New kids, on the block

A publicity-savvy Web site, whose name the author can't recall, wants to sell itself for $3 million -- on Ebay.

Published April 20, 1999 7:35PM (EDT)

This is the story of one little Web magazine with a dream. A dream of making a buck, a dream of commenting on the overheated Internet economy, a dream of leaving an impression on our consciousnesses by getting its name mentioned in the lead paragraphs of articles like this one, which I'd do, right about here, if only I could remember the damn name.

This young Webzine, and I'm sure the name will come to me any second now, sent out a press release this past weekend to an Internet mailing list, informing one and all that it was selling itself on the Internet auction site Ebay, bids starting at $3 million. "We've been at this since August, so we figure it's about time to get paid," declared its editors, just below the phone number and e-mail address for writers seeking further information.

This is one of the byproducts of the cyclone of publicity that has attended just about anything Ebay has touched in the past year or so: Not only has Ebay managed to gain tremendous media play through coverage like William Gibson's love letter in a recent Wired (and some in Salon itself); it's also proved a quick and cheap resource for attention-seeking impresarios. Earlier this year, for instance, freelance writer Todd Levin attended the Cool Site of the Year awards, where numerous winners, unimpressed with the honor, failed to claim their prizes. Levin accepted an award on behalf of Ebay, which had left it unclaimed, then put the trophy up for sale on Ebay's own site. Bidding jumped to $5,000 and Levin donated the proceeds to charity, netting himself a mention in numerous news write-ups of the prank. Likewise, other wisenheimers have posted auctions for human beings, and Ebay itself has secured plenty of verbiage by taking on high-profile sports-memorabilia auctions.

Well, some people were evidently impressed by the results, judging by the press release launched into e-mailboxes last weekend. "This is the Web. It's all about 'being aggressive,'" the [name of the publication's] editors said. Which is true, but one gets the impression that it's about being aggressive in other than just monetary terms. What does this Ebay stunt satirize? The clueless breathlessness, the breathless cluelessness of the major media and the larger world about anything having to do with the Net! What's the payoff? Free publicity from the same clueless media!

Of course, flamboyant, canny self-promotion is a long, proud tradition at Salon, and we're only too glad to see more up-and-comers taking up the standard of milking mentions out of an impressionable press corps. Come 7:42:42 PDT on April 23, a certain publication will be richer by either $3 million minimum or a yet-to-be-determined number of cheaply earned press plugs, and we can only tip our hats to this resourceful outfit -- whose name, I have no doubt, will come to me scant minutes after I file this story.

By James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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