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Understanding advertising on the web: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to John Shankman, an internet advertising veteran who has worked at companies like Federated Media, Huffington Post, and The Awl Network. He currently runs Hashtag Labs, a company that helps make ad tech more manageable for independent publishers. The conversation runs through various types of advertising online, from programmatic to direct sales to premium networks, and tracks the life of a web ad for the Paul and Rich’s new school, “Ford University.”


Paul Ford: Hi, and welcome to Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio at 101 Fifth Avenue in New York City. We build your apps, we build your websites, we build your web apps, and the platforms that make them all go. My name is Paul Ford, and I’m the co-founder of Postlight, and I am joined by…

Rich Ziade: Rich Ziade.

Paul: The other co-founder, and my co-host here on Track Changes. Rich, do you, uh, do you use an ad blocker?

Rich: [slow, hesitant wooshing noise] I do.

Paul: OK. I don’t. So we’re balanced. Everyone can calm down.

Rich: OK.

Paul: You’ve got one founder with an ad blocker, one founder with no ad blocker.

Rich: Yeah. Yeah. I turned it off recently, for a moment…but I turned it back on.

Paul: See I need to see. I like to know.

Rich: I need to see, too, but I…we’ll get to this.

Paul: OK.

Rich: This is, this is a very contentious…

Paul: Which ad blocker do you use?

Rich: I use uBlock.

Paul: OK. I was a Privacy Badger guy for a little while, but…

Rich: Mmmm.

Paul: Honestly, I wanna know what they’re trying to do. I wanna see the ads.

Rich: Yeah. I think you can do that, and then you go back to living life in a peaceful manner.

Paul: No. No, no, no, no. Ads are part of the website. That’s what I believe. Well look, honestly, this isn’t about you and me.

Rich: No, it’s not.

Paul: This is about our guest in the studio, whose name is John Shankman. John, hi, welcome.

Rich: Welcome.

John Shankman: Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Paul: John, you’re the CEO of Hashtag Labs.

John: That is correct.

Paul: That is a trendy name for 2011. What does Hashtag Labs do?

John: HTL for short, I’d like to add.

Paul: OK.

John: I would say, in its most jargony form, it’s the service layer for ad operations for independent publishers. So we help independent publishers with their digital advertising technology. We make it easier for them. We service it for that. And we help them understand it.

Paul: All right, so wait, let’s stop for a second. Let’s take a break. What is an ad? Because it’s Hashtag Labs.

John: Yeah.

Paul: But I didn’t hear any hashtag —

Rich: Hashtag Labs sounds like we bring people together.

John: We do bring people together, absolutely.

Rich: OK. [laughter] So I think we took a leap here, in the assumption, and I think for many people, they say, well why do I need help putting an ad on my little independent site? So I think starting there, I think would be really helpful.

John: Yeah, yeah. The glib answer is, well why don’t you give it a shot and see how it goes. Uh… [laughter]

Paul: What goes wrong? When I…when I go, when I start my, you know,, OK, because I’m really into sneakers, and I’m getting good traffic, and I’m like, you know, I should put some ads on here, make a little money.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And I go — what happens to me?

John: Well unfortunately with this stuff, it’s a really, um, tightly-packed box, that when you start digging into it, the answer’s always, “It depends.” And so if you’re a small person who’s starting out for the first time, you’d probably sign up for Google AdSense, and you’d put that into your CMS template and you would have AdSense on your webpage.

Paul: OK, so those little, like, text ads and sort of the regular — or does that, AdSense now includes everything, right?

John: AdSense — there’s, Google has two advertising demand-side products. One is AdSense, and now that’s sort of all being combined into Ad Exchange, which was basically created by their acquisition of Admeld.

Paul: OK, so if I’m a small-time content producer/editorial product creator, I already have to figure that out.

John: Yes. You have to figure out how to put that ad code on your webpage. AdSense you can put directly on the page. Now where I was saying it sort of gets complicated is if you wanna work with advertisers directly, it’s probably a good idea to have an ad server.

Paul: Good idea to have an ad server.

John: Yes. Well, it depends what you’re trying to do. Again, sometimes just AdSense on the page itself works well. If you want to get more advanced and you want to do things like header bidding and you want to service advertisers directly, having an ad server is a good idea.

Paul: Now you say “header bidding” like I would know what that is. What’s header bidding?

John: Header bidding is a hacky innovation in the programmatic ad space —

Paul: OK, what’s “programmatic ad space?” [laughter]

John: No —

Rich: We’re peeling the onion here.

Paul: We’re gonna, we’re gonna peel this onion, because this is a very jargon-driven industry.

John: We’re gonna go far down the rabbit hole.

Paul: Let me pause for one sec. Here’s what I know about advertising, if I’m a listener of Track Changes, and also probably me, too, personally: I go to a website and it gives me some stuff. But then something on the website makes it start reaching out, all these weird tentacles, to other weird places. And those places have ads, and the ads are pictures or used to be Flash video or little HTML interactive thingamajigs. And those start flying across, and jamming themselves into places on my page.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, going back to UBlock, for a second, it shows a little number when you visit a site. It’s, essentially that number, it’s a tally of all the other sites, effectively, all the other servers it’s hitting, that it blocked. And sometimes I’ve seen 20, 30, 50 different services that are getting tapped.

Paul: Right, so my attention —

Rich: To draw the page.

Paul: My attention as a web user, like, I’m there to read the article, but it’s like I’m a milkshake with 50 straws coming out of me, and all the different ad, all the different ad networks are trying to take a little sip of my milkshake, right? Which is fine, like, that’s the deal of the web, and if I really wanted to opt out, I could be like Rich and take everyone’s —

Rich: I think I —

Paul: Revenue away an install a privacy guard, but —

Rich: Exactly. It’s worth highlighting that what you don’t see at the bottom of a popular site or blog is, “Want to advertise here? Email Joe at,” or whatever.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: You just…that link, right, to advertisers, has been, uh, appropriated and a highly efficient system or network has taken hold.

Paul: Well I’m gonna put —

John: I…

Paul: Highly-efficient…

John: Yeah.

Rich: OK, take out the highly-efficient —

John: As an ad man, I would disagree with that as well.

Rich: OK.

Paul: All right, let’s, let’s keep peeling the onion.

Rich: Let’s — yeah. Let’s keep going.

Paul: Programmat — so, first of all, I’m assuming if I have, if I’m Johnson & Johnson, and I have a million dollars and I want you to know about talcum powder —

John: Yeah.

Paul: I can go to websites and I can say, “Hey, lemme give you $100,000, and you put an ad for talcum powder on that site.”

John: Correct.

Paul: OK so that — what’s that called.

John: That would be a direct sale.

Paul: That would be a direct sale. That’s like my brand, and I’m telling you about it.

