Why content sites are getting ripped off

2009-09-29

A commenter on my blog the other day (Tim Ogilvie) mentioned a distinction that I found really interesting between intent generation and intent harvesting.  This distinction is critical for understanding how internet advertising works and why it is broken.  It also helps explain why sites like the newspapers, blogs, and social networks are getting unfairly low advertising revenues.

Today’s link economy is built around purchasing intent harvesting.  (Worse still, it’s all based on last click intent harvesting- but that is for another blog post).  Most of this happens on search engines or through affiliate programs.  Almost no one decides which products to buy based on Google searches or affiliate referrers.  They decide based on content sites – Gizmodo, New York Times, Twitter, etc.  Those sites generate intent, which is the most important part of creating purchasing intent, which is directly correlated to high advertising revenues.

But content sites have no way to track their role in generating purchasing intent.  Often intent generation doesn’t involve a single trackable click.  Even if there were some direct way to measure intent generation, doing so would be seen by many today as a blurring of the the advertising/editorial line.  So content sites are left only with impression-based display ads, haggling over CPMs without a meaningful measurement of their impact on generating purchasing intent.

All of this has caused a massive shift in revenues from the top to the bottom of the purchasing funnel – from intent generators to intent harvesters.  Somehow this needs to get fixed.

Next post: Twitter killed RSS (and that’s a bad thing)
Previous post: What if online business model innovation is slowing down?

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.