Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
At an Advertising Week event sponsored by Yahoo! today at the Time/Life building in midtown Manhattan, Yahoo execs talked about a new breed of "Passionistas" who seize on a topic and want to be the first with information, and the first to share information. That mindset reminded me of the way the classic breaking news journalist is: get the info first, report it, share it, beat others to it, constantly, obsessively, scour any and all sources for scraps. Never want to be second with something.
A difference, though, is the passion the people have for their topic. What wire service journalist, for example, is going to devote himself to a niche area of health in the same way that someone desperately interested in it will? For health, the number of Passionistas is 1.8 million, Yahoo's folks said. And marketers want to go to them, directly, because of the passion they have and inspire in their readers.
Now, I know, they may not be professional journalists. But on a blog, they'll be called out by the community for inaccuracy. If they're not objective that's usually, over time, pretty obvious. Many countries' –first-world countries – journalists practice journalism on their front pages with a bias (France's Liberation is unabashedly left, Le Figaro right). So, it's not like passion or a particular bent disqualify someone from purveying legitimate information or even journalistic probity. (And there's no such thing as objectivity. Fairness, yes. Objectivity? We can try.)
I know what I'm writing here is heretical to a lot of people who consider themselves journalists. But those in the managerial ranks had better acknowledge the threat to not just their classified ads from Craigslist, their display and brand advertising from Google and YouTube, but also to their marketing dollars from people with a journalistic ethos and an incredible passion for a topic that may jibe well with a marketer's interests. Which is a commercial rationale – and perhaps a journalistic one – to do something Jeff Jarvis and others have suggested: bringing those bloggers into the fold, letting them tap into their communities through the portal provided by the mainstream news organization.
The question is often asked: 'What will be the future of the newspapers? But, it seems that before we ask that question, we'll have to first figure out what, if anything, constitutes the absolute core minimum of what it takes to be called a 'newspaper.'
What iss troubling about those questions is these people are still trying to define their news organizations according to products that are becoming obsolete. The true question is 'What will news organizations do in the future?'
No news organization should be a 'newspaper"' in the future. Nor a 'news network'. Nor a 'news radio station'. Nor a 'TV station news department'. It's time that news organizations stopped defining themselves according to news formats that are becoming obsolete.
Yes, I realize that newspapers are now asking themselves 'What will newspapers do in the future?' That news radio stations are now asking themselves 'What will news radio stations do in the future?' That TV station news departments are now asking themselves 'What will television stations news departments do in the future?' And that TV news networks now are asking themselves 'What will television news networks do in the future?'
However, the basic fact is that each is a news organization. The problem is they're internally organized to produce products that are becoming obsolete.
Obsolete? Yes, the likilihood is that consumers in the future won't want to receive a daily news report printed on wood pulp or even the online analogue of wood pulp (despite some video and animation added). Nor will consumers want to receive audio or video sent to them in a schedule or program line-up that they can't control or re-arrange. The era of the 'newspaper' in the United States, Canada, and many other countries, is over. And the simultaneous era of tradition 'broadcasting' will likewise be over once broadband becomes part of the tuning mechanism of the average consumer's television.
Note that I didn't say that journalism is ending. News organizations and the service of journalism that they produce will still be wanted and needed after the obsolete products known as newspapers, news networks, news radio, and news programs are long gone. Each news organization will be producing services that utilize all those traditional forms (i.e., text, photography, graphics, audio, video, or animation) plus new forms have yet to discover. No news organizations will any longer produce just one, two, or three of those forms (such as just text and still photos or just audio and video) anymore.
People refer to these new journalistic services as 'multimedia' or 'convergence.' Well, the trick to 'convergence' isn't necessarily to produce 'multimedia.' It is for each news organization to learn which of its traditional practices (such as its journalistic focus, staffing, assignments, workflow, business practices, business models, etc.) to continue and which (such as printing news on wood pulp or transmitting news only at a set schedule) to discard, plus what entirely new practices to adopt. 'Convergence' is as much a choice of practices as it is producing 'multimedia.'