John: We love that.

Paul: OK, I love — here’s some money, can you do this? How many — how many hits are you gonna get me?

John: Impressions.

Paul: Yeah. [laughter]

Rich: BabyCenter.

Paul: OK.

Rich: might get an email, or a call, from Johnson & Johnson.

Paul: So if I’m a publisher, I love that, right? Because I —

John: I actually think Johnson & Johnson owns BabyCenter, believe it or not.

Rich: Holy hell. [laughter]

Paul: Let’s not go…we can only go down…

Rich: Good God.

Paul: There’s only so many onions we can —

Rich: Blew my mind.

Paul: Yeah. [laughter] We’re peeling too many onions. OK.

John: Content marketing.

Paul: So like, I, but that, if I’m a publisher, that’s dreamy, right, because you just came and gave me that $100,000, and all I have to do is put your sticker on my…on my website.

John: Sure.

Paul: And I just got some money.

John: Yeah.

Paul: That’s direct, that’s good, that’s great.

Rich: We love that.

Paul: But let’s say my sales team, let’s say I get a million people to come look at my website every month.

John: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And my sales team can, like, go out, and I have enough…like, half a million of them, I’m able to kind of be like, “Hey, I’ve got these half million people.” But now I have all this other traffic.

John: Yeah.

Paul: That I don’t really have ads for.

John: Correct.

Paul: So I could probably be making money on it, but I can’t go — I’m out of Johnsons & Johnsons and Nikes and BabyCenters.

Rich: I don’t have a sales team.

Paul: So now I go to the robots.

John: Correct.

Paul: Is that programmatic?

John: The platforms.

Paul: The platforms.

John: Yeah.

Paul: Now are you — what do you do?

John: We do both. I mean, you know, so let’s look at it from the perspective of a publisher for a minute. We can talk about three different types of advertising that you can get as a publisher. You know, what we were just ta — we’ll do it in reverse order. I normally start at the bottom of they pyramid and move up, but we’ll start at the top of the pyramid and go down. So, you know, the highest-end sale you can do is a direct sale, that’s when the publisher has a direct relationship with the advertiser, and the transactional details, how many impressions are being sold, what are the key performance indicators, and the price, really, the CPM, is all done directly.

Paul: CPM is…

John: The cost per 1,000 impressions.

Paul: OK.

John: And —

Rich: And that’s just negotiated in that setting?

John: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Rich: You just say, “Hey…”

Paul: I come in and I say —

Rich: “We’re great.”

Paul: I want —

John: It’s an agreed-upon rate.

Paul: So I say, “I want you to put my sticker on your Trapper Keeper,” and you go, “That’ll be a dollar.”

John: Correct.

Paul: Great.

John: Yeah, we love those. Those deals are the highest-margin deals, too.

Paul: OK.

John: The next tier that we have, which, you know, and Hashtag Labs services all three tiers of this, we sort of are…you know, we understand the ecosystem holistically.

Paul: Sure.

John: And so one of our core values is flexibility, where it’s like, you know, depending on where the publisher is in their life cycle, we’ll help them out with either of these. So — any of these. So one is direct sales. Two is sort of the premium network space. So we saw, like, if you think about, like, 10 years ago, and you think about your Federated Medias, your Say Medias, your large tails, there was this whole sort of layer of premium ad network that emerged to sort of say, “We’re going to outsource the direct sales to these types of companies.”

Paul: OK, let me get this back to you. So like, John Battelle was on our podcast, he was the founder of Federated Media.

John: My, I’m an alumni of Federated Media. Love it. Shouts to Federated.

Paul: OK, so Federated Media was like, “Oh my God, there — ” First of all, Federated Media, John’s like, “Well, people are putting ads on websites. That’s interesting.”

John: Yeah.

Paul: Second of all there’s all these blogs coming up, and nobody’s paying attention to them, and none of those people can make any money.

John: Right.

Paul: So I’m gonna make an ad network, and I’m gonna give them a tag, or a little bit of code, and they can run it, and then I’m gonna go out and I’m gonna say to the various, the various advertisers or the agencies or whoever it is who’s in the business of buying peoples’ attention to promote brands…

John: Yep.

Paul: I’m gonna say to them, “I got a really interesting audience for you.

John: Yeah.

Paul: “Give me your rectangles, I’m gonna put your rectangles on all their websites…”

John: Absolutely.

Paul: “And you’re gonna give me some money. I’ll take a cut, and then I’ll give them the rest.”

John: Yeah.

Paul: OK. So that was the, that was the model.

Rich: It’s a middle man.

John: Yeah, yeah. It was an agent.

Rich: It was a middle man who’s bringing value…

John: Of course, of course.

Rich: To…

John: It’s very hard to work with advertisers.

Paul: But notice we just went from zero middle men to one middle man.

John: Yeah.

Paul: OK so there’s one middle man, and then what’s happening?

John: So yeah, so then we have that, like, premium network space. Honestly I would say most of that’s gone today. You know, you’ll have your larger publishers, like a Vice or a Refinery29, who will build out and sort of have replaced that premium network layer, if you’re an independent publisher, and then —

Paul: But it’s worth going to Vice because they’re really big, and we should mention that they’re one of our clients, but they’re really big and —

John: Yeah. We love Vice.

Paul: But you can get, like, a whole big audience from them.

John: Well you can get great advertiser relationships from them, from the perspective of a publisher. So if you’re Publisher ABC, and you have a rock and roll audience that reads Vice, Vice will say to their advertisers, Mr., you know, I won’t use a specific advertiser, but Advertiser A, like, “Hey, if you love Vice’s audience, you might also love these audiences.” And then Vice will keep a cut the way Federated used to —

Rich: Ah.

John: And then put it on their network.

Paul: Oh interesting. So let’s say the advertiser is Jimmy’s Pickles.

John: Yup.

Paul: Vice goes to Jimmy’s Pickles and what do they say?

John: They say, “Hey Jimmy’s Pickles. You love Vice’s audience. This partner on Rock and Roll Site A has a similar audience — would you also like to put your Jimmy Pickle ads there?”

Rich: Fascinating.

Paul: OK, so I’m Vice, Vice has gone ahead and made themselves the middle man, and built a relationship with the other, the other publisher.

John: Correct.

Rich: Drafting behind Vice’s brand equity, effectively.

John: Correct.

Paul: OK.

John: It’s called AdVice. They have it on their website and everything.

Paul: Sure, sure. OK, so this is a…

Rich: Do a lot of publishers do that?

John: If you’re lucky enough to get in. I mean, Vice can really drive really great revenue for you. I’m not sure how large their network now is, but they’re fairly selective, but if you can get in, yeah. It’s good.

Rich: Huh.

