Don't Lose Faith In The Click
Advertisers want just one result from their hard-earned ad spends: conversions. While the cost-per-action model has hovered on the edge of viability for years now, Google and the PPC movement have revolutionized the targeting of Internet surfers by serving ads based on intent. Why would an advertiser for a major car company care if his or her ads were showing to males in the 18-35 demographic, when they can be shown to people who have actually gone out of their way to search for "2009 SUV"? It is for this reason that advertisers pay more for search engine ads than publisher ads.
From a publisher's point of view, it's this level of intent-based targeting that has been missing from website advertising networks. Contextual ads were a good start, and have been more or less successful, but the ads are still based on the entirety of a site's content rather than what individual visitors really want and are actively searching for. The two statistics that are any publisher's lifeblood - clickthrough rate and click value - both drastically improve with better targeting, as readers see more relevance in the ads served and advertisers see better conversion results, making them willing to pay more.
The banner ad is essentially obsolete for one very good reason: advertisers saw terrible returns on investment as online readers became numb to the irrelevant, garish splashes of color and Photoshop graphics inserted clunkily into their favorite sites. Except for the richest broad-market brands (Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, etc.), unmeasurable "branding" in the infinitely measurable world of online advertising is a proposal that will get ad agencies and marketing directors fired, and combined with the historically low clickthrough rates seen by banner ads, a recipe for disaster was concocted.
Now, we're seeing contextual ads following a similar path. Advertisers will still buy them, but without the element of user intent, the conversion rates are significantly lower than search engine ads, with the amount advertisers are willing to pay per click lowered to match. This is why in order to continue earning from a website, publishers have to be able to target their readers' intent as effectively as search engines can. Whether that is targeting the search terms of individuals who come to a site via search engine, or another method, it is the next necessary evolution of advertising on Web sites.
So yes, the click is still valuable, and publishers shouldn't lose faith in it. However, the old tried-and-true methods of broad contextual advertising are no longer quite so true; target individuals, discern and serve ads to intent, give people exactly what they're looking for in both an ad and an article, and advertisers will happily send you money