News organization that print news on wood pulp must stop defining themselves as 'newspapers' because that traditional definition intrinsically limits what they should do. Likewise, news organization that have always transmitted audio news clips on set schedules must stop defining themselves as 'news radio.' Etcetera.
The true question is 'What will news organizations do in the future?' Not what will 'newspapers' do?
Many commentators are hailing the demise of The New York Times' TimesSelect service as the demise of paid content online. I hate to rain on their parade, but paid content isn't dead. Consumer Reports, Zagat, Playboy and other premier brands prove everyday that paying for the premier content in a topical category is very much alive.
So why did the premier brand of The New York Times fail at paid content with Times Select? Because The New York Times and other traditional newspapers don't provide premier content in a topical category. Traditional newspapers provide a package of news that attempts to satisfy everyone's interests in all categories an endeavor that is doomed to fail online and that is increasingly failing in print, too.
The demise of TimesSelect is notable only because it's the last major gasp of newspaper publishers' attempts to charge for providing everybody online with the exactly the same package of content. Not only won't online consumers pay to receive exactly the same package as everyone else gets from a newspaper brand, but they won't pay for even the best slice of that package.
That doesn't mean that online consumers aren't willing to pay; they just aren't willing to pay to receive exactly the same package as everyone else gets. Unfortunately, most media executives don't seem capable of conceiving that their companies can produce anything else at once but the same package of content for every consumers. Those executives are stuck thinking in what academics call 'one-to-many' or mass media terms.
People would be willing to pay a subscription fee for a service that delivers news to them online; but not for a service that doesn't exactly meet their needs and interests, that sends exactly the same package of news to everyone. Paid content isn't dead; just payment for the traditional 'one-to-many' package of content is.
There is a three-step process towards understanding why TimesSelect and other similar newspaper projects are doomed from the start. The steps are to understand why more than one billion people worldwide have gravitated onto the Internet; why traditional newspapers fail to match the reason why those people gravitated there; and why the traditional packaging of newspapers needs to radically change if that industry is to survive.
The fact is that, while everyone shares a few common interests (the weather, for example) and some people share some common interests (such as fans of the Red Sox), each person has many specific interests (a fan of Patrick McGoohan, knitting, Malaysian cuisine, etc.) and each individual is a quite unique mix of those common and specific interests.
To satisfy her mix of interests, an individual will use whatever media is available to her. Thirty years ago, her only choices in media were the three or four general-interest TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and maybe PBS) she could receive via antenna, one or two dozen magazines (mostly general interests ones such as Time, Newsweek, USN&WR, Life, Look, etc.) available on her local newsstands, and one or perhaps two (unless she lived in a metropolis) daily newspapers that were delivered in her town. While those would likely certainly her common interests each day, she'd have to glean them for the very occasional that might satisfy her mix of specific interests.
Then came cable (and later satellite) TV, which gave her dozens of specifically topical channels 24/7/365. Then came developments in offset lithography that made publication and distribution of topical ('niche') magazines economical, and hundreds appeared on newsstands. And then she got access to the Internet, which gave her access to millions of topical webpages. Usage of all of these satisfies her - and a billion other people's -- unique mix of commons and individual interests better than any general-interest newspaper or news program can. People's use of the Internet to satisfy their individual mixes of interests caused the growth of the search engines. They didn't gravitate to online to read general-interest newspapers and news magazines (things that later followed them online).
Because people now have better means of satisfying their unique mixes of common and individual interests, general-interest newspapers' circulation and readership are declining, as are general-interest news program's listenership and viewership. For the past 30 years, you can track those declines to match the rise of CATV, 'niche' magazines, and Internet access (the recent plummet in newspaper circulation began almost exactly when the majority of Americans got broadband access, 'always-on' access to this better way satisfying their individual mixes of interests).
Traditional newspapers are obsolete. The reason why the traditional newspaper deliver exactly the same package of stories to all readers isn't because all readers want exactly the same package. It's due to a limitation of the Industrial Era technologies still used to produce those newspapers: an analog press (like an analog broadcast transmitter) can only produce the same edition at one time. That's the latent reason why a newspaper editor picks for publication mainly the stories that are of most common interest. For example, I'm a New York Times subscriber who's a soccer and Formula One racing fan but I rarely see stories about those sports in that newspaper. Yet I know NYT receives entire wires devoted to daily events those sports (even the Swiss Intercantonal league, Turkish Third Div., etc.) because I was the Reuters executive in charge of delivering those to the Times. The NYT newsroom has the soccer stories I want, but doesn't print them and instead prints baseball and American football stories, because its analog presses simply can't produce editions that match each individual subscriber's interests.
