Built On Sand?

If – like me today – you ride through pretty well anywhere there are shops, you’ll find boarded-up premises. That’s around Berkshire and South Oxfordshire, in this relatively affluent region. There are plenty of places where it’s far more common.

Austerity, crisis, downturn and recession aside, an underlying reality is that a lot of high street retailers are unable to compete with the dominance of the supermarkets and their localized not so super versions. Colin’s corner store ain’t got a chance against Tesco, whether it’s the superstore-sized one a few minutes’ drive away, or its little brother just up the road – little in size but still getting all the benefits of scale so that Colin’s crushed. For numerous other local shops that aren’t in supermarket territory, the big online shopping ‘destinations’ – the Amazons and eBays of this world – will do for them just as effectively.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of all that, if there’s one thing it surely means is that there’s going to be a decreasing demand for online advertising. Tesco doesn’t need to advertise when it’s your only choice …

If you’re a niche retailer outside of the ambit of the big boys then you’ll not need to advertise (much) either, precisely because you’re in a niche: if you’re so small and specialist that Amazon/Tesco et al can’t swamp you, then you’ll be easily ‘find-able’ in any search engine anyway – or known-to or find-able-by your audience through other channels.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic with that analysis, but every time I read about yet another online business that’s going to fund itself from advertising, I can’t help but think that’s a business model built on sand. Even if the status quo persisted, I doubt that as of now there are enough advertisers out there to sustain everyone who thinks they’re going to be raking it in from happy entrepreneurs with shiny products and services to show off. And if the number is actually declining …

And if this current era of (largely) free online content is built on advertising, expect some big shifts there too. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” may be a knackered old cliché, but it’s also true.

Whether that’s all good, or bad, or merely change, I don’t know.