Paul: Interesting. So they are able, they’re at a scale where they’re able to go, “We really can see the world. We’ve got — ”

Rich: And we’re cool!

Paul: We’re cool.

Rich: The association, right?

Paul: We have a lot of traffic, and we can build these relationships and the people who want to talk to millennials, who want to talk to our audience. Like, everyone’s gonna show up.

John: Right.

Paul: They know they can get people on both sides of the table.

John: Yup.

Rich: Fascinating.

Paul: OK. That’s fascinating. OK, so that’s kind of level two.

John: Yup.

Paul: A couple people are in the room, but we’re still only a couple people.

John: In terms of publishers.

Paul: In terms of just making the deal, right? Like —

John: Got it.

Paul: It’s not five million different middle men.

John: Yeah, at this point, you need an ad server. Like, you still need — the ad server is sort of the system of record, if you will, for digital advertising.

Paul: And is that Google? Is that DoubleClick? Or what is that?

John: Yeah, I mean, there’s multiple ad servers. By far the industry leader is gonna be DoubleClick’s DFP.

Paul: Which is owned by Google.

John: Yeah, it was purchased by Google in 2007, I think. It was the largest acquisition after YouTube, for $3.1 billion, I believe.

Paul: Yeah, that’s right. It was a huge deal.

John: Yeah.

Paul: And it was when Google was like, OK, we’re an advertising company. It was when they figured out what they were.

John: Yeah. And you know, DoubleClick — you know, as a software shop, you guys can talk about it. Like, the ad server is so important, but you know, it’s a glorified calendering system. [laughter]

Paul: Sure.

John: To a certain degree. It’s really funny. I love it, I work in it every day, we know it extraordinarily well, but…

Paul: It’s also a beast. Like, people who don’t use those things don’t realize: they are big and complicated and full of edge cases and shenanigans.

John: Yeah exactly. And that’s sort of why I don’t think you’ve ever seen, um, Google displaced, and it’s again why Hashtag Labs is in business, because…it’s funny, because it’s supposed to be easy to use, but if you’re a CEO who’s making a publishing organization, and you’re busy all day and you’re worrying about the content, the last thing you have time to do is shift gears into wonky ad-tech land and figure out, like, all right, if I need this to serve on this page specifically, how do I pull the key value — like, you know, there’s just the whole sort of expertise that goes around it.

Paul: So at this point, there aren’t that many robots in charge. But it sounds like Level 3 is when the robots show up.

John: Yeah, you know, I wouldn’t even say it’s where the robots show up. I would say it’s sort of where the middle men can do their thing.

Paul: I’ll tell you what, I’m thinking about, there’s a company called Luma Partners.

John: Of course.

Paul: And they put out this picture.

John: Yeah.

Paul: It’s just a, it’s a chart of all the different middle men.

John: Yeah.

Rich: It’s legendary.

Paul: They’re actually downstairs in our building. But you, um, and it’s sort of, on one side is audience, and on the other side are publishers, and there are, like 500 companies in between.

John: Yeah.

Paul: And along the way, it’s almost like a board game, like you can see how ads have to go — sorry, on one side it’s advertisers, and the other side it’s publishers.

John: Yeah.

Paul: And audience. And it’s like, they have to go through, it’s like playing Monopoly, they have to go through all these different things and along the way, I’m assuming that these companies are all — nobody gets in the ad game for philanthropic purposes.

John: I don’t think so. [laughter]

Paul: No, and so everybody’s getting — so we’re talking about things that cost a penny, or a quarter, a tenth of a tenth of a penny.

John: Right.

Paul: And everybody’s getting their tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a penny along the way.

John: Yeah.

Paul: And then there’s less for the publisher when it gets there.

John: Definitely, definitely.

Paul: So his is progrmamatic.

John: Yes, yes.

Paul: OK.

John: So we have direct sales, we have premium networks, for lack of a better phrase, and now we get to, how do we monetize unsold inventory and the phrase that’s been popularized over the last three to four years has been “programmatic.” Previously it may have been called something like “remnant.”

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

John: So what is programmatic?

Paul: So wait, the “remnant” is actually very telling, right? It was the kind of the space you had left over after you sold all your big-deal campaigns —

Rich: Yeah, it was sitting around.

Paul: So you’re —

John: Yeah.

Rich: You were gonna get zero dollars.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Paul: So it’s like real estate. You’re like, I could build a little something over there. I could put up a little shack, and maybe I could have a hot dog stand.

Rich: Right.

John: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, I think it’s worthwhile talking about, like, what is programmatic, and why does it have a bad reputation today. And before we even get there, like, you know, we’re sort of already assuming it’s bad. I think, especially from the perspective of the publisher. So I think it’s worthwhile to just, like, look at publisher services as a whole —

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

John: Before we dive into programmatic? Like I think publisher services as a whole has sort of always over-promised to the publisher. They’ve always said, like, if you come with us, you’re gonna make so much money. And then, you know, it was always on this sort of, like, pumped-up —

Paul: Who is saying, what kind of company is saying this?

John: Like, if you own a web — a content website right now?


John: Yeah, so, let’s say that one.

Paul: Yeah.

John: You know, and you’re running a sports website, you’re going to have this layer of actor in the ecosystem emailing you constantly, always being, like, “Hey, if you put — ”

Rich: Yeah, I can describe one. It’s I’ve owned it for years. I haven’t updated it in over five years, six years, but it has a few articles in there that get hits all the time, so I get this email saying, “Hey, would you like to…we have some real opportunity ahead for you.” It’s very cryptic.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s kinda hard to read, and it’s…it’s like, you know, “Join and we’re gonna, we’re gonna make you money.”

John: Yeah.

Rich: Effectively.

Paul: Sure. So people, that’s true, people —

Rich: I get probably three, four a week.

Paul: Yeah, I get those, too, for ftrain.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: People are always trying — if they sense that there’s any traffic there at all, they or automated versions of themselves are always offering you some mysterious revenue.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Payday lending ads, things like that. There’s a really creepy bottom-feeder ecosystem that’s been there for a decade-plus.

John: Yeah. And honestly I actually think that’s getting better?

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

John: Like I think, you know, I’m not, like, the evolution of technology, like I’m not that smart or well-informed to sort of talk about that, but I think what happened was you sort of had a new technology at hand, and the people who knew how to play the system and play the game exploited it.

Paul: Sure.

John: And that sort of led to this bottom layer of, you know, being like, “Hey! Put our tag on your website and, you know, maybe it’ll work, and…” From there, publisher services just generally was like…was optimistic in what we’re going to be able to do with online advertising. I think it over-promised to the publisher. And I think programmatic tends to do that now, and so when I look at, like, the space, and I’m like, oh, what’s the biggest issue with advertising from the perspective of independent publishers, and really from advertisers, I think we need better-quality ads, and we need better-quality ad space, and I think the platforms, your Google, your AppNexuses, these really big players are really interested in cleaning up the ecosystem so that it’s more similar, when you buy an ad online programmatically, it’s more similar to, like, doing an ad, an American Express ad, in the middle of “30 Rock” on television. And I think…you know, where programmatic is at now has a long way to go to get to driving premium transactions, but we’ll get there.