Though that limitation of analog presses doesn't exist online, almost every newspaper is inadvertently transplanting it there. For most of the past ten years, I couldn't get those soccer stories from NYTimes.com either, because it would publish online only the stories that appeared in print. (For the past four years I've been able to find the soccer wire on NYTimes.com but had to click half a dozen levels down into the site to find them.) Shoveling into online the same package of content for everyone doesn't add value in a medium that people are using to satisfy their individual interests and needs.
Moreover, people 'unpackage' the traditional newspaper's package of content online. A person who might have read the printed Willimantic Chronicle for national news because it's the only printed daily available in Willimantic aren't likely to read that paper's website for national news, because they've got now access to NYTimes.com, CNN.com, etc. Ditto with national sports, business, international news, etc. They'll use a newspaper's website only for whatever that newspaper can uniquely do (which is local news in the most cases). This means that only a fraction of the traditional newspaper's package of content has value online. That means people might be willing to pay, at most, only a fraction of the traditional price for it online (which fits within surveys that indicate people are willing to pay online for newspaper content, but no more than about $1 per mo.)
So if providing the same package of content for everyone doesn't add value in a medium that people are using to satisfy their individual mixes of interests and that package is worth only a fraction online of what (fewer and fewer) people are willing pay for it in print, why do so many newspaper publishers still hope people will pay the same for it online as in print? Or pay something for just a slice of that traditional package?
The NYT at least realized that its columnists were a unique part of its traditional package, but wildly miscalculated the people would pay $50 per year for that. Some 227,000 people did, producing $10 milion per year in revenue for NYT, but they were only 1.6% of NYTimes.com's 13M registered users and that revenue wasn't much compared to its $300M in revenues. Pluse, lack of access meanwhile displeased the other 12.7M registered users.
The reason I mentioned soccer is that the stories exist that can satisfy each person's unique mix of common and specific, but traditionally produced newspapers -- in print and online -- don't deliver the right match to each person's mix. It's a distribution problem: the stories exist but aren't getting to the right people. So, people are using new media to hunt for the mix that satisfies them, visiting many sites and using many different mechanisms. Eliminating their need to hunt is the business opportunity here for media companies. Google and Yahoo! know that, which is why they're beginning to offer customizable services that can deliver from all sources stories that can match each user's unique mix of common and specific interests.
Although services like that can be subsidized entirely by advertising, if people are willing to pay for anything online, it's likely that they'd be willing to pay for a daily news service that uniquely matches each of their mix of common and specific interest. Would you be willing to pay $5 to $3 per month for a service that each day delivers exactly what you want from all news sources, trade journals, blogs, etc.? The technologies (structured data, etc.) to do this online already exist, but the problem is the news industry's infrastructure is still based on the Industrial Era practices of producing the same thing for every users and producing it from only one brand.
Therein also lies the problem with most micropayment systems. You'd need a universal one to satisfy most people's needs and interests. People aren't going to use a different one for each site (even if it might serve a number sites). It'll need to either be build into the infrastructure, not layered atop the status quo, or exist upstream of the consumer and built into whatever service ultimately delivers the customized service to her. In other words, the aggregation of micropayments would be done wholesale by whatever service charges the consumer the monthly macro-price.
A paid service for custom content would likely also feature advertising, except it would be advertising to match the person's unique mix of interests. Such a service would be more valuable to both consumer and advertiser. [How to remedy the way that online marketers have blown consumers' trust during the past 15 years is another matter.]
