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BizReport : Internet : July 12, 2001

Exclusive Interview with Andy Bourland, founder of ClickZ

Andy Bourland knows firsthand what it's like to see good times and bad. As the co-founder of ClickZ, one of the earliest pure-play content sites that helped legitimize Internet advertising, he lived through the halcyon days before selling his company to INT Media Group in May. Since then, Bourland has been trying to relax (at least for the summer) at his home in New England. But perhaps more than most, Bourland has a unique perspective on Internet advertising (ClickZ, after all, not only depends on advertising to pay its bills but also covers the ad and marketing industries).

by Michael Grebb, Special Correspondent

And with an ad slump now in full force online and elsewhere, Bourland agrees with other analysts that predict things may not pick up for at least 12 or 18 months. Bourland also notes that if he were to start another content site, he would make it a subscription-based site rather than a free, advertising-supported venture. He sat down with BizReport to explain why the days of widespread free content on the Web may be numbered.

MG: So what have you been up to since you sold ClickZ?

AB: I've been a bum, really (laughs)

MG: I doubt that.

AB: I've really just been taking the time off, catching up on reading, and relaxing. Doing chores around my house—painting my deck, painting my garage. I spent a week up in Maine. Really, I'm just trying to enjoy myself and decompress. I've been working pretty hard for four or five years.

MG: And as someone who was in business during the good times for Internet advertising, what do you make of the current advertising slowdown?

AB: My take on it is that it's going to be rough sailing for another year, or a year and a half. I mean, venture capital and IPO capital is what paid the bills before for online advertising. Most of the advertisers we had were either heavily funded startups with lots of VC cash to spend or had gone through an IPO with lots of cash to spend. You take that out of the equation, and you don't have much money left over. It's not just the dot-coms. If you look at the magazine business or the newspaper business right now, they're all going through big layoffs and severe cutbacks, closings, mergers and acquisitions. It's a tough time for the advertising industry overall. Online is just getting impacted even more so.

MG: Some people seem to think this will pass in the next six months. What makes you think the slump could last well over a year?

AB: Because I don't see any of the fundamentals out there. We're still stuck with the same old ad models, which is mostly banners. I don't think we've seen the kind of innovation that it's going to take to provide advertisers with the value they are looking for. I also think that we're going to continue to see a shakeout of a lot of properties that, were they not propped up with IPO or venture capital, wouldn't exist. If people had to pay to see their content, they would never be able to survive. I think we're going to continue to see a weeding out of that.

MG: You mentioned that Internet advertising lacks innovation. Yet people are trying all kinds of new things such as interstitials, pop-ups, etc. Do you see those floundering?

AB: The problem is that Web surfers are tired of having increasingly intrusive ads thrown in their faces. It's like these pop-under ads. They're increasingly invasive. They're not going to listen to you just because you shout louder and wave your hands. That doesn't make them any more amenable to listen to what you have to say. The online medium is an interactive medium. The kind of marketing that companies start doing on the Internet is not necessarily in-your-face advertising but a two-way conversation. I think smart publishers can create places within their online publications where dialogue, information exchange, and quality contact can take place between sponsors and those who subscribe to the publication. I think that we need to treat it in a different way from other media. You can't interact with the magazine. You can't interact with the TV. You can't interact with the radio. But you sure can with the Internet. You can have a two-way conversation. When publishers move away from the model and the language of impressions and clicks and conversions, and start talking about dialogue and conversation and information exchange and truly taking advantage of the interactive media, then we'll begin to see a recovery.

MG: There seems to be much debate about impressions versus click-throughs. What do you think?

AB: Both impressions and click-throughs are meaningless. What really matters is not the size of the audience, but the quality of the audience. People should make commitments based on timeframes rather than the number of impressions or click-throughs.

MG: When do you think you'll get back in the advertising game?

AB: I'm going to take the summer off and then see what happens in the Fall. I've got another year on my non-compete with [owned by INT Media Group], so I'll honor that. But I'm keeping my eye closely on things. And if I were to come back, I would do a subscription-based business rather than rely on the advertising-supported model.

MG: That's quite interesting coming from you.

AB: Well, the days of "free everything" are over. It never was free anyway. The VCs paid for it, and they're not paying anymore. Somebody has got to pay.

Tags: ClickZ

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