Rich: When you say better…

John: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: Right, there’s…

John: Sure.

Rich: There’s better in terms of the end-user experience.

John: Yes, yes, of course.

Rich: And then there’s better — because, you know, we joke about it, but there’s obviously this sort of negative impression of how gross and messy a webpage can feel.

Paul: Impression!

John: Of course.

Rich: Yeah.

John: I mean, you have mobile redirects hijacking your reading experience on The New York Times.

Paul: What’s that called? Does it have a name?

John: It’s a mobile redirect.

Paul: Oh. [laughter]

John: And that game — like, that game, is…

Rich: Yeah.

John: I — sorry to cut you off.

Rich: No, no, it’s fine. I guess the question I have is, is there a sense, in this industry, that OK, this is a slippery slope, like we can only ride this so far because it’s getting to a point where it’s, you know, the net perception out there is, is, is really not good, and, in fact, the effectiveness — I’m guessing they only think about effectiveness. Like, nobody’s doing anything with these ads.

John: Who, the advertisers?

Rich: Yeah.

John: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think…you know, I think we need to really separate premium advertisers from, sort of, the programmatic middle men and gamers —

Rich: Yeah.

John: Who are doing these things.

Rich: Yeah.

John: And sort of that’s what I mean by better advertising. From the perspective of the publisher, no publisher likes mobile redirects. That’s one of the hardest things of our — in our jobs, right? Like, we enable programmatic for our publishers that drives significant revenue, because we enable it when all —

Rich: When you say “we,” you mean…Hashtag Labs.

John: Hashtag Labs.

Rich: OK.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Rich: So you’ve got a particular mission here. Your mission is not purely like, how do I squeeze out every last dollar, right?

John: No. No. We do not, like, we’re unique in that we don’t even keep a cut of any of the programmatic revenue that we drive for our publishers. We work on a service fee.

Rich: I see.

John: So we’re very much not, um…yeah, we’re just not…

Rich: With an eye towards, like, how do we bring this industry up a level here so that it’s not viewed as ineffective and ugly and…

John: Of course.

Rich: Like, it’s the running joke, right?

John: Yeah, yeah, I mean, we wanna make better advertising — I mean, for our publishers there’s a real mitigation between —

Rich: Right.

John: How do we enable programmatic and run it, because independent publishing is hard, and you need as much revenue as possible.

Rich: Right.

John: Without ruining the reading experience, right?

Rich: Right.

John: You can whack, you know, 85 ads on the page and get the RPM up to 20 — RPM is revenue per 1,000 pageviews — up to $25, but no one’s gonna be able to read your website, and so our job is really to be the guiding hand in saying, like, “Hey, you know, $30K a month is worth it for a couple mobile redirects once in a while,” but then that’s the hard part of our job, when a site owner who loves their website gets a mobile redirect on their site, they’re like, “Why am I getting this?”

Rich: Right, sure.

John: And it’s like, this is a really systemic issue.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

John: That needs to be cleaned up at the level of the ad exchange.

Rich: Do you see that changing?

John: I do. I honestly — you know, where you were saying, do we see the industry getting better, I think, you know, they’ve realized that this is really bad, and some of the largest offenders — because if you think about it, the platforms were driven to get money, they were paid on a transactional basis, so the more transactions they do the more money they make.

Rich: Right.

John: You know, if you have some sort of grey hat player driving billions of transactions a month, it’s gonna be hard to clean them up. But now enough people are onto the game, where it’s like, Procter & Gamble’s not gonna advertise in a place, where, you know, you have this black hat person in who knows where, in some basement, sort of using the obscure rules of JavaScript to rewrite URLs and have a fake Facebook page pop up. Like, that’s gonna, I’m —

Rich: They’re moving away from that.

John: I believe so.

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Well, I think they be — first of all, they became aware of it, right? Like, that all starts to emerge as a way to make a little extra money by making people pay attention when they don’t want to.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And at a certain point that starts to negatively affect your brand, and finally that filters back to you, and you’re like, “No, whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Who the hell?” And then you don’t even know who to call.

John: Yeah.

Paul: There’s been this, um…thing call Sleeping Giants, which is a, it’s a protest movement against Breitbart. And they started to reach out over Twitter to all the brands that were advertising on the Breitbart news network, and like, brands immediately, because brands don’t want to be called out on Twitter, that is like…

Rich: Sure.

Paul: And so I’ve been watching the Twitter account, and it starts as like, “Hey, Toyota, do you know you’re on this hate site?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And then Toyota kind of drops out. And if you go to Breitbart, there’s all these —

Rich: Well they did enormous damage.

Paul: All there’s all these empty slots where the ads are. And they still, I still follow the Twitter account, and now it’s just, like, “Hey…Appalachian, um, Jerky Treats…”

Rich: There’s not a lot left. [laughter]

Paul: Like, they really…

Rich: Bill O’Reilly.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: This is a different case, obviously, because it’s not online, but the scandal’s been around for a while, but really when the advertisers started to drop out, it’s like, OK.

Paul: Well social media pressure, too, like the social media awareness of your brand has started to be…it’s become a pretty critical indicator in your overall marketing health.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So I think that, you know, they, Toyota doesn’t want people saying, “Why do you support hate?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: More than, you know, one or two, like, wacky people, fine, but 10,000 or a celebrity retweeting, and suddenly you’re in kind of just an enormous tornado of garbage that people enjoy.

Rich: But this is a little different, like that’s protesting a point of view or perspective.

Paul: All I’m saying is what it did, it went and got, it made, it laid bare the architecture of all these platforms. And it was like, Toyota didn’t know they were on Breitbart. They didn’t know, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: The ads were floating out through the system.

Rich: Yes. True.

Paul: They had no clue, and then people were like, “Hey, you’ve gotta get off.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And they were like, “Oh, how do we do that?” And then this, this protest org was actually there with, like, a handout.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like, here’s how you get off. Here’s what you gotta do in your, in your Google DoubleClick control panel, and suddenly everyone was like, “Oh I’ll do that.”

Rich: So maybe that’s how it gets better. Advertiser sensitivity to…

John: Yeah, there’s a lot of stories right now.

Rich: Yeah. Stories and also just the association of that, what you just described, that kind of gross, weird, fake Facebook thing. Do you really want your brand associated with that, right?