A unique printed edition for each user can also now be produced. Agfa and Oce are now manufacturing digital presses (i.e., giant inkjet printers) for newspapers that, when coupled to a database and templates, can produce an edition uniquely customized for each subscriber. (For example, the Agfa Dotrix press costs a fraction what an analog press does, requires only one operator, and can produce 20,000 newspaper copies per hour. That speed is fine for about 1,000 of the nation's 1,450 dailies; larger ones need only buy multiple digital presses.) I know that MAN Roland and other manufacturers of traditional presses are likewise developing digital presses that would service larger newspapers. [Whether printed editions will soon be supplanted by e-paper is another matter.]
So, the era of one-to-many, of each person getting the same thing daily, is over. People aren't going to pay for that online. Fewer and fewer people are continuing to pay for it in print. And if soon nobody's going to pay for that package, then nobody's going to pay much or anything for just a portion of that package.
Paid content online isn't dead; just payment for 'one-to-many' content. Unfortunately, most people in the news industry, including most of its pundits, still think in only 'one-to-many' terms, which is not how consumers use online.
I don't want to bump Ben's post down with a long one of my own, when some of what I say overlaps, so I'll just point over here to my thoughts on TimesSelect, some remarks from the NY Times' publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Rupert Murdoch, and where it's heading.
The most e-mailed story at The New York Times’ site today is the one announcing that the Times is terminating its subscription “TimesSelect” service, effective tomorrow.
Calculated from the Times’ press release , TimesSelect had about 227,000 subscribers beyond its print base. This was generating an estimated $10 million annually. By online subscription standards, both are substantial numbers (though dwarfed by The Wall Street Journal’s base of one million online subscribers).
The Times’ release clearly points to the strategic basis for its decision: It could do better than $10 million in advertising by opening up its columnists and archives to a larger audience. No subtlety here: Denise Warren, chief advertising officer expected that “with the removal of the pay wall… Advertisers on the site can expect to see an unprecedented number of Times readers interacting with their brands." American Express is the first “sponsor” of the newly opened site.
TimesSelect was a bit controversial from the start, and not just with consumers. Many of its columnists, who, after all, get both ego satisfaction and presumably greater impact with a bigger audience, were unhappy being sequestered behind the pay wall.
Although the venerable Times yielding to the advertising-over-consumer payment model seems to add further credence to the “information wants to be free” trend, I have gotten wind of a new venture that aims to succeed as a user payment model for content providers where micropayments has failed. I will supply more details when available.
It's not news to anyone who regularly reads this space that that "if you take out classified ad profits from newspapers, you take out the profit." Those were the words today of Michael Price, Senior Managing Director at private equity firm Evercore Partners, at the Convergence 2.0 conference in New York put on by deal-watching publication The Deal. But he didn't leave it there, and instead talked about what to do – at least for one anomalous newspaper with an audience most publishers would kill for.
Price went on to talk about what his firm would do if they'd bought the Wall Street Journal: "go deep on the Internet" for their passionate, C-level (meaning top executive) audience, giving everything they could want about any of various subjects they're interested in, be it credit markets, insurance, or whatever. He called it an "octopus" strategy. Unfortunately, Price said, newspapers haven't figured out how to "monetize" their good content. Leo Hindery of InterMedia Partners in a keynote Q&A said the New York Times should follow a similar strategy, out-Googling Google by, for example, giving someone searching for news on Alan Greenspan everything they could possibly imagine. Instead, he said, they're putting their newspaper content online, but in a much more fragile ad banner market.
Jeffrey Sine of UBS Securities said that while the Journal is held up as a huge success for subscriptions on the Internet, it "really is not that successful in the larger sense," which I take to mean $70 million (1 million people paying $70 per year) isn't tons of money in this realm. He added on Price's remarks saying the Journal needed to "upsell" folks on their "tiered" interest levels by selling them more on the value chain. Sine said his firm had sold Marketwatch to Dow Jones a few years back (for nearly $500 million, if you remember), which I guess gave him Street cred.
Later, Price said that that Dow Jones and Reuters have been "crushed" by Bloomberg. Another panelist – Dennis Miller of Spark Capital -- pointed out how CNN ended its 27-year relationship with Reuters, probably because Reuters was directly competing by running its material directly, with its own ads. Hindery said the folks at Bloomberg "are not unapprehensive" about their lack of a print partner.