I swung by Commerce last weekend to get in a little Omaha and, as is my habit, I picked up copies of CardPlayer and PokerPlayer magazines which are always available in the casino. It’s a habit that goes back for nearly as long as I’ve played live poker in the local Los Angeles poker rooms.
When I was a beginning player I loved reading the strategy articles. I always enjoyed Roy Cooke and the other authors handing over little tidbits of advice on how to improve your poker game.
After I got involved in the online poker industry, I started to pick up the magazines to see who was advertising what promotions. They became more like industry or competitor research. I still found the articles interesting but poker on the internet had exploded by that time and there was more poker strategy articles available than one human being could ever possibly consume.
As I picked up the most recent editions of these two great poker publications I noticed they seemed a tad light. Very light.
Of course, light is relative. The last time I was a semi-regular in the LA card rooms was back in 2006 before I left for Gibraltar. Back then a copy of CardPlayer magazine was pretty hefty. How hefty, I don’t know because I never really took the time to inventory the magazine but I remember it being thick enough that it was too big to fold up or easily slip into your pocket.
That’s not the case today. The Jan 25, 2012 (Vol 25/No 2) edition of CardPlayer that I was holding was a mere 68 pages (including front and back covers). I was able to fold it over twice and put it in my jacket breast pocket.
It got me curious so I sat down and really looked at what was in these 68 pages.
Front Cover: 1 page
Masthead: 1 page
TOC: 1 page
Advertising Index: 1 page
Tourney Schedule: 5.5 pages
Advertising: 28 pages
Content: 30.5 pages
Only four online poker rooms had ads in CardPlayer; Lock Poker, Poker Host, America’s Poker, and Carbon Poker. CardPlayer had a full-page ad for their own free poker site but I don’t really count that since it’s a house ad. In total, seven pages were purchased by online poker sites.
Ads for land based casinos made up 19 full pages.
The remaining two pages consisted of smaller ads for things like CardPlayer Cruises, CP Poker School, Kardwell playing cards, Poker Media Consulting, etc.
Before I go any further I want to make it very clear that I am not singling out CardPlayer. As I browse around online poker news sites I notice a scarcity of any sort of advertising. It’s an industry-wide issue.
Part of the problem is that many poker media outlets got too fat on affiliate fees and placement fees. The amount of money online poker sites were willing to shell out for premium placement of their affiliate ads on the biggest poker media sites (both print and online) simply couldn’t and can’t be matched by any other sort of advertiser.
Many print magazines just kept adding pages and pages to their magazines in order to accommodate all of the people who wanted to advertise. Online sites sold out their inventory and then began charging poker sites an insertion or placement fee for increased exposure on their site.
This left little room for any sort of diversification of advertising income streams. In other words, GM, Coca Cola, Budweiser, and any other non-poker related advertiser were priced out of the market. When Black Friday hit there were no unaffected advertisers on the poker media customer list. All their bets were on online poker.
Granted, selling online poker to Corporate America was never an easy task. Not only were they priced out of the market but there is/was the issue of associating their brands with something that was, at best, morally objectionable and, at worst, blatantly illegal.
But that raises the issue of cause and effect. Was Corporate America scared away from associating their brands with poker or were they scared away from associating their brands with poker media that closely associated itself with online poker?
One could make the argument that poker is already somewhat acceptable to Corporate America. ESPN has an entire section dedicated to poker. Many newspapers carry syndicated poker content. They don’t give this exposure to poker out of the kindness of their hearts. They do it because, in theory, they are able to make money from it. Some advertiser is buying an ad on that syndicated column which makes it, in theory, profitable for them to pay the author for the content.
In some ways it reminds me of the dotcom crash. I remember when Yahoo was commanding super-premiums just to get your ad on their website. And just a few years later their sales dropped like a rock wen the dotcoms crashed.
Was it because nobody was advertising online? Ehrm, well, sort of. The problem was that the stupid dotcoms, flush with investor cash, stopped outbidding each other for prime Yahoo real estate when the money dried up. Since that was the only type of business Yahoo had been accustomed to, their sales reps were unaware that the phones dialed out as well as in. Their sales reps had never courted customers before. They were order takers.
The dotcom crash hit them hard because they weren’t organizationally structured to go out, hat in hand, begging for business. Likewise, I think the poker world needs to wake up to the fact that ads aren’t going to sell themselves. If the phone isn’t ringing the sales reps need to be hitting the phones and the pavement selling the ad space.
But are any of them doing that? Not from what I can see. I visited several of the largest online poker news sites and they’re all running ads for online poker sites. Some, even though I’m accessing the site from the US, are running ads for sites that aren’t even available to US players. One news site, which shall remain nameless, still has links to Full Tilt, UB, and Absolute room reviews in their footer (in their defense, they link to 404, page not found, pages).
I find it difficult to believe that this ad space can’t be sold to non-poker related businesses. The demographic of poker players is a highly coveted demographic for advertisers.
Or has the poker media yet to come to terms with the fact that the days of easy cash are over? Are they holding on, waiting for US legalization, hoping to command those outrageous premiums again? Have they burned their bridges to the legitimate world so badly nobody in Corporate America wants to touch them?
Whatever the answer, the one thing I do know, is the market weeds out those that fail to adapt. There are plenty of flamed out dotcoms that could have survived if they would have read the writing on the wall. Now all we can do is sit back and see who is paying attention to the winds of change and who is doubling down on their bets.