Sellers.json Is Great, But It Could Be Better

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Adam Schenkel, senior vice president of global commercial development at GumGum.

Even if you haven’t followed the 2019 launch of the sellers.json spec, the thinking behind it should sound like a positive move forward. Together with the IAB’s ads.txt and OpenRTB SupplyChain object specs, sellers.json gives buyers new vision into the supply chain, disclosing all entities involved from the demand-side platform (DSP) all the way to the end publisher.

Specifically, sellers.json designates whether any entity in the chain is a direct seller of inventory (a “publisher”) or a reseller of inventory (an “intermediary”).

If you’re in or near ad tech, it’s easy to understand why that transparency is important. Sellers.json can assist with supply-path optimization (SPO), cutting questionable intermediaries to the most direct path for publisher inventory when 10-plus exchanges offer the same impression.

Like ads.txt, sellers.json is not a cure-all for the ailment at hand – at least not in its current form. We’re moving quickly toward transparency, but speed can leave some gaps. I’ve been hearing some grumbling from those in one of those gaps: ad management platforms and the small yet high-quality publishers for whom ad management platforms present the most viable means of monetization.

The small sites I’m talking about are the mommy blogs and other pubs operating on a similar level. In many cases, they may be lone content creators. They produce quality content and have engaged audiences, but they don’t have great ways to monetize, unless they plug into an ad management platform that delivers demand. Those platforms also give advertisers a chance to reach otherwise hard-to-reach audiences – and at scale.

For all intents and purposes, the ad management platform serves as the small publisher’s proxy. But, in sellers.json, that platform looks like an intermediary because it’s not the publisher.

This matters for advertisers, publishers, inventory aggregators and users. DSPs and their advertisers can choose whether they want to buy from direct sellers, intermediaries or both. An intermediary may seem less desirable to marketers than direct sellers. So if the marketer chooses to avoid intermediaries, they will avoid these ad management companies that look like intermediaries.

It’s not just the ad management platform that suffers. The content creators lose monetization that makes their content creation possible. Users lose out on content they love and may even rely on. And advertisers lose out on access to highly engaged audiences.

Many ad management platforms deserve to be classified as direct sellers because they’re the only viable source of the inventory they manage. But there’s also a reasonable concern that if you label some of those companies as direct, other companies will do the same. We’ll want to avoid mysterious companies claiming they’re a publisher’s exclusive monetization source. These companies must earn the new classification. Maybe they could be verified by the publishers they represent or be required to join TAG and pay for verification audits as a cost of doing business, similar to other larger players, such as SSPs. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. This is really the kind of problem industry groups like IAB are best suited to solve.

The OpenRTB Working Group appears to be working on this issue as it relates to the next version of ads.txt. Ideally, any changes to ads.txt will influence the sellers.json spec. Of course, as with most standards in our industry, proposed changes and updates, such as OpenRTB 3.0, are only as good as their rate of adoption – and adoption generally occurs only when buyers demand it.

That’s why I hope buyers realize that a whole class of smaller publishers and their monetization partners have fallen into the gap between “publisher” and “intermediary.” The lack of a proper designation for ad management platforms is too trivial a reason for them and their publishers to be blocked from quality monetization – and for buyers to pass up access points to target audiences.

Follow GumGum (@GumGum) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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