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Should I set up my own network (or participate in one that allows me to set my own CPC) and try to attract advertisers directly?
If you feel it could be worth your effort, why not give it a shot?
I've been checking the google Keyword Tool for my niche (which is very competitive by the way) and the average CPC there is well over $12.
I don't think the keyword tool has any correlation to the CPC that advertisers are bidding on your website in the content network.
I'm pretty sure that's the CPC for the search network, which is traditionally an area that advertisers bid more on for various reasons.