Pixel-selling and the Million Dollar Home Page: Boom-to-bust in Internet Time

Sometime in the fall of 2005, a British lad by the name of Alex Tew sailed into a perfect storm. As the web world watched, his “Million Dollar Home Page” quickly lived up to its audacious title and left its mark on internet history. Armed with uncanny marketing instincts and a good dose of luck, Alex took his novel idea, added a personal back-story, and sold a million dollar’s worth of advertising in a matter of months.

Understandably, countless copy cats have gone online, but success has proven difficult to duplicate. A quick survey of these so-called “pixel-ad” brings up a large number of woefully blank screens. The uniqueness of Tew’s website was what drew the crowds and justified the value of his site. The second generation of pixel pages is struggling to create the same excitement.

One problem is that the concept for the Million Dollar Home Page is so simple that there is little room for technical improvement. Not that people are not trying. For example, website http://www.izoomzoom.com touts the ability to display a thumbnail image of the target URL as the mouse cursor rolls over a pixel ad. This feature is interesting, but it is unclear whether the thumbnail images will encourage or discourage viewers to click-through to the advertised site.

Another site with a twist is [http://www.millionpixelsart.com]. Instead of the standard rectangular billboard, the pixel blocks are arranged in different shapes (including a beer mug and dice). Again, the idea is interesting, but the lack of sold blocks should serve as a warning to others that success will require true ingenuity.

One of the more successful pixel-ad sites can be found at http://www.pixmeup.com. This website takes a multi-level marketing approach to pixel selling, innovating the business model rather than the format. PixMeUp currently features several densely populated pixel pages, proof of its ability to find customers.

Just as the general stores of the American West profited from the California Goldrush, it may be the suppliers of the prospective pixel sellers that are reaping the greatest rewards. Domain registrars and domain hosts are also profiting from the uptick in websites coming on line. Tool developers are cropping up left and right, offering would-be millionaires the picks and shovels needed to stake their claims. Other sites exist for the purpose of providing news and links related to the pixel-ad phenomenon.

The pixel-ad market appears to be saturating, as evidenced by the going rate for these tiny squares of advertisement. How far has the market fallen? I found one answer on a humorous site [http://www.ihatethemilliondollarhomepage.com]. Its author nicely captures the jealousy and dejection felt by entrepreneurs who have failed to come close to the success of the MillionDollarHomePage. And, to spite Alex Tew, these pixels are being given away free of charge!

In time, the pixel-ad concept will continue to evolve. A mere months after Alex Tew’s financial trajectory shot through the stratosphere, creative descendents of the original concept are already heading off in new directions. Affiliation pixel-ad sites, such as [http://www.christianmilliondollarhomepage.com/], cater to specific causes or audiences. The pixel-selling concept takes a creative turn at http://www.WorldWideArtStudio.com, where artists can participate in the creation of art by buying the right to control portions of a “digital canvas.” Furthermore, WorldWideArtStudio.com turns its back on the marketing roots of pixel selling by prohibiting the display of advertisements in its artwork.