Wounded.Or at least hors de combat for a week . A swollen and poisoned leg has reduced the international traveller of recent weeks to an impotent and gouty Englishman on his back like some stranded turtle , leg in the air and , by default , an enforced spectator of World Cup football which threatens to give boredom a bad name . And not only that , but I failed to miss the British Budget speech. So the world I have come to occupy seems to be one wholly lacking in vivacity and imagination , where the responses of politicians and footballers alike seems to be concentrated on booting the ball hopefully upfield , with the objective that space or time or another dimension will solve all of our problems . And then , like the man from Porlock ,a client came knocking and broke into my medically-induced nightmare . And his question led me once more to ponder what happens to advertising models online when current observable changes have worked through their ever-shortening life-cycles .


Lets start just there . Suppose for a moment that you agree with me that life cycles on the web are still speeding up . In other words , it took a decade for Google to build its brand , but five years for Facebook , and perhaps three years for their successors . This is a direct response to the rapid increase in the speed of ntework communication and not just the size of user populations . We now expect that friends and collagues will respond to a network relationship which demands attention.My daughter reported to her family this morning that she had been quoted in a Bloomberg article in the San Francisco Chronicle : within 30 minutes she had email responses from her husband , her father and her step-mother . We talk the language of these changes in pace but we do not really understand what their impact will be .


Yet in one sense we do . Notice how the network never throws anything away . Business model development is circular , as with much else in a world where there is no maturity , just renewal . So when I get a question about lead generation as an advertising business model on the web , I am bound to go back five years to a time when , in the US , lead gen was being seen as the saviour of the online advertising world . And why does online advertising need a saviour ? Because although it has grown persistently through the decline of print advertising , it is still a small , low margin sector of the economic activity of the web , once you have factored Google out of the equation . And , if you believe what I have written about speed of change , then you must factor in the decline of Google , and its replacement by a semantic-based atlternative  brewing even now in a garage near Bangalore .


Lead generation came about because its progenitors sought better than CPM returns , less dependence on search engines and more value-add to procure loyalty – stickiness . But just as the print yellow page players have never made an online impact commensurate with their offline power , so the lead gen players have never made an impact that measured up to the role that we designed for them five years ago . And part of the reason for this is another marked web behaviour model – the limitations the network seems to place on competitive replacement of aligned business models .


I need to unwrap that .I can do so by saying that in the mid-’90s I was one who proclaimed that a thousand business models would now flower on the web , and that users would pick the best , and then the better as it appeared , and so on in a frenzy of service choice activity . Well , I was wrong . What appears to have happened is that users chose , in every class of service , the best of its class , and then another , and while many more then appeared with enhancements , they stayed very loyal to those first choices , and many networked marketplaces became duopolistic as a result . And then , when a definite break with the old and still satisfactory services  took place , it occurred because of market disruption from a new ( and usually technological ) market activity . These duopolies , while they should have been a market stabilizing activity , now show signs of breaking down more speedily .Bear in mind too that technologies are getting cheaper , and technology spend has rarely , if ever , been a barrier to entry .


Which is a dispiriting picture if you are a duopolist in an online advertising market sector . Is this a determinist model : you must go down when the technology silver bullet hits you ? Not at all . Just review your entire business model annually , and let users drive your service enhancements and technology picks .If you are a sector leader , the real barrier is brand – something it takes newcomers more time to climb over than technology , though the breathing space it provides is very short . In online advertising , any sector duopolist must surely be looking at video for value enhancement , at developing web presence for advertisers ( the leading growth field in this year’s Outsell survey ), and above all at social media/buying clubs online . And this investigation of the direction of flow and the speed of change begins on Day 2 , after initial service change . Looking back , the most common characteristic of change-agents has been their propensity to believe that once changed , markets would stay that way long enough for everyone to make money . It ain’t necessarily so .

