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The Future of Business Media: I'm toast; Web ad ROI

I strolled into the Future of Business Media conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City thinking I'd get some insight on my craft. After 40 minutes, I think I'll grab a beer.

I strolled into the Future of Business Media conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City thinking I'd get some insight on my craft. After 40 minutes, I think I'll grab a beer. I might need one. It's close enough to noon.

Why the worry? Journalists are toast.

In a panel, which was focused on advertising and where the money flow should go, the conversation took a turn for the worst--if you happen to get paid for writing stuff. User generated content is cheap. And if given the choice, a publisher would rather hire a search engine optimization wonk than an editor.

"If you have a budget and you can hire three editors or three search engineers, who do you hire? I guarantee you that you get more return out of the search engineers right now," says Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business Information.

That's just great. Glad I stopped by. I may also want to ping my old boss since he works for this guy.

Gloria Scoby, senior vice president and group publisher, of Crain Communications, says editorial folks are increasingly asking for techies. And they are closing edit positions in exchange.

Now none of this is news to folks in the business media--and even casual observers--but it is eye opening since this editorial outlook comes from a bunch of folks count journalists as employees. Content is going to be a commodity business.

The one bright side to this conversation came from Peter Horan, CEO of IAC's media and advertsing group. Horan reckons that content companies will "over correct" on the user generated stuff and then track back to the middle with content from professional types.

Other odds and ends of note from the panel:

  • Is the ROI in online advertising dwindling? Smith says his outfit is seeing dramatic increases in keyword search costs. To Smith, ROI in many advertising categories is falling as more people pour more money into online advertising. Economics dictates that this ROI decrease makes sense. But it's still an elephant in the online advertising room. What happens when a chief marketing officer has $3 million to blow on TV, print and Web advertising and the last category has an ROI that's transparently negative? Good question.
  • Does Google have a "thermo-nuclear" advertising device? Horan noted that there are two many ad networks with "CPMs all within 20 cents of each other." What would cause consolidation? Google combining its data with DoubleClick's information. "If Google uses its toolbar data to target data through DoubleClick it can sell audiences one off," says Horan. If that outlook plays out, Google will be able to sell advertisers 500 35 year old men in Denver shopping for a car this week instead of 1,000 random users.