John: Totally, totally. I mean, as a publisher, I don’t think really any publisher would say they want that. I think, you know, and that’s, the advertiser’s actually really never affected by that. It’s more the publisher, but…the systems just need to be cleaned up. They’ve been exploited for too long, and it’s like, there’s no reason digital advertising can’t be like television advertising.

Paul: Sure.

John: And the systems, I think, in place to achieve that, technologically speaking, have been achieved, and now we just need to clean up the actors on them.

Paul: Can you do me a favor?

John: Of course.

Paul: I wanna go — I brought up that crazy Luma Partners chart.

John: Sure.

Paul: And what I wanna do, so on the left, in the green, it has the word “marketer.”

John: Yeah.

Paul: And then there’s, like, all these boxes. I just wanna be an ad for a minute. I’m an ad.

John: Sure, sure.

Paul: OK. So first off all, it’s got a list, and —

Rich: Wait, I wanna know what kind of, what is the ad?

John: Mmmm. That’s a really great question.

Paul: Let’s say I’m a pretty…ah…uh…it’s not belly…

John: Conditioner?

Paul: Yeah. Something nice.

John: Well what are you made in? Like, are you made in a static graphic file? Are you fancy HTML5 with —

Paul: I’m a fancy HTML5 ad for an online, for a, a mobile game, like Clash of Clans.

John: Oh, OK.

Paul: OK, so…

John: They spend good money. They spend real money.

Paul: Exactly. Exactly, right? So I got, yeah, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’m gonna, like, pay for him to be in my —

Rich: I was gonna suggest online university, like “Ford University.”

John: Mmmm.

Paul: OK fine. Well, let’s do that, because that’s a little bit more edgy and, like, a little more…

John: And just so you guys know, again, the rabbit hole is deep, but here we can talk about, do you wanna be a brand advertiser, or do you wanna be a direct response advertiser.

Paul: I wanna be a direct response —

John: OK.

Paul: I think brand, we’ve kind of, like, started to figure out.

John: OK.

Paul: But I’m direct response. Now first of all, I hired someone to make an ad for me, right?

John: Correct.

Paul: OK. So that’s an agency, maybe, or what? Who made my ad?

John: I mean —

Rich: Could be anybody.

John: Well a designer specifically.

Rich: OK.

John: And then you know, depending on, you know, again, if it’s a static graphics file, then you can have a designer who can work in your standard Photoshop, kick out an ad that’s standard size, which is like 300×250.

Paul: OK, so somebody made me an ad, and now I’m watching this thing go from left to right and —

John: Well just to talk about the ecosystem, I do wanna point out, like, so again, a designer can make a static graphics file or you can work with a rich media platform, something like Clipcentric, which you can hire, and they’ll design a fancy HTML5 rich media ad —

Rich: They’ll do it for you.

John: They will design it, and then they will host it. Like, hosting video that you send out to 2 million impressions obviously has a cost. They’ll take care of that for you.

Paul: OK. And then, so here, I’m watching the arrows, it goes to something called an agency trading desk.

John: Yes.

Paul: Now let me tell you some of the agency trading desk names.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Oh no.

Paul: Accuen. Xaxis. VivaKi. Run Adnetik. [laughter] And Accordant Media.

John: Mmmm.

Rich: Do you know all these?

John: Yeah.

Paul: What the hell —

John: Yeah —

Paul: What is it? What is it, John?

John: So, um…

Paul: No, because seriously, I’m like, working on the internet one day, and then I’m starting, this stuff starts to come into my world, and they’re like, “Hey, Paul, what do you think about VivaKi?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And I’m like, “I….”


Paul: VIH-vah-key. OK. Fine. [laughter] Case in point, right? And I’m supposed to be Mr. Internet, and I have NO clue what the hell is happening. OK, so what are these?

Rich: Oh, the conferences John goes to. [laughter]

Paul: John’s been to some wild places.

John: Yeah.

Paul: What is an agency trading desk?

John: Sure, yeah, so it’s a trading desk. I think the easiest way to describe it would be someone who specializes in buying display media.

Paul: Is it like, like people with terminals in front of them, like, buying stuff?

John: Yeah, it’s a user interface.

Paul: OK.

John: You know, basically, so Rich had said something earlier about how, like, advertisers use DoubleClick, which is interesting. They definitely do use DoubleClick, but they don’t use DoubleClick for publishers. So…

Paul: OK.

John: DoubleClick has a product called DFP, which is DoubleClick for Publishers. That the ad server that we talked about earlier.

Paul: OK.

John: On the other side of that, they have something called DoubleClick Bid Manager.

Paul: OK.

John: Which is a DSP. A DSP stands for demand side platform. And so really, again, as software guys, these are just fancy terms for software interfaces, really. For interf — user interfaces, rather.

Paul: Are these kind of like APIs, though, or —

John: No, they’re legit interfaces, like —

Paul: OK.

John: Where you come in and you’re like —

Rich: It’s for humans.

John: Yeah.

Paul: It’s rectangles. So —

John: Well no, it’s like, I, like this is the line item, I’m gonna call this — what was the name of your company again?

Rich: Ford University.

Paul: Ford University.

John: OK, so Ford University, 300×250, targeted to people who have gone to before.

Paul: OK.

John: And so you set up that line item, and that targeting, in the DSP interface.

Paul: OK. So if I’m a trading desk, what I’m doing is I’m using the DSP interface —

John: Correct.

Paul: Someone came to me an said, like, “Hey, I’ve got to get Ford University out to 200 million people.”

John: Correct.

Paul: And I go, “No problem. Let me get on the DSP and I’ll find you the cheapest possible best people for that.”

John: [laughter] Correct.

Paul: OK so —

John: I like that terminology. Let me get on the DSP.

Paul: Let me get on the DSP. OK, so what do they actually say, do you think?

John: Uh, they would probably try and mask it, honestly. They’d be like, “We have our own proprietary DSP that does this and that.” [laughter]

Paul: Oh.

John: And you know, it’s just like some…

Rich: Oh lord.

John: Service layer built on top of DPM.

Rich: The advertising doesn’t stop.

Paul: OK we’re going right, and I’m leaving a lot out, but now we’re in the world of DSPs, OK, so DSPs are, like, MediaMath, which I know is an enormous company.

John: Yup.

Paul: I’ve met people who work there. Invite Media, Turn, Triggit — again: what the hell is happening?

John: OK, I would just call those people buying specialists.

Paul: OK.

John: Like that, like they know how to buy display media. Like, if you’re like, hey, I want to get my message out to x amount of people with these interests, you as a VP of marketing can go to them and say, “That’s what I want to do.” And they know how to do it and you know, you’re working with a reputable firm who supposedly is not going to rip you off.

Paul: How does inventory from the publisher side, meaning I, I know that 100 million people are gonna come look at my news articles on, you know, Buzz AOL or Huffington Feed.

