monoculture controlled by Microsoft and, to a lesser degree, by Intel. Today, in the world of online media, that same thing looks like it could happen. But it doesn't have to be that way. This 4-point manifesto lays out how to avoid a Google media monoculture.For many decades we had a PC
The Windows/Intel monoculture was good at first. The Wintel standards enabled the market to grow. The rules were clear and everybody knew who made them. However, after many brave-but-failed attempts, nobody was willing to fund the rebels and the Empire ruled unchallenged, and that inhibited innovation.
In that software story, Google stars as Luke Skywalker.
In a parallel universe called media, Google looks much more like Darth Vadar. Publishers have to publicly talk about Google as a partner while seeing their competitive advantage drained. Advertising agencies see their role as the intermediary fundamentally threatened. Even some advertisers start to fret about the lack of choice and accountability.
Media and software are now one industry. So it is really not a parallel universe.
Google is a great company and the standards that they set will continue to grow the online advertising market. It is just that everybody else in the market will get slim pickings. Serfdom sucks.
Rallying around this 4-point manifesto will prevent an online media monoculture:
- Use OpenX rather than Google Ad Manager. Yes, Ad Manager is currently more mature, but OpenX is backed by top tier VC and could become the Red Hat of online advertising. They will survive and thrive but need a bit of faith. Linux was immature for a long time as well. What is not to like about Ad Manager? It looks like just another great free tool from Google. It is the integration with Adsense that is a worry. One of the success stories on the Google Ad Manager site illustrates this: "The AdSense integration feature has been helpful with helping us optimize our remnant inventory. There have been numerous days where we made more money because Ad Manager was able to auto adjust and send AdSense more inventory." Take the link to Publisher tools and you get to an Adsense page with all the tools available for Publishers. Yes, all these free tools are designed to sell more AdSense. Letting Ad Manager and other Google tools automatically make these decisions on behalf of AdSense while you fly blind is not smart, particularly when you consider the next point.
- Publishers should ask Google to reveal their AdSense revenue split. It is kinda funny that nobody knows what share of the AdSense revenue they're getting. I have seen blog comments where people confidently state that Google only takes X%, but the fact is, Google doesn't reveal it and the percentage can vary from zero to one hundred. Yes, if your site makes less than $100 per month you get zero; the transaction costs are a reasonable excuse and who knows if they make any money hoovering up this spare change. At the other extreme, if you have real clout and there is a strategic advantage at stake for Google, a publisher can get 100%. So the averages that analysts parse from public data are meaningless to publishers. It is the most basic of business questions - "what's the deal, what do you get, what do I get?"
- Advertisers should push Google towards CPA (Cost Per Action) to get real accountability on clicks. One hears advertisers say, "who cares how they get their clicks, it is all performance based, I only pay when I get a click so I don't care." That is a naive view. The conversion is what matters. If clicks don't convert you lose twice - you pay Google and you pay the cost to attempt conversion - bad leads are worse than no leads. AdSense is not a branding tool, it is part of the direct marketing industry. Ask Google for a revenue share deal. If they don't give it to you, find somebody who will. Get clarity on revenue share percentage. If you are selling a $100 product, you need to know your cost of sale.
- Back independent audience measurement rather than relying on Google Analytics industry benchmarking. The recent announcement about the availability of analytics benchmarking data was overshadowed by closure of the DoubleClick deal and the Ad Manager release, but is possibly even more significant. The announcement just looks like two simple new settings that allow Publishers to share their data. This FAQ explains it well. Google understands that controlling the data means control of the transaction. This is like financial markets such as FX where a company such as Reuters could dominate an industry by controlling the information flow. The biggest speed-bump on the road to more online advertising is reliable, verifiable, audited audience measurement data. Big advertisers won't open up their wallets to the long tail until they see this transparency. This should come via industry standard bodies such as IAB and MRC and not the largest ad network.
I am not anti-Google. Google Web Toolkit is a wonderful addition to the open source community and I love what they are doing with Apps to give Microsoft a run for the money with Office. In fact, after this post, I was accused of being a Google fanboy! Nor does this touch upon Google's dominance of search - that is the free market at work and if anybody can create a fundamentally better search engine, they can win.
Nor is this asking anybody to do what is not in their best interests. For publishers there is a small trade off involved in the OpenX vs Ad Manager decision, but the long term benefits should outweigh any short term hassle.
The fundamental issue is that AdSense is the weak link in the Google chain. It has fundamental issues for both publishers and advertisers and Google should not be able to use their dominance in other areas to shore up this weakness.