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Alex Tew, creator of, and his father, Malcolm Tew, pictured the weekend before Alex's last pixels are auctioned on eBay.

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Pixel-Ad Entrepreneur
Expected to Reach Goal

From The Wall Street Journal Online

Alex Tew, the creator of, ended eBay bidding for ad-pixel space on his site earlier this afternoon. Gwendolyn Bounds, staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal, reports on the final results. An earlier report on Mr. Tew by Ms. Bounds follows below.

Ebay bidding for the final 1,000 pixels on 21-year-old Alex Tew's Web site,, ended today at 1:42 p.m., with the highest posted offer appearing as $38,100 -- not exactly the extra million-dollar bang Mr. Tew had dreamed of, but not a whimper either.

Mr. Tew still must confirm the offer and have the buyer transfer the funds, so the final winning bid -- if there is a legitimate one at all -- actually could end up being lower. However, should the offer pan out, Mr. Tew will have exceeded his goal of earning $1 million off an online advertising idea he began back in August to raise funds for his schooling.

"I thought it might go for a higher amount because of all the attention," Mr. Tew says. "But it's still a good result."

In the final 24 hours before bidding ended, Mr. Tew watched his bids fall from a high of $160,109.99 on Tuesday evening to the ultimate posted closing price. As the final minutes to the auction's end ticked down, the highest bid dropped nearly $100,000, suggesting some bidders either got cold feet or had bolstered the auction's price with fake bids.

"I actually contacted the people by phone and turns out they weren't serious, which is fairly frustrating, so I removed those bidders at the last minute," Mr. Tew says.

The posted winner at the close of the auction was listed as "greatdealsdepot" -- a self-described "trading assistant" from New York who had a positive feedback rating of 99% on eBay and was selling everything from diet pills to sex enhancement items.

* * *

In late November, this column talked about Alex Tew, a 21-year-old British man who, in a quest to fund his university studies, had arrived at the seemingly outlandish idea of creating a Web site and selling advertising in the form of "pixels" -- the simplest graphical denominator of a computer screen -- for a buck each. His goal: one million dollars.

What made the story noteworthy then was that Mr. Tew had already passed the halfway mark despite having no target audience or even the slightest bit of brand recognition. As of tomorrow, Mr. Tew could not only reach his million-dollar goal, he could surpass it by auctioning off the last 1,000 pixels for on eBay. Further, Mr. Tew's business model has inspired hundreds, perhaps thousands, of copycat sites angling to find a new twist on pixel sales for whatever their needs may be.

As an entrepreneurial venture, Mr. Tew's stands out given his young age, global influence and quick return on an estimated $40,000 investment to host and publicize the site. On Aug. 26, Mr. Tew launched his home page and divided the screen into 10,000 small squares of 100 pixels each. He sold pixels for $1 each, with a minimum order of 100 pixels and promised to keep the page alive for at least five years. In each space, buyers could put a graphical ad of their choosing, linking it to their own site. Today the home page resembles a cluttered collage of ads in various shapes and colors.

Internet Celebrity

Meantime, Mr. Tew himself has taken on celebrity status in the Internet community. World-wide solicitations have swamped his email in-box; he says there are currently 10,000-plus unanswered messages soliciting him for everything from money and business advice to job positions. Getty Images, which provides film and photo images to media outlets and others, just conducted a portrait session with Mr. Tew and his parents in Cricklade, England.

In fact, all the attention has persuaded Mr. Tew to postpone his university studies -- an ironic turn of events given that school was the original impetus for his project.

"I never expected the site to reach the level of success it has done," he writes in an email. "But I can't see how I can realistically continue my studies in the immediate future -- due to the sheer scale of interest in my site, and all the new opportunities that have presented themselves as a result. There just isn't time now." He says he will return to school in September.

By the end of 2005, Mr. Tew had sold 999,000 pixels and demand outstripped supply for the last thousand. On Dec. 30, the page had one million unique visitors and Mr. Tew's server almost died, he says, forcing him to temporarily suspend order taking. Giddy prospective buyers pushed him to open a second page, but Mr. Tew had pledged to close the page when his goal of one million dollars was reached in order to protect its originality.

Final Auction

So over the New Year, Mr. Tew decided to do what any calculating businessman might: He put the last 1,000 pixels up for sale on eBay. The auction ends tomorrow at 1:42 p.m. EST; as of 6 p.m. last night, the highest offer from a pool of bidders handpicked by Mr. Tew was $160,109.09. He expects to net about $650,000 to $700,000 after costs, taxes and a donation he plans to give to The Prince's Trust, a U.K. charity for youth that once helped him.

Mr. Tew's efforts benefited from newness, shrewd marketing and the Internet's lightning-speed word of mouth. After first persuading his friends and family to buy pixels to make the page seem legitimate, he then began touting his site, and himself, to bloggers, who directed traffic Mr. Tew's way. The media in Britain picked up on his venture, fueling more visitors.

In mid-September, Mr. Tew's Web site landed on the "Movers & Shakers" feature of, which ranks the world's Web sites by the number of people who visit them. Marketing executives often troll, which is owned by, to check out what's hot and what's not, and at one point Mr. Tew's site reached Alexa's No. 2 spot. That brought in a new wave of advertisers. In October, a U.S. publicist named Imal Wagner contacted him about penning his life story; he declined but hired her to help him with a U.S. media tour.

Pixel Mania

The attention inspired rival sites. One attractive 22-year-old Siberian emergency worker has posted her own black-and-white photo on a home page; as people buy pixels on the image metamorphoses to color. At two filmmakers are selling digital "stars" -- orbs of light of various hues and size that bounce about the home page and link to other sites -- to raise $50,000 and finance their picture. In a marriage of online and outdoor advertising, encourages buyers to purchase ads on an online picture of the body of a Hummer H2; when that's filled the site's owner, a California State University student promises he'll buy a real one and wrap it in a graphical composite of the ads. There are charity sites, sites devoted to erotica, and plain-vanilla financial Web sites all using pixels to raise funds. An Indiana University student has even launched a parody site called, complete with a fake image of Mr. Tew sporting Donald Trump-esque hair.

While none of these seem to have replicated Mr. Tew's success, and it's unclear if they ever will, the sheer volume of attempts and creative juice behind them paints an interesting picture of collective online entrepreneurship around the globe. And at the very least, it suggests there will be an eventual shakeout of what works, and what doesn't. For instance, one site,, targets a single ethnic group and purports to have sold 1,900 pixels in two days. Two Carnegie Mellon students started to raise money for hurricane victims.

Meantime, people are tweaking their pages' graphical elements to stand out: A Frenchman launched where people place ads on a map of his homeland and solicits people to post missives on a lunar image.

Currently, Mr. Tew is holed up at home in Cricklade with his mom and dad, monitoring his auction on a 17-inch Hewlett-Packard laptop from his parents' living room and sleeping from 5 a.m. till 9 a.m. to keep up with U.S. time zones. His folks screen his calls -- their son's numbers got posted on the Internet -- and siblings helped sort through the last round of orders. Mr. Tew says he paid them.

Says his 58-year-old dad, Malcolm Tew: "Alexander has always had lots and lots of ideas, some good and some not so good. This is certainly the most, ah, fruitful."


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--January 11, 2006

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