John: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: How does that inventory get back into the DSP?

John: Well, so it doesn’t actually ever go into the DSP. Like, you know, technically speaking, the DSP is more of a targeting interface. And then what the DSP has a relationship with, via an API, is the ad exchanges.

Paul: OK, so then I’m actually just the next thing over.

Rich: It’s just an interface to the different ad exchanges.

John: Yeah.

Paul: So this is like the stock exchange, except it’s atomized into a whole lot of companies that make no sense.

John: Well… [laughter]

Rich: I mean, it makes sense.

Paul: Sorry, their names are terrible, is what I meant.

Rich: Yes, yes.

John: I would say a whole lot of companies trying to extract value from an evolving system.

Paul: Hashtag Labs is a good name in that it doesn’t make me want to strangle everyone who is involved with the company, whereas many of these, like, Verzibalahblah?

Rich: They’re tough.

John: I appreciate that.

Paul: No, because if you meet someone at a party and you’re like, “Hey what do you do?” And they’re like, “I work for AdScroScamanab.”

John: Yeah.

Paul: You’re like, “Oh, God, here’s my next…” [laughter] OK, so, an exchange: can I go to an exchange and be like, “Hey, I’ve got four million people for you.”

John: Well… [laughter] Kind of.

Paul: I’m really enjoying this. It’s like my favorite conversation. Because I’m finally figur — someone has to explain this to me.

John: Yeah.

Paul: Because he’s on our podcast, he’s not allowed to just run out of the room.

John: Yeah.

Paul: This is great.

John: I love explaining, I mean, honestly, the funny thing about our job is like, you think I’d be scared to explain it to people, because they’d be like, “Oh, now I get it. I’m gonna do it myself.” It’s more the opposite, where like —

Paul: “Oh no.”

John: “Yeah…you can keep doing that.” [laughter]

Paul: I don’t want —

Rich: Is that, I mean, boiling down Hashtag Labs.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Is that, I mean, people are coming to you and saying, “Look, I need to get into this game. Help me.” Is that what you guys do, or do you focus on some part of the pipeline?

John: No, I mean, mostly what happens is publishers have an incredible pain point in their ad operations department, and you know, people, and they say, like, how do we figure this out. I think we need to make more money, or things are getting messed up, and people say, you know, “Call Hashtag Labs.”

Rich: Got it.

John: They know how to work with advertising technology on behalf of publishers.

Rich: Got it.

Paul: All right, down here underneath the exchanges, with arrows pointing all different —

John: Well before we move on, just quickly —

Paul: All right.

John: Just quickly before we move on.

Paul: Yeah.

John: Because, like, exchanges is sort of where the transaction takes place, and just to take a really far step back quickly, you know, publishers on one end, marketers on the other end, I would say, you know, marketers are demand and publishers are supply, to, like, even simplify it further.

Paul: OK.

John: And so you know, the DSPs are on the demand side, the exchanges are sort of the clearing house where everything takes place. The biggest ones are gonna be Google and AppNexus. And then on the other side, on the supply side of this exchange, you’re gonna have something called the SSP, or supply side platform. And that’s sort of how the inventory gets rigged up into the exchanges.

Paul: Meaning that would be, like, what would that be, like, I’m looking at the ad networks here…

John: Yeah.

Paul: AOL and ValueClick and…

John: That’s gonna be the ugliest part of this to unpack, honestly —

Paul: OK.

John: Just because there’s so much reselling, like, there’s really only, like, you know, probably 8–12 original demand sources out there for independent publishers, but then that’s when you’re gonna have, like, all of those people and your advertisers at company. They’re like, “Oh, we have a relationship with Google, we have a relationship with OpenX, so we’re just gonna package that up, resell it, and keep 10%.” Whereas the publisher should just get that directly.

Paul: Whoooooo.

Rich: Everybody’s got their hand in the pot.

Paul: Whoooooo.

Rich: Yeah.

John: Not if you work with Hashtag Labs. It’s pretty…

Paul: Yeah, no, they’re really the best. I’ve heard they’re great. [laughter]

John: Very efficient.

Paul: Very on-target with their marketing message as well. [laughter]

Rich: We don’t have a lot of time left. Can we jump to the user side for a second?

Paul: Yeah.

John: Of course.

Paul: Of course.

John: Of course, the most important thing.

Rich: OK. I have to admit, I do use a blocker. We were testing something we were launching a few weeks ago, actually a partnership with Bloomberg.

John: Very nice.

Rich: And I wanted to test the tool, and I could not believe where things had gotten. It’s like, sort of like, I’d been away for — you ever, like, have a friend who’s got a three-year-old, and then you don’t see them for a while, and they’re now five, but they look completely different?

Paul: Sure.

Rich: I’ve been using an ad blocker for a while, and I came back to the web. It literally felt like coming back to the web. And it was a disaster. There’s just no other — and I’m not visiting TMZ and the like.

John: No.

Rich: I’m just a relatively normal user who’s hopping around the web. And it was a train wreck. My browser was coming to a crawl. The ads, I wouldn’t even call them ads. They were, like, people swinging from windows over the text that I was trying to read. It was just…madness.

John: No.

Rich: And audio would start playing. It was just utterly chaos. And then there’s this particular breed of ad — I guess you’d call them ads? They’re like at the bottom of the article, it’s like 10 shitty, 10 shitty headlines.

John: Oh yeah.

Rich: You know…

John: That’s recommended content.

Rich: “What Does Pierce Brosnan Look Like Today?”

Paul: Oh, that’s like Zergnet and stuff like that.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

John: Outbrain and Taboola.

Paul: Taboola.

Rich: Taboola…Outbrain and all…which is again piling it on, and, and, and you have to wonder, is this it? Is this where we’re gonna end up?

John: I think, I think you’re gonna see a major pull back. Again, I think advertisers want more premium experiences. I think readers want more premium experiences.

Paul: Well and also, to be clear, the money’s not that great, right?

John: No, I mean, it’s —

Paul: If I put those Taboola links, my kid doesn’t get to go to a better school because I used Taboola. [laughter] I get a little more money.

John: Depends how many pageviews you have, honestly.

Paul: Right, right. But if I have, like, the regular, let’s say, I’m doing real good, I have like 30, 40 million pageviews.

John: That’s a lot.

Paul: That’s a lot of pageviews, right?

Rich: That’s a lot.

John: Yeah.

Paul: What do I get out of, like, a Taboola?

Rich: That’s a great question.

John: I mean, you know, you could definitely be talking mid to high five figures.

Rich: Wow.

Paul: Per…year? Per month?

John: Per month.

Rich: Per month!

Paul: All right.

Rich: Your kid’s going to school, Paul.

