The Blurring Line between Commerce and Ad Models

Posted on March 11, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

A lot of different ideas are converging in my head right now, largely as the result of two discrete conversations.  The first, is more of a broad thesis I am developing about alternative revenue streams for publishers, and how niche publications are thinking about monetizing their audience and assets beyond “ad models.”  The second is a thesis I’ve been kicking around in the realm of Charlie O’Donnels NextNY conversation last night on “Disruptive Commerce Models” or “E-Commerce 2.0.”

Until last night, I largely viewed realms to be separate, but a conversation this morning with a very bright guy named David Cho made me realize that one of the fundamental drivers influencing my thinking in both realms is related  to a broader phenomenon:

Phenomenon: The line between commerce and advertising is blurring.  Think of the relationship between the below monetization mechanisms as a spectrum, where both ends of the spectrum are losing $ volume to the middle:

The Commerce/Ad Spectrum

Commerce 1.0 (buying inventory, taking risk, reselling at a premium to consumer)

“Commerce light” (no inventory, really brokerage between suppliers and consumers)

CPA (performance)

CPC (performance)

Brand Advertising

I see tons and tons of niche publishers looking to “transform” their model away from “ad models” toward “commerce models” (largely chasing what they perceive to be the strategy that made Gilt grow like a weed).  David Cho was the first niche publisher I have met since I started investing who said “fuck that, the ad-model isn’t broken, I just need better units to monetize my base.”  I actually think he may be right…but those better performing units are going to start to look more and more like commerce functions.  Kayak.com is a perfect example of an ad based model that really operates and feels like a transaction/commerce model to consumers…now, think about a world where widgets being distributed onto publishers sites, are capable of performing transactions and transaction like events within the ad unit…and you start to see where I’m going with this.  So that’s advertising bleeding up the spectrum into commerce…

Now let’s look at commerce bleeding down spectrum to advertising.  Last night’s conversation at NextNY was theoretically about Commerce startups, but in reality, I didn’t know how to define “Commerce” or an “e-retailer” any more…the reason is because so many of the folks in the room pursuing flash sales, group buying, etc…aren’t really retailers at all.  They are more like brokers, bringing together suppliers and consumers.  Is a broker a retailer?  Because these brokers are similar to retailers, but brokers also look an awful lot like ad units…bringing together suppliers and consumers for a fee (without taking inventory risk).

All of this is to say I don’t think there is a hell of a lot of difference between Ad models and “commerce light” models when applied to an audience aggregated through some sort of editorial voice…so I’m interested in talking with people who are pursuing the nexus point of these two worlds, especially if you are packaging that together into a “turnkey” monetization mechanism and selling into publishers.  If you are…and you’re smart…I’m interested in learning from you and maybe even investing in you.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)

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