships with every name in your database is the greatest business asset you can have.

You can take the first step toward making your little list truly valuable with help from my friends at Whitehat Interactive - click here to begin that journey.

Takes on the News

Understanding the "Pop-under" Controversy

Very few site managers (and no one buying Internet advertising) understands or will explain the "pop-under" ad controversy. Most don't understand the controversy, or the risks they take in placing these ads. So let me do it.

The problem is that forcing users to constantly play "whack-a-mole" annoys them. This ill-will doesn't always go to the advertiser. Often it goes to the site. Sites figure "everyone does it" so they do nothing to help their readers and so put their whole medium into disrepute. More important, they claim their survival is at stake. So they kill their goodwill without thought. They destroy the long term in favor of the short.

Let's understand who the buyers of these ads usually are first. They're direct marketers. They want cheap, measurable space. They are not there for the long haul. When you die they'll go on to the next one. This kind of "direct marketing" works for the same reason spam works - if you hit people over the head often enough some will respond.

If you're going to sell this type of space, understand why you're doing it, sell it cautiously, and only sell it to direct marketers. You don't want to risk someone else's brand equity while you're hosing your own.

Pop-over ads, which only cover a portion of the screen, don't present the same problems as pop-unders like those from NextCard (which are terribly misleading) and X-10 (which often bleed off the page, making them hard to kill). There are many, many rich media formats that brand advertisers can take advantage of, and these are the people sites want to do business with over the long term. Brands want to associate with media properties that treat their readers the way good brands do.

If you can make just one brand manager happy, you'll stay in business. Keep a half-dozen or more smiling and you'll grow your business.

Two sites deserve special praise for the way they handle things.

The New York Times only seems to sell "pop-under" avails to direct marketers, and not on every page. Their forced registration policy has finally gained acceptance so they can tell brand managers a lot about who is seeing their ads (brands buy sightings for recognition, not clickthroughs). As a result the Times has been successful at selling tiny button ads to major brands - I found 8 different advertisers on their home page, plus there was still ample room for house ads.

CBS Marketwatch deserves some praise for its experimentation with "paid wallpaper." I was recently surprised when, in clicking over to a story from Yahoo Finance, I came upon a Marketwatch story that had a bunch of Budweiser logos in the background. If you restrict such advertising to users coming in from partner sites (those deals don't draw money directly), and keep them off the pages of those buying "premium" services (you tell who's who with cookies) you can not only bring in "non-endemic" brand advertisers (Budweiser isn't a natural fit with a finance site), you can make sure you earn a profit from each page view.

Profit from page views is what you're looking for. If you don't get profit from a page view, you're Buy.Com - which means you're toast. But earning that profit at the expense of tomorrow just delays the inevitable.

Not All Ideas are Practical

I am a fountain of ideas. Some of those ideas have been turned into businesses by alert readers. Others went nowhere because they were impractical.

I'm not the only such fountain. Robert Cringely is another. In his latest screed (he's got a good gig with PBS these days ) he suggests that you buy an "alarm line" from your local phone company and set yourself up as a broadband ISP. As an alternative, he suggests you buy a small local burglar alarm company and go into the broadband business using their alarm lines.

It's a great idea, but it's totally impractical. The RBOCs know all about the "alarm line scam." Even if they do offer such lines (most don't anymore) to local security companies, the tariffs change drastically as soon as the lines are loaded with data (even though this costs the RBOC nothing). The idea that they won't care (they will tie you up in knots before state regulators if you fight them) is ludicrous.

The idea of using such dry pairs has been around for four years. CLECs and ISPs have tried desperately to build a business here. Mostly they've failed because the phone companies are completely intransigent. The final nail in the coffin, passage of the Tauzin-Dingell "subsidized monopoly" bill, is still pending in Congress. That would effectively kill all Internet competition, forcing us to use whatever the Bells allow us to use - which won't be much, and will be at inflated prices.

Some people have fun beating their heads against walls, but it's not good form for a journalist to encourage it when they know better.

Treat Users Like Adults

More evidence is starting to accumulate that employers who treat employees as adults get results, and stay out of trouble.

The "carrot" here is a Xylo study indicating two-thirds of workers say the Internet helps them improve their productivity . Now if you've got 2-1 odds that encouraging something will yield a benefit, don't you think you should take that bet?

The "stick" here is a report from England that employers looking at employee e-mails may be violating human rights laws . England, like many countries, has a schizophrenic attitude on the question. They passed a law allowing the snooping just weeks after passing the law the snooping violates. The Institute for Management, which issued the warning and represents 89,000 managers, also said telephoning workers at home may violate the law there .

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Marty Wygod, who has apparently stopped the bleeding at WebMD . The result may be a company that's not much bigger than the one Wygod started with, but at least now it has a brand, something that will be useful even after the Internet Bubble.

Clueless (for all time) is David Weatherall . CMGI was never a real company, just a collection of assets, and Weatherall himself was never anything but a lucky fool. The CMGI story will make a great book one day, but that day won't come until after Chapter 7, when the truth can be freely written.

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