John: Yeah.

Paul: See, that’s —

John: But! The key to independent publishing, and I try and say this a lot, isn’t always about the revenue. The key to independent publishing is how much money are you spending to get those 30 to 40 million pageviews. If you’re spending $10,000 a month, you’re gonna live a great life. If you’re spending $150,000 a month, it’s gonna be a little bit tougher.

Rich: It’s gonna be a grind.

Paul: Sure. OK.

Rich: For those 30 million, 40 million views.

John: Exactly.

Rich: Yeah, isn’t Taboola, I mean, the work involved is nothing, right? It’s like, hey, sign up.

John: Cut and paste.

Rich: Drop this line in — yeah, OK. So it’s really about your budget. How much you’re spending, how much you’re getting back out of this, right?

Paul: Well and what kind of — what are your long-term goals there, and what kind of quality are you gonna create —

Rich: Right.

Paul: That people — you know, if you’ve, if you’re covered with Taboola ads, I’m gonna be less likely to come to you and say, “I wanna promote my brand-new thing.”

Rich: I think — by the way — I think the blockers leave those alone for some strange reason. Because I think they’re just on, they’re just close enough to looking like next link, next article, or whatever? They look like content. That’s the whole point of them, I suppose?

John: Yeah.

Rich: So back to, sort of, where this all goes, right? There’s a, this is a slippery slope, right? I mean, more and more, they just have to keep going, because —

John: Well I hope we’re at the bottom, frankly.

Rich: Yeah.

John: In terms of quality experience, like, I think hopefully we go up from here.

Paul: Oh yeah, things only get better in America. [laughter]

Rich: So is content marketing the answer?

Paul: Which is what we’re doing right now, by the way. [laughter]

Rich: Yeah exactly. Note. Disclaimer.

John: Well I would say, are you calling Taboola and Outbrain content marketing?

Rich: No, I call them garbage.

John: Oh. Got it, got it. OK, sorry.

Rich: So I don’t know. You know where I see content marketing? I don’t even know where to put it, is sort of like…the article that gave me really good advice about dermatitis? [laughter] But clearly it’s content marketing. But it was good advice!

John: Well but that’s another layer of actor, right? The three people in this room, honestly, I think we’re all in the business because we love the internet, we love great content, we love independent publishing, we want to see it thrive.

Paul: Sure. We’ve all had a point where we’re like, money will make this move forward, and so when you can get money into the system, more creative, interesting things can happen.

Rich: Yeah.

John: But the websites that you’re talking about that sort of, like, have, you know, Taboola all over the place, 10 ads on the side, like you can tell, these are a certain class of publishing organization, which is called an arbitrager. And so what these guys are doing, these guys are playing a very mathematical game where it’s like, can we buy clicks to our website for less money than we earn from the advertising we have around it —

Paul: Are those the articles where you’re like, “37 Celebrities Who Gave Up.”

Rich: The galleries.

Paul: And then you go and there’s a gallery, but you have to do a full page refresh for every image?

John: Exactly. And as with all things, there are varying degrees. Obviously some are going to be more egregious than others. But that is certainly a class of publishing game to play.

Rich: They don’t care. Like, they’re not thinking about brand equity and respect —

John: No, they’re thinking about how much does it cost to get a click to my website —

Rich: Yeah.

John: And how much, what’s the RPM for that click.

Paul: I’m also assuming, looking at them, a lot of the content isn’t written by native English speakers.

Rich: Yeah, sure. It’s a sweatshop.

Paul: Like, maybe it’s made in the same way that a lot of, like, there’s a lot of work around sites in the Philippines and India, like it feels like…you can just look for downward producing in every aspect of production.

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

John: Well yeah, now we’re sort of veering into the whole fake news thing.

Paul: Right. Where —

John: You know, where people were just, you know, the stories about the people in Eastern Europe where they were just publishing fake news to get clicks.

Paul: Yeah, there was a Macedonian fake news town, and everyone was making 10 times a teacher’s salary.

Rich: Yeah.

John: And again, I think the platforms are very interested in the long term in cleaning this up, right?

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

John: Because —

Paul: This is bad for Google long term, right?

John: Exactly.

Paul: Yeah.

John: And that, that was, like, the thing. Google never had been — had seen it be bad for them. But now it’s bad for them, because not only are they…well, they’re paying those people out, but not only are they paying those people out, now the platforms are driving traffic to that. And so it’s like, they are the perpetuators.

Paul: Right, and the talented and ethical employees are starting to shuffle around the office.

John: Yeah.

Paul: It takes a minute. We want instant reaction for people to be able to fully internalize and understand everything that just happened, but it’ll actually take a couple years for what happened during the 2016 campaign to be metabolized and understood by the tech giants. They…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They can’t move that fast.

Rich: No, they can’t.

Paul: They can, like, you know, “Oh we put our fake news council on top of this.”

Rich: I think they’ve come to digest what happened, and that they need to deal, but…

Paul: Turning that into product is actually…

Rich: Turning that into something, yeah, it’s gonna take time.

Paul: Turning ethics and long-term business strategy is a multi-year process.

John: Well I think what will happen, what you’ll see is sort of, like, proxies for these things sort of emerge. This isn’t a great example in this specific case, but like, one thing that was happening was everyone would load up their page with 30 ad units, right? And so when you loaded a page, you’d have an ad unit that loaded it all the way at the bottom and no one ever saw it, and yet the advertiser’s still paying for that.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

John: And so what sort of emerged in the industry, which, for ad operations people is another wrinkle in the system, and it’s tough to manage, you know, delivering against, but I think over the long-term health of the industry, it’s a great thing. There’s this new metric called viewability, so now people are only paying for ads once they come into view. And so that makes sense, right, like, that sort of a proxy, a performance metric that can be measured.

Paul: So there’s a chance that a human being actually sees it?

John: Exactly. It has to be on the screen.

Paul: Well it’s sort of like when it was on TV, you could still go and get a sandwich…

John: Of course.

Paul: Like, you know, they couldn’t, like, tie you to the chair and make you watch.

John: Yeah.

Rich: Right.

Paul: But at least it was on the television.

John: Exactly.

Paul: OK.

Rich: We’re almost out of time. I’m just gonna say the word and let you talk, John.

John: All right, I’m ready.

Rich: Facebook.

John: Ooh. All right. Um…new player, new player, obviously major traffic source. Um…you know, they have some decent ad products. All their ad products only pay on viewability, so they’re ahead of the curve in that sense.

Rich: Hmmm.

John: You know, I think it’s wait and see. How they’re getting involved, they’re bringing their ads to the open web, you know, they obviously only used to play in their closed ecosystem.

Rich: Wait a minute. Facebook pushes ads to the open web?

John: Yup. Yup.

