McKenzie Wark on Mon, 3 Mar 97 08:14 MET

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nettime: yank, tug, and socko media

Funny thing about 'push media'. I don't read Wired all that often
any more. My sub lapsed. I just get it on the newsstand sometimes
now. That 'push media' cover really got my attention. I picked it
up, looked at it, read the cover lines -- and put it right back.

It might be worth linking up Geerts very stimulating remarks with
an earlier story in Wired that i recall, on web sites and advertising.
It was clearly aimed at 'educating' the buyers at ad agencies and
their clients. The line was that stand alone 'product palace' web
sites for your company might look great when you show them to the
board of directors, but just count the hits -- both of them. Or
if you do start getting users, look at how they're using you. The
example given was a site for a lingerie company that had a discussion
group going on among men who love to cross dress. Not that there's 
anything wrong with that (as Jerry Seinfeld says) but it probably
wasn't selling too much lingerie. 

What this particular story in Wired was talking up as the alternative
was the strip banner ad placed in editorial that's independently
produced. The counter argument it tried to rebutt is that these get
very few click-thoughs. Search engines thought they were on to a good
thing -- they get *lots* of hits. So they were in a strong position
to sell banner ad space. But if you're searching, you're looking
for something, you're not likely to be too easily distractedby a lousy
banner -- particularly given how ugly and unimaginative they are. Not
to mention how damn long it will take to load the page if you do
click on it, with all its whistles and aplets. 

Now, i must say, i had some sympathy with the wired position on this.
If its a choice between sites owned and produced by companies selling
crap via 'advertorial', or commerical information providers independent
of their sponsors but selling strip ads, I hope there's always room for
the latter. We cross a new threshhold within modernity when the 
content *becomes part of* the advertising. 

Unfortunately, the upshot of all this is that neither click thru banner
ads nor web sites dedicated to a particular product or company really
seem to be earning their keep. And so, back to the future! Push media,

It reminds me of the early days of TV and radio in the US (where the
commerical model was always the main event). But it also makes me wonder
about what's changed. I think about all those 'infomercial' shows on
TV. You can watch *hours* of this shit, all of which does nothing but
sell exercise machines, or whatever. Or take the current model of the
spectacle perfected: home shopping. Integrate not only advertising
and entertainment, but point-of-sale as well. 

I don't want to sound too depressing about this, but i think its a problem
if even Wired is finding it hard to pitch for a place in the media market.
After all, there's not a hell of a lot of difference between Wired and
the advertorial model anyway. If you can't sell *that* in adland, what the
hell can you sell? And let's remember that while Wired has 'content',
it is an entirely self-referential content. A mix of media that talk
endlessly about themselves as a mix of media. 

At the Data Conflicts conference in Potsdam that Tom Keenan and Tom Levin
organised, Michael Linder talked about trying to get money for web
current affairs. Whatever one thinks of his Bezerkistan site and all
that, i think he raised an interesting issue. News media cost money. That
money has to come from sponsorship one way or another. That sponsorship
really isn't all that interested in advertising in web sites about
Bosnia, when that money is, according to current groupthink, better spent
on advertorial. You could of course look for a major media backer for
your independent current affairs or news web site, but just try it. 
You're dealing with the same people who monopolise TV, plus Microsoft.

If i was to try and put an optimistic spin on this, i'd say that so called
push media are likely to appeal to differnt kinds of user to the 'library'
of the web, or the same users at different times in their media using
cycle. In other words, you get something like the adjustment that happened
to newspapers after radio then TV came along. Smart ones found a way to
feed off the particular desires for information the new media created.
Dumb ones went head to head and lost. That cycle may now be compressed
into a rather more rapid progression. But just as advertising presently
tends to look for a spread across several media, so it may be in a world
of push-and-pull online media. There are whole, uh, libraries of theories
about how to combine advertising in different media. 

I just read -- in the New York Times -- that Rupert Murdoch wants to go
the Sky/Star TV route in the US. Beam satellite down from 'pon high and
give the cable guys a run for their money. The Napolean of the comsat is
at it again. I mention this because i have a general feeling these are
times of increased cometetiion *between* media, something we haven't
experienced in the modern world for over 40 years. The trick for those
of us in the information producing class (as opposed to the information
owning class) is to be able to apply skills across a number of possible
media alternatives, so we don't go the way of the hand weavers. And
at the same time, find the gaps and cracks within which to reproduce
the discourse about our own interests, to the extent that they are 
distinct and sometimes opposed to those of the information owners. 

McKenzie Wark
netletter #10
3rd March 1997

McKenzie Wark
Visiting Professor, American Studies Program, New York University
"We no longer have origins we have terminals"

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