Some Thoughts on Ads

May 9th, 2012

Part of the fun of having a blog is monitoring its traffic, and more traffic equals more fun. I say this because, eventually, someone is going to read this blog and finally create a respectable chemistry journal where all of the correspondence—including letters to the editor, original submissions, referee reports, responses to referees, editorial decisions, and reader comments—is signed and available online. That post was from 2007. What is the delay, people? Let’s make this happen.

Long ago, I had the fanciful idea of running an ad for ChemBark in C&EN. What better way could there be to reach out to so many chemists? Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I couldn’t even afford a single line in those mind-numbing walls of text at the end of the magazine. If you want an ad in the middle of the magazine, the minimum you’ll have to shell out is $3,560 according to this notice (16 April 2012, p. 54).

And what kind of magic was I expecting from an ad in C&EN, anyway? Oh yes…all 150,000+ readers would be so intrigued by a URL under a head shot of Ed the Dog that they would race to their computers and hit the site. Once they had the chance to read my biting criticism of Swiss department stores and admire my poor skills at Photoshop, they’d fall in love and become addicted to blogs, for sure!

Ummm, no. And it is through such a lens that I have wondered what other advertisers have hoped to achieve with expensive print ads—especially those who list random compounds they have available. I think my bewilderment hit an all-time high last month when this ad from Quanta BioDesign was published in back-to-back issues:

“Non-Quenching Fluorescein!” certainly grabbed my attention, and the first thing I felt compelled to do was look at the structure to see what was different about this fluorescein. That is when I noticed something was terribly wrong. At least, I think.

That’s not fluorescein, right? It has a methylene group where an oxygen should be. Wait, is that why this molecule is special? Wait, that shouldn’t even exist…it would tautomerize (such that one of the methylene hydrogens would move to the carbonyl group to make the ring system aromatic).

I was confused, so I went to the Web site and searched for Product #10885. It turns out, there is no product #10885.

So, let me get this straight…this company paid $6,150 (x at least 2 weeks) to run an ad with a wacky structure for a product that doesn’t exist?! I wish I had that kind of money to throw away. I’d save up and get Ed on the back cover.

I have found so many errors in ads run in C&EN that I could probably make a decent living proofreading them on commission. And I sometimes wonder how much money a chemistry blog could make if it wanted to get serious about selling ads. C&EN has a weekly circulation of ~164k and lists a rate of $6,150 for the ad above. Could a blogger like Derek Lowe, who reports traffic of 15-20k pageviews per day, make $615 from running that ad? Seems reasonable to me, and I’d just as well see people throw money at Derek.

Someone should run the experiment, but it won’t be happening here anytime soon. I purposely make sure I’m losing money on this site in an attempt to show I’m not in this for financial gain. That said, just to be on the safe side, I have still reported the blog to my employer as a potential conflict of interest. My job provides me with access to nice things like journals, which are useful to the blog and would cost a pretty penny if I were a professional journalist working from home. I think you can mount a reasonable argument that a revenue-free ChemBark meshes well with the educational mission of a non-profit research university.

Incidentally, the “ads” that you see running on ChemBark are fake. Several weeks ago, I added space for a 150 x 150 pixel image to the left sidebar and a 500 x 80 pixel image to the footer of the page. The ads that you have seen in these positions—for instance, the one linking to the assistant editor position listed at Nature Chemistry—have all been designed by me, for fun. They were neither solicited nor purchased, and I will continue to use these ads to link to things I like. Click them and warm yourself with the knowledge that no one is making a penny.

11 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Ads”

  1. Neil Says:

    The journal ‘Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics’ is as close to that kind of uber-open peer review out there at the moment:

    And for historical perspective, Jack Baldwin suggested making peer reviews open and available on Tet Lett ages ago – as you can see in this incredible video about the Oxford chemistry department back in the 1980s:
    The other vids in that little series are also superb.

    Yes, the publisher he’s talking to is Robert Maxwell. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s on wikipedia: He owned Pergamon Press before selling it to Elsevier.

  2. bad wolf Says:

    I thought ACS members could get a line in the ‘situations wanted’ section in the back for cheap/free? The C&EN rates ad seems to be offering a regular price of $65/line, and i imagine you could fit in your URL plus a line about content and see if pageviews increase.

  3. Former Aldrich Employee Says:

    As a former marketing employee at Aldrich, I ran quite a few print ads in publications like C&EN, so perhaps I can address a few points here.

    1) With regards to the random structures in ads, at Aldrich we generally only ran ads with structures of newly released products. New products are really the sales drivers, and there are only so many avenues to get these new products in front of a customer’s eyes. One way is email, but only a fraction of the customer base is opted into email. A trade publication like C&EN gets new products in front of the most eyeballs.

    2) With regards to errors, there are a few things that come into play here. A) The people creating the structures for the ads are often times temp employees (with a BS in chemistry or related) that is pissed about being a temp, and just doesn’t care that much. B) The people proof-reading the ad are almost always Marketing Communications people without any science background at all. Ph.D. level marketing people will generally approve the ad, but really only take a cursory glance.

    This doesn’t excuse mistakes (you’d be surprised how many actually get caught), but it probably explains them a little bit.

  4. Mitch Says:

    Chemistry Blog usually breaks even every month, otherwise I’m $5-$10 in the hole.

  5. Sean Says:

    From our experience as well as other start ups in the science world – magazine ads have a horrible ROI. We’ve kept a close eye on when our ad appears along with our website analytics/sales and it’s been dismal. If you (or Mitch) have a spot, we’d give you a shot.

  6. James Says:

    You’ve put in a tremendous amount of time and effort writing this blog over the years. If you ever chose to run ads (which, by the way, don’t earn much – see Mitch’s comment) you would deserve whatever you earn. If I were in your position and people were complaining about “selling out”, I’d tell them to suck it.
    Additionally Derek puts in Amazon affiliate links when he mentions books on his site. This earns a (small) revenue, and I don’t have any problem with that.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Not an advertisement, but check out the very prominent, but incorrect, structure of Celebrex in this week’s C&EN (May 07, pg 6). Pretty embarrassing in my opinion – someone should have realized that structure just doesn’t ‘look’ right in general.

  8. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Ah, you mean the one on pg. 6 where they added an extra carbon to the five-membered heteroaromatic ring and turned it into a reactive, non-aromatic, dehydro analog? Good catch.

  9. wolfie Says:

    Can you, Paul, make heterobifunctional PEGs (polydisperse, of course) with 2 different end groups and controlled molecular weight ? Well, that implies the first name. There is a company in Germany who can. A former Ph.D. student of A. Bayer founded it. He knowsn quite well what he does, chemically. Sorry that I forgot his name.

  10. wolfie Says:

    He is not like you, Paul. He can make things, and sell them. really.

  11. Paul Says:

    @Anonymous: Nice catch. I just got my hard copy today. The structure is also wrong on the online version here (vs. the correct structure).

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