Small Web publishers will descend on Washington in the first week of June (June 4-5) to play the economic hero card. They hope to make the case to politicians that they should consider the impact new Internet laws may have on the small businesses that are the drivers of job creation and the engine of economic recovery.
Most of the 50 publishers are members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Long Tail Alliance, a group formed four years ago to give Web entrepreneurs a voice on the Hill. And unlike Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, they don't have millions to spend on lobbying.
"These are people that can't pivot their business model on a dime. Certain law proposals could decimate their business models," said Alison Pepper, senior director of public policy for the IAB.
"The Internet has always been about leveling the playing field. But if you start to put all these regulations on the Internet without thinking it through, we'll be going back to information that is controlled by a small number of entities," said Rick Jaworski, who has published the Joy of Baking website for 15 years.
Privacy is at the top of the list for small Web publishers that rely on behaviorally targeted advertising from Google's AdSense and other ad networks. An overly restrictive definition of "Do Not Track" could really cripple their businesses.
"I'm worried that in the name of privacy, ads would have to become more intrusive," said Rogers Cadenhead, the publisher of The Drudge Retort, the political opposite of The Drudge Report. "I'm able to run this news site as a business because of these ads. There are a lot of people making money on this business model."
"When we started out it was a hobby; we didn't depend on ad revenue, but when AdSense came long, we felt it be a business," added Jaworski. "If ads aren't targeted, the ads won't pay as well.
Publishers are also worried about bills like SOPA, that are aimed at tightening intellectual property enforcement on the Internet. A recent tussle Jaworski had with a big publisher who wanted him to take down a page on his site over a recipe drove home the kind of unintended consequences a bill like SOPA could have had on his business. "SOPA would have meant I would have to take down the site and go to court to get it back, even though recipes aren't copyrightable," he said.
"It's a fast and furious 48 hours. None of us are familiar with Washington or the dozens of bills that might impact our business. We cram for the test and then we go in," said Cadenhead, who has made this trip three years running.