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Editorial

Judith Winters *

Cite this as: J. Winters 2001 'Issue 10, Editorial', Internet Archaeology 10. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.10.8

As a committed reader of Internet Archaeology, you are already aware of the recent funding changes that are leading the journal into a new phase. Alongside subscriptions, banner advertising is now a small but growing income stream for the journal, but

Wash your digging kit with Eze-Soap!

is at least one banner you are unlikely to see on the journal homepage for a while to come.

An earlier reader poll was carried out in May (see the summary of responses on the intarch-interest list) but coupled with a recent informal poll of journal authors, an interesting picture of your thoughts about advertising has emerged and it has given us a better grasp on how much acceptance and support that you might lend us should advertising be developed.

You might say that the placing and content of advertising is purely an editorial matter, so why are we asking authors and readers what do they think? Why should it matter? Well, it matters because the relationship that has been built up over the years between you, our readers and authors, and the journal is important to us. And the decisions we might make that are important to you, also have importance for future users and contributors (and not least our ability to attract material in the first place).

Many of the survey responses were fairly predictable, but more than a couple were quite surprising.

The larger author survey asked authors to rate their responses from 1-5 (1=disagree strongly, 2=disagree, 3=neither disagree or agree, 4-agree, 5=agree strongly. 0 in graphs shown here indicates 'no response') to a series of statements. It might not come as a great surprise to find out that author perceptions of the quality of journal have not changed (84% in agreement) with the introduction of advertising, or indeed that 69% of respondents did not like the idea of the journal carrying a lot of advertising.

On the other hand, 76% actually had no problem with banners placements elsewhere in the journal, in issue table of contents for example. Perhaps more surprisingly, the advertising the journal currently carries was not seen as an unwelcome distraction by 84% of respondents (this too was echoed by readers' responses on the topic).

The question of where authors would want to draw the line at what should and should not contain advertising material produced an interesting set of replies. 46% felt that articles should remain banner free (although 30% did not commit to feeling strongly one way or another). Yet a sizeable number of these agreed that advertising might be acceptable on article table of contents, and a majority (54%) went further still, feeling that a bookseller's banner or link from article bibliographies would not be a particular problem. An interesting conundrum for anyone determining future advertising policy.

There was an unexpected 50:50 split on whether advertising content should remain restricted to archaeological content, and when probed further, 61% of authors agreed that banner content should not be restricted to the university courses or the archaeological publishers that are currently carried, but that it could be extended to include all those with a peripheral interest in archaeology - such as software companies. But here is where the line over content would appear to be drawn.

"[I can see a case for advertising] if it is relevant...but not adverts from soap-powder manufacturers!" said one respondent, while another proposed that it would be

"...preferable to have an Internet Archaeology that advertises Soap Powder than no Internet Archaeology"

So, I wonder where that leaves Eze-soap?

The biggest surprise of all from both polls was that advertising is not perceived as the evil force it is often made out to be. There were reservations, but surprisingly few respondents felt that its presence on the homepage detracted from the quality or content of the website as a whole, and the main reason given for this was the "entirely appropriate" restrictions that we placed on advertising material.

There is a significant knock-on effect in this. Restricting banner subject matter automatically limits the amount of income we can generate through advertising, but the pay off is that it is maintained as a beneficial, relevant service to readers. Advertising alone will not support the journal, for at our current rates (determined by what the archaeological market can support) we would need to be commissioning upwards of several hundred banner placements. This is, to understate things, not easily done given our current staffing levels, never mind the dot.com crash that has seen advertising rates both on and offline take a nosedive in the last 12 months.

The prevalent reaction to advertising on the internet is an artefact of the developing economics of the web over the last five years or so. The conflict between content and income has been played out in many arenas on the web, and the resulting perception is that advert-rich sites are associated with free content, free web-hosting, and low quality. How this feeds into dedicated electronic publishing is hard to assess. Equivalent print media (which is nearly always paid for by the reader) can carry considerable amounts of advertising amongst its content without any perceived change in quality. So we find that e-publishing is hampered by its own, short, history, which dictates that content associated with advertising is free (and in some way not worth paying for) and that content that is paid for will be advertisement-free. We can see this in the results of the author survey, where it is clear that authors would consider that advertising in proximity to their articles would have a negative impact on the perceived quality of their writings. Regardless of whether the differences that are drawn between content with advertisements and advert-free content make sense, it is clear that in the present context of e-publishing, advertisements could cause a negative impact on the perceived quality of articles.

It is ironic then that what would perhaps be most appealing to potential advertisers would be to target those users who pay for online content. In this way these people represent a particularly valuable resource for the journal, but it is not a resource that can be exploited to the detriment of the journal as a whole, and at the moment placing advertising with core content would dent the reputation that the journal has been so careful to maintain. In the same vein, the subject of advertising content clearly has a similar impact on the journal. In this case too, as both author and reader surveys have shown, the financial benefits of loosening restrictions on advertising content are unlikely to outweigh the potential damage to the journal. So although keeping a tight rein on advertising has a cost, the benefits are harder to quantify but they're probably priceless.

 

Journal banner guidelines are at: http://intarch.ac.uk/advert/index.html.


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