It was an argumentative week in New York last week . Not that I found myself arguing with the publishing and information community , of course . As ever they were gentle and sapient beings who could see all three sides of every question . Yet more than on a number of recent trips I found that the relationships of suppliers , intermediaries and hooked users in the info drugs trade were strained , and this was not , and wouldn’t be in this sector , about users being threatened with cold turkey after a reduction of supply . In fact , we are flooded with the stuff and users often beg for less , or better ways of monitoring the flow . And it is about price . And the arguments of last week were being played out against the backdrop of BP’s overflow , the movement of world oil prices , and BP’s share price and dividend decision. Indeed with Presidents and Prime Ministers in phone meetings to ensure that we understood that the raging argument was not  a raging argument , the scene was set for the media classes to fall to bickering on their own .


First off the blocks were the New York Times , Apple Inc and Alphonso Labs Inc . Who ? You may be forgiven for not knowing that the last-named are a brand new , boys -in- their- early- twenties -working -in -a-Palo-Alto -garage set-up . We shall no doubt hear more of Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta , not least because their first product , the Pulse News Reader App for the iPad, was specifically mentioned last week in his WWDC speech by Steve Jobs , first in line of great Palo Alto garage graduates , as a great example of how Apps could focus usage and intensify reader experience .


So it was a great surprize when Pulse was withdrawn mid-week , apparently at the request of the New York Times . Was it because the Pulse advert featured the NYT in its frame ? Was it because the Pulse application was better than the NYT’s own reader app ( while it was up in its original state the app was downloaded in a few days 35,000 times at £2.39 each ) ? Or was it because , although as yet it has no paywall policy , the NYT objects in principle to being framed by anyone ( are we really going to get back to that tired old internet argument ) ? Or did the NYT simply want a cut of the action and didn’t know whom to ask ?


The iPad is the latest ace hookah from which we take our info-drugs . The Pulse App is simply a smarter way of collecting RSS feeds , for which individuals could register for free , and playing them on the new hookah through a software called Safari , which everyone , including NYT , have to use if they are to have access to the new habit . The boys from the garage just gave the NYT 35,000 new subscribers to a service they already offer , and featured the NYT in their advertisements . Seems to me that editors with bouquets should attend their garage doors , not lawyers with writs . And Apple , far from removing the kids ( who won a Stanford Institute of Design award for this ) should give them a job . But Apple , having moved from hardware/software supplier to access controller and owner of the user profile on the Web , must now play a different game with content suppliers . And this one is a dangerous one .Apple , like Google in a similar role , would be too powerful in this position to make life comfortable for either growers or smokers .

( PS I understand that Pulse has now gone back up – with the NYT amputated . Who does that help ? )


At the same time in California a noisy spat was taking place between the University of California and Nature Publishing Group . Nature has been renegotiating its deal with the California Digital Library . Talks surrounded the depth of discount that the library should enjoy : Nature says it currently gives California an 88% discount on its list prices , and wants this to be close to the average of 50% that it gives other users , while California stigmatizes this as a 400% price increase .  California wrote an open letter to faculty representatives on its ten campuses , thus “outing ” the argument  in an attempt to put public pressure on Nature . , who point out that they have capped list prices at 7%, and are the major publisher most compliant with the so-called ” green agenda ” of open access .


No one is going to win this one either . Nature’s output is  “must-have ” to an outfit of California’s standing , but not beyond price . As a major buyer the university authorities could imagine that by making an example of a medium-sized player they will soften up the negotiations with the larger lists of Elsevier , Wiley-Blackwell or Springer . Both parties are in a recession , and both will plead poverty and the need to guarantee survival . It is however as unthinkable that California will not supply its students and researchers with Nature magazine at an average download price , under Nature’s proposed pricing , of $0.56 per download , as it is that Nature will walk away from an institution where its authors litter every street corner . So who blinks first , and who blows smoke in the faces of addicts and users everywhere ?


At the end , these are power plays . Is the University a big enough power block to make its will felt , and can the newspaper use its ownership any more to control how the end-user views its content ? These struggles used to take place behind closed doors . Then the golden rules were – never push your power too far , for in the exercise of using it you are losing it . NYT is clearly some way down that track : if the University of California forces its students to subscribe seperately to Nature then it too begins to lose control of the argument . How much do you need it and can you kick the habit are still powerful questions in the world of commoditized information .

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