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Set the Advertising Free

The trick with selling ads isn't getting the ads. It is what price the advertisers will pay you.
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Let's go free and get Procter & Gamble (PG) - Get Procter & Gamble Company (The) Report to give us millions of dollars in ads!

There, I have just stated the game plan for dozens of Net companies.

There are two problems with this strategy.

One is that if everybody is going to do it, you don't have much leverage with P&G. Second, P&G couldn't care less. It doesn't want its high-end brand affiliated with low-end beggar products.

Every time I come back to this free ad thing, I get bombarded by people who have never sold an ad in their lives. I have sold ads for magazines and newspapers since seventh grade. I sold ads when I was president of

The Harvard Crimson

. (Steve Ballmer of


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

was my general manager.) I have worked with ad sellers for years.

The trick with selling ads isn't getting the ads. It is what price the advertisers will pay you. I remember putting out an extra at

The Harvard Crimson

after every home football game, going to try to get a beer ad (man, was I ever politically incorrect) and running into incredible resistance because it was a free extra. If I charged, I could charge


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. If I didn't, they didn't want to pay.

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That was 25 years ago. But the trend has only intensified with the competition for ad dollars -- except it is worse on the Net. When you go to


or P&G or


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and they know you have

no other source of revenue

than them, what kind of bargain do you think you will get? Do you think they will allow you to charge them a lot of money?

Every time I postulate this, I get dozens of hate-mail inquiries from entrepreneurs, venture guys and dreamers. And I get a massive amount of email from salespeople, all of whom want to slap me and buy me a beer. They know; they have sold. You want a piece of me on this issue? I will be on a rare midday chat today with Leslie Walker from

The Washington Post

. Leslie is by far the most informed and knowledgeable person about the Web whom I have ever met among my friends in print. She understands just about everything, which is one of the reasons why

The Washington Post

has the best Web strategy of any of the old-liners. Join me. Attack me. Dis me. Prove me wrong!

Good luck.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of At time of publication, his fund was long Microsoft. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at