Arbitrage media

Glamour and profits often don’t come together

When the history of digital media is written, the opening sequence should be set in Phoenix in 2008, at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau confab. It was dawning on the industry that the original promises of the shift from analog to digital media – high quality content, freely available, supported by high quality advertising to reach high quality audiences – was unraveling, and it was about to get worse nine months later, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and set off the Financial Crisis.

The digital publishing industry was unraveling because over the course of its existence, online advertising had never truly figured out brand advertising. Homepage takeovers weren’t TV commercials, even the people claiming that had to know. The internet commoditizes everything it touches, and media people often like to tell themselves lies, including that what they do is different, special even. The openness of the web destroyed the scarcity that allowed for premium pricing; the web flattened publishing brands with a canvas of boxes that moved around; the collection and application of data was the main selling point for digital media vs analog; and finally the click was seized on as the marker of success.

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