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Vanity Everything
Oct 07, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

"And the winner is..."

That's right, folks. All you need is your very own copy of PageMill, Photoshop and a dialup account, and you, too can make the trip up the aisle next year to collect your "Webbie." You, too can (a) thank your pet, your parents and your pediatrician, (b) make disparaging comments about your supermodel award presenter, or (c) just plain not show up.

This piece may be filed under "biting the hand that feeds," but the People Magazine-sponsored Cool Site of the Year award ceremonies are an easy target. The Webster Hall (heh -- get it?) ceremonies were beyond entertaining, beyond surreal -- they were downright Hollywood. Or at least Hollywood's version of what a web awards ceremony would look like. A comedian/magician/entertainer host who has appeared on the cover of Wired. ("Oooh, such credentials...he'll look good on a website and in People magazine.") An eclectic group of presenters, some of whom aren't afraid to wear leather pants onstage. And a crowd that consisted of 50% web types who wished that guests had been forced to wear URLs or email addresses on their lapels, and 50% NY publishing piss-boys wanting to be part of the "next big thing."

Vanity publishing reached its peak on Thursday night when when personal and corporate vanity sites were trotted out in front of their "peers" watching in person and on the webcast. (Was there actually anyone watching the webcast, by the way?) The vainer the better: Cool Site of the Year® winner Discovery Channel is rumored to have an annual web budget of $10 million.

But as the web enters its next cycle of "Cool," I predict that while vanity publishing will continue to drive sales of Navigator Gold, there's a whole other brand of "vanity" that's coming down the pike.

Look out, folks. Here comes vanity business.

Shareware authors and 10,000 pound gorillas alike have fueled the explosive growth of vanity publishing. Dave Winer is getting what he asked for -- billions of websites. Personal home pages, corporate home pages, musician home pages, television show home pages, etc., etc., etc.

But the times, they are a changing. Because now that everyone has had their chance to say what they really feel, they're all going to want their own chance at the pot of gold. Or maybe vanity businesses will just be the way that everyone tries to make back all the money squandered on vanity publishing efforts. Here's how it will be done...

  • Vanity advertising. Justin's already doing it, and where he goes, many are sure to follow. A simple plea on his site, a press release, and now he's got sponsorship galore. About a dozen sponsors at $50 per month each. Of course, you'll need Justin-like traffic (or Justin-like friends) to pull this off.

  • Vanity pledge drives. Why should you have to wait for the semi-annual PBS weekend from hell to get your pledge drive fix? Host your own. Heck, there's a whole site called "The Amazing 'Send Me a Dollar' Website." As of 10/6/96, they're up to $102.50, and they don't have any real content whatsoever.

  • Vanity bookselling. This is the most interesting vanity business idea of them all. recently introduced their "Amazon Associate" program, which can turn every single web publisher out there into an individual bookstore. With a catalog of over 1.1 million titles, Amazon is just dying to have the rest of the world provide some editorial content to their catalog. If you have a website, you can become a bookseller. "Sell" the books you like, let Amazon deal with the nasty details of credit card authentication and order fulfillment, and you sit back and collect your commission checks.

Seriously, Amazon may be on to something. They have access to "every book in print," they provide the infrastructure, and they leverage the hordes of vanity publishers out there, creating thousands of vanity bookstores. You publish a website about the royal family? Recommend a list of books to your fellow Fergie followers. Amazon gets the sales, while defraying the cost of editorial content and customer acquisition.

When CDNOW grabs ahold of this idea, all those people that had nothing to publish but a list of the CDs in their collection will finally be able to cash in. I can see it now; a new category at next year's awards. "Personal Storefront of the Year."



Other pieces about ecommerce: