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.
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline
Jeff Jarvis says Google is not the enemy but for many it’s also clearly not a friend. Panelists yesterday at Digital Hollywood’s Advertising 2.0 conference cited $Goog for creating an environment in which consumers expect that information and entertainment will be free, and for confusing the idea of capturing and engaging consumers, getting them involved in a marketing message, brand and the like. “Google is the culprit, they’re not interested in engagement,” said Jonathan Klein, CEO of Getty Images. “You come in, and then go out.”
This, just a couple days after The Wall Street Journal’s article on the Justice Department taking a closer look at Google’s deal with publishers to put books online, in the context of a broader push toward antitrust investigations in the technology industry. Clearly, a portion of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s job is going to be focused on battling Washington, and wooing the advertising and publishing industries. And, of course fending off competition from a host of companies and products like Microsoft’s Bing that are, in the words of Warren Lee, Venture Partner at VC firm Canaan Partners, trying to “out-Google Google.”
For most though, though, Google is simply an “is.” It has to be dealt with and understood. Its analytics are useful for those who want at least an entry-level solution for Web analytics. Its search, and sometimes its ads, and office tools can be used to good effect -- again, especially for those who don’t need large enterprise solutions, or don’t have large staffs to build them. It has a valuable, if not highly diversified, business model, and a model that is not the panacea for media, but rather a component of some media businesses.
Yes, journalism and marketing are converging, sharing the same terms and concepts. Editorial icon Tina Brown, journalist-turned-entrepreneur John Harris of the Politico and Tina Sharkey of BabyCenter were very comfortable at Digital Hollywood’s Advertising 2.0 conference today talking up the value to advertisers of their sites, and their willingness to go well beyond the banner ad to try to integrate advertising in more creative and interesting ways (though Brown and Harris were careful point out that advertising initiatives were labeled as such). “The muscles you use on the editorial side,” help with advertising, Harris said, in helping a message “break through” to the audience. “We see the journalistic and advertising sides as two forces galloping together.”
“There was a time when advertising staff was not allowed to step into the newsroom,” observed moderator Sarah Ellison of The Wall Street Journal. “Obviously we’ve come a very long way from that point.” Brown noted that in the magazine world, as editor of such leading publications as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, she was always comfortable working with the publisher to “create an environment where advertisers want to be.”
But she seemed to take umbrage at the idea of marketers trying to do their own journalism (such as this recent Pepsi-led project for Internet week, for which I was editor in chief). To them, “I would say good luck,” Brown said, defending journalism and saying it takes real skill to practice it, and to edit it. (Assuming, it seemed that those who practice it on behalf of Pepsi are not journalists.) I had asked her how she would convince an advertiser to put ads on her site, if they could go to their target audience directly without her Daily Beast as an interlocutor. Sharkey, who is not and has not been a journalist, acknowledged that it was all a mishmash, very confusing with “marketers as publishers, publishers are marketers, brfands are agencies, agencies are brands ... it’s like ‘Who’s on First.’ “
Steve Outing today pointed me to Journalism Online, a new attempt to charge for journalistic content. The press release makes it seem they’ll be offering readers a way to pay one price and pick from among paid content they want, and publishers a chance to make their efforts available at a price point they choose. Users will be able to pick stories a la carte, or via subscription. The release frequently mentions newspapers, but also says there are talks with magazines.
The release says ads, alone, can’t and never have paid for quality journalism. Maybe not. And we’ll find out if J.O. is right that Americans will pay for journalism because they understand it needs to be supported. I’m not so sure. They will pay for convenience, ease of use, utility and access they wouldn’t otherwise have.
What will make this work, I think, is from the reader side:
if they can get what they want with ease
if the price point is low enough that convenience outweighs the desire to go hunting for the info elsewhere (think iTunes)
If there are enough publications available
if the content is not commoditized or the kinds of stuff available so many other places that it’s easy to find. (I doubt breaking news or big stories available all over the place will make much money.)
... and for publishers:
the ability to make additional incremental revenue from content they couldn’t get on their own.
strong Incentives to cooperate in the project rather than go it alone, as they’re so used to doing
ease of installation and use
flexible pricing -- Journalism Online is promising to let publishers charge their own prices and adjust them.
data, which J.O. is also promising, to allow quick changes in pricing, story mix, etc. (“Journalism Online will provide reports to member publishers on which strategies and tactics are achieving the best results in building circulation revenue while maintaining the traffic necessary to support advertising revenue.”)
assurance their content won’t be pilfered, will be in an environment they can trust in every sense
enough revenue and revenue share that they’ll feel it’s a fair shake, that J.O. isn’t taking too much of a cut.
The below is from Steve Outing, who posits that allowing only paid subscribers to participate fully in a community’s news site can be a component of a valid business model. He may be right. But what about the competing issue of blocking those who haven’t paid from commenting and participating. Do we create a separate class of reader/citizen? Does the paper have an obligation along these lines? Not taking a position. Just asking the question.
A paid