Rich: No kidding. And where are they, as a player right now, in the open web?

John: So they’re sort of AdSense is called Audience Network.

Paul: Oh, interesting, because they know they have an unbelievable amount of inventory —

John: Exactly.

Paul: But there’s always gonna be more.

Rich: So now it’s leaking out of the apps into the web.

Paul: Yeah. Because people are willing to buy so much stuff from Facebook, so why not?

John: Exactly.

Rich: Wow.

John: Yeah, they have so much demand, and also they have incredible data, right?

Paul: Oh man, this is just, God, it may keep Google up at night, this is, like, their worst nightmare.

John: Definitely. Definitely. But I mean, you know, Google has an incredible sort of trench around DFP and that stuff. DFP is gonna be impossible to unseat.

Paul: You know you say that —

Rich: Yeah…

Paul: But Facebook’s smart.

John: Definitely. Definitely.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Ah, so that’s good. So there is a true terrible battle of the giants.

John: Ah, big time.

Paul: That doesn’t have any particular interest in the health or success of the publishers. [laughter]

John: Well…

Rich: Or anyone, really.

Paul: Yeah. [laughter]

John: Well I think you’ll see the battle play out, too, like this sort of leads in to like, Instant Articles and AMP and stuff.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

John: But…

Paul: So here’s the final question, which is let’s say I’m, I have a great idea, something I love, I’m able to build an audience, I’m creating an independent media property about, I don’t know, sneakers, athletics, watches, whatever. And I feel like I’m ready to take it to the next step. I wanna spend some money, hire a couple writers, see if I can grow it. Is it possible? Is it possible to do that anymore?

John: Tough question. I would definitely say, first of all, do it for the love of the game. [sad noises and relatively sad laughter]

Rich: That’s not the answer we’re looking for, John!

Paul: Aw…

John: Second of all, um…. [laughter]

Paul: Whooo. Whoo whoo whoo.

John: You know, like, I think you can build an independent publishing company today. I think, you know, you have to…getting traffic is, honestly, that’s something I don’t know how to do, like, really get a lot of traffic for a website. Again, if you have a lot of traffic, if you have 4 million Facebook fans and you can drive 20 million pageviews a month, to your website, and you can do it for $15,000, you can have a great business on your hands. And you can live early comfortably, you can live wherever you want, and it’s awesome. You know, if you raised a bunch of money, and you hire direct — direct deals can be had, they are hard to get. The advertisers, deservedly so, require a lot of reporting and, you know, you have to have a certain technical skill set to deliver on these things…it’s there, but you’ve got to really want it and you’ve really gotta really grind through it, and it’s not glamorous.

Paul: What’s the level of traffic where you start to take me seriously?

John: Well…you know, if you have direct deals, I always take anyone seriously.

Paul: Sure.

John: I take everyone seriously, to be fair, but…

Paul: Like if I’m Quantum Physics Weekly, and I have the Quantum Physics Computing Society’s ads on my website —

John: Yeah.

Paul: Like, I might have 200 readers, but they could all be worth some serious money.

John: Yeah but unfortunately still at this point in the game, like, like, just pure volume is what’s gonna drive your revenue.

Paul: All right, where does pure volume start?

John: I mean…maybe…you know, 3 to 5 million pageviews?

Paul: OK, 3 to 5 million, so like, somewhere north of half a million uniques.

John: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Paul: OK, so I’ve got a pretty big audience at that point. Like, what used to be a very large audience is now the starting point.

John: Yeah, and again, you know —

Paul: Listen, life has bad news in it. This is good to know.

John: Yeah…

Rich: Do it for the game, Paul.

Paul: For the love of the game. [laughter]

John: Exactly.

Paul: All right, so if I’m a publisher with some volume, and I need to up my game, you’re the guy I call.

John: Absolutely, absolutely.

Paul: OK.

John: If you wanna understand advertising technology, if you don’t wanna deal with advertising technology, if…you know, you just…honestly the best way to describe it is a trusted and capable ad operations partner.

Paul: How expensive is it to work with you?

John: It is not that expensive. I think, frankly, I don’t want to pitch it too hard, but I think it’s the best deal in town. You know, I think, um…the expertise that we come with and sort of the customer service that we come with, you know, it’s the customer service, you feel like you have a full-time employee, it’s the technical expertise. Our CTO, you know, really, I think you’d be challenged to find a more talented engineer who’s spent more time with this stuff, digging through it, so like, that experience oozes throughout the organization. So you get, you know, CTO-level technical experience, world-class customer service, all for low four figures per month.

Paul: OK, that’s actually, I was gonna try to…

John: Mid to low.

Paul: I was gonna try to squeeze that out of you, but you got it there. OK.

John: Yeah, I’ll…we’re transparent. Transparency is important to us.

Paul: OK. So a mid-priced firm that can help you —

Rich: Do you wanna share a coupon code, John? [laughter]

John: Just Hashtag hyphen labs.

Paul: OK, so that’s —

John: That was a joke.

Paul: If anybody needs you,

John: Yes, sir.

Paul: Website is

John: Yeah, there’s a huge library there, if you just wanna read about this stuff. We wrote a lot of it out, so…

Paul: OK.

Rich: Very cool.

Paul: All right, so anybody who needs to understand the world of online advertising, this is your man.

John: Yeah, also I just wanna — thank you so much for having me, guys. It means a lot to me, so thank you.

Rich: Of course.

Paul: No, this was great.

Rich: This was interesting. Thank you, John.

John: Thanks for having me.

Rich: Take care.

Paul: I am genuinely more informed than I was.

Rich: Well I feel like somebody…I don’t feel like…

Paul: A human being just told me what the hell is happening out there.

Rich: I don’t feel like I got off the Q train. Did that person just touch me or not?

Paul: My overall feeling of the online advertising space is like, a large group of ravens shrieking in my face.

Rich: Right. And understanding what’s happening…

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Is very helpful.

Paul: Well it’s just a little ad is sitting there and then it really goes through…

Rich: Yeah, there’s a world behind it.

Paul: It goes through hell before it can get to your screen.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And even then — and then everyone’s like, “Go home. I don’t want you.” [laughter]

Rich: It worked so hard to get there.

Paul: All right. All right, so online advertising, a key and critical part of our enormous trazillion dollar global economy of internet things, now fully explained by Track Changes.

Rich: Exposed!

Paul: Every aspect of it you will ever need to know, you now understand, and if there’s anything else you need, just call John. [laughter] My name is Paul Ford. I’m the co-founder of Postlight and the co-host of Track Changes.

Rich: And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-co.

Paul: And if you need us, That’s all it takes. And that’s it. If you need anything, let us know. Give us a good rating on iTunes. We’re gonna get back to work.

Rich: Have a great week.

Paul: Bye!