Tuesday, January 17, 2006

MSM = Mainly Supplementing Marketing?

I don't recall the exact moment, but it did dawn on me at one point not too long ago that I had, for the most part, stopped reading the high-end art press. Oh, I still flip through the standard glossies, mostly looking at the ads, and checking to see who got a review, but rarely do I read the articles any longer, or most of the reviews for that matter. Now part of that is the fact that I'm working an average of 60 hours each week (I know, I know, where do I find the time to blog? [this isn't work...this is pure pleasure]). But with a few notable exceptions, the art world's MSM (mainstream media) seem to have spent this era of historically hot markets re-inventing themselves as little more than monthly brochures for their advertisers. And this trend now seems to be affecting online art channels as well. Consider this homepage for artinfo.com:

Now I should note that in addtion to having a great deal of respect for a number of artinfo.com's writers and finding ideas for blog posts on their site about once every other week, I don't have a problem with any online entity selling ad space and/or making buckets of money for delivering quality content. I do, however, object to not being able to tell the difference.

I attended the opening for Warren Isensee's exhibition at Danese. It's a gorgeous show, and I even considered getting one of the drawings in the back room. So when I looked at artinfo.com last night and saw the big banner for that show on their homepage, I thought "Cool, someone has reviewed or done a feature article on it." I mean, after all, that banner (which scrolls through different images) generally links to news or feature articles. Furthermore, the list of links to the direct right of it is titled "Today's News Highlights," and there are advertising images above the navigation and in the right hand column, where one expects them on web pages, so every visual cue available suggests that clicking on the image of Isensee's work will take you to some analysis or feature article. Instead, it takes you to a paid placement of the gallery's press release, what artinfo.com calls a "power page."

Again, I have no qualms about advertising or online services charging for their ability to reach millions of potential clients. What I find disturbing is the suggestion to the website's visitors that this advertisement is a service (i.e., in this context, value-added content). I mean, I saw the exhibition and I read the press release there. Moreover, there are several other advertisements on that homepage, so if I had wanted to read an ad, I was certainly not confused about how to do so. But discovering that what looks like a link to a feature or review is actually an ad is really disappointing.

Now I know it only took a few seconds of my life to make that discovery. I don't think I've suffered any irreversible trauma from it. I have, however, been trained to mistrust the artinfo.com homepage somewhat, which is a pity, because overall they offer a very good product.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, there is way too much whoring going on with ad placement on blogs and in magazines (don't get me started on paying $10.75 to watch them in theaters here in NYC), let alone pick up a telephone book-sized Vanity Fair and know that there is no non-ad content before page 120. Then a Time or Newsweek has a 'special advertising section' that is done in the same typeface as their articles, which you know the ad people demanded so it looks like objective reporting which it most certainly is not.

Just greed and idiocy, it screams 'we are the corporation and the corporation is us', which is a destructive and robotic way to view things.

1/17/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

The country has been officially Oprahsized. We now know that the line between truth and bullshit has been completely blurred. There’s no difference between fiction and non-fiction. No difference between true autobiography and science fiction fantasies of one’s life. No difference between the art that exists and the art that’s advertised to exist. The truth doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we are bathed in the warm communal glow of feeling the deep essence of what we’re told. All that matters is that the MSM, the alternative media, and even the media of one, tell us a million little pieces of lies and that we believe more than a few of them.


1/17/2006 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

I think the artinfo.com site is rather nice for what it is. Commercial, but well-designed and not trying to be anything it's not. An ad that links to a press release - what's wrong with that? Better than artforum.com, where you get pimped out with some wanna-be's party notes rather than a description of the art work.

Personally, I wouldn't expect an ad banner to link to a review unless the site has it's own staff of writers or buys the pieces from other sites/magazines.


1/17/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

I see now that they have a "columns" link...


1/17/2006 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


There are three images scrolling in that spot. Two of them link to feature articles. Only one links to a paid placement of a press release. At the very least, artinfo.com is responsible for confusing navigation. Also, for a better user experience, they should consider identifying the links in that banner space as ads or links, if they need to use it for both.

The bottom line is that I now mistrust them a bit, where I hadn't before. They should be concerned about that.

1/17/2006 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...


Well, at least it links to something informative, and not to the available works section of James Cohan's web site (though there's a link if you want to get there bad enough). I don't know how difficult it is to find advertisers for these sites - but it's probably a huge pain in the ass and therefore they take what they can get.

Should you contact them and lodge a complaint?


1/17/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think a formal complaint is a bit overkill (well, a complaint in any form other than a post on my weblog), actually. The bottom line is they can mix and match links to ads and content anyway they chose...but they will be sending messages about their committment to quality content if it looks like they're trying to trick people into clicking on ads.

1/17/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

That's true - but only if you think a press release qualifies as an advertisement. Are you thinking paid space = ad, unconditionally? I guess I'd consider it promotional material, but not an ad by the usual definition.


1/17/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


The Power Page link I provided spells out the marketing tools artinfo.com provides for their stated fees. I don't know what other than advertising to call it.

Your distinction between an "ad" and "promotional material" distributed by someone you pay to do so is lost on me, I'm afraid. Perhaps I'm not up to date on the subtlties.

1/17/2006 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I suppose it sounded like a dumb thing to question (the nuances of flat-out ads vs. promotional texts), but considering all the tasteless money grubbing we see on a daily basis, I just didn't think that a link to a press release was so horrible.

But I certainly don't want to sound like the spokeswoman for cheesy web site exhibition ads, so I'll shut up now.

Ciao baby

1/17/2006 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

ad·ver·tise·ment n : a public promotion of some product or service

Seems to describe what's going on on artinfo.com

1/17/2006 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

The fact that someone still cares enough to write a post decrying the abuse of advertising is perhaps hope enough that there's still a chance for quality art publication. Unfortunately, the boundary between art-mag and fashionable/scene-mag continues to deteriorate. Why don't we have any serious trade magazines like other fields do? Why are there no quality academic journals about contemporary art? The only one I can think of is October, and most people hate it. Maybe this says more about the art community in general than the magazines themselves.

E_: Thanks for not letting it slip by unnoticed.

1/17/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

I agree with AS. Those of us whom this bothers are really far and few between and there really is not a lot of serious media about fine art any more. The market follows the demand, and 'free' media has been replaced by blogs (the demand for blogs is exactly what you see right here.) It is a bummer that the internet has followed the print media, but it's also a bummer that I get unsolicited emails asking me if I want to buy Viagra! I would love it if there was a scholarly discourse present in the art world that was interesting and made a difference in what is seen in art spaces instead of money and prettiness deciding that - but I also wish I didn't have a day job...

1/17/2006 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The 'normal' ethics of periodicals requires editorial and advertising to be clearly separate and labeled. This, of course, protects the periodical as much as the reader.

In this case it is unclear if this is editorial content or advertising. Edward, correctly, finds this disturbing, because the journal is giving up any claim to objectivity even if they aren't aware that is what they are doing (People are oddly resistant to the subtleties of ethics, these days)

The other thing going on, the advertiser pays per click. Readers are being fooled into clicking on an ad link because of the placement and presentation. Maybe this was understood by the advertiser, but I doubt it.

1/17/2006 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

From out here in the art netherlands outside New York City, an even more obvious ad-related fact seems to pop out when we provincial gallerists and galleries look at the "National" reviews' sections in some of those art glossies.

Succintly put: If you advertise in magazine A, then you can count on one or two reviews a year.

Otherwise, generally speaking, no matter how good the show, or the artist, it's a "non starter" as far a getting the magazine's national review editor to assign their "local" reviewer to write about the show (this heard from the horse's mouths more than once).

It thus becomes an almost "pay for review" or better put "Advertise for Review" sort of deal.

Empirical facts available ad nauseum to support above theory hereby dubbed "AfR"

1/17/2006 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I think you guys are being totally anal.

: )

1/17/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

disagree Edna...the publication, at least, should take it a bit more seriously.

Tim nailed it. Once the line between editorial and advertising is blurred, the reputation of the publication is difficult to regain. I note this with many years' experience in the publishing industry under my belt actually (I've conducted focus groups on this very topic...people don't miss these things).

It's no hair off my chest if I stop trusting a publication (I'll seek my info elsewhere)...but you'd think they'd be concerned about it.

1/17/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger chris8lee said...

The Chelsea Manifesto

Dada to Prada
That's the motto for art from 1980
to today. Quasi-professional artists walking around w/their "resumes" rationalizing and routinizing inspiration and discovery. The commodification of bohemia w/expensive Williamsburg lofts. The weekly treks to the galleries replacing the weekly churc h service. Humanity is absurd but beautiful.

1/17/2006 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Bryant Rousseau said...

This is Bryant Rousseau, the executive producer of ArtInfo. I thought the points raised in this discussion were valid. Please understand that ArtInfo is much more than just a news site, and that the three images on our homepage are designed to push readers to all our different features: news and features, galleries, exhibitions (soon travel guides, arts education), etc. But I understand the chance for confusion, and I agree readers should know which section of the site clicking on an image will take them. So please be aware that going forward, all three images on the homepage will be labeled so readers know exactly which section they will arrive at after clicking. Thanks again for the valuable input.

1/19/2006 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I noticed that you had already added clarifications on the homepage images, Bryant. Thanks for taking the feedback everyone offered here into consideration and coming up with such a good solution to the issue. As I had noted, you have excellent writers working for artinfo.com, and I look forward to continuing to visit and enjoy your site.

all the best,

1/19/2006 11:28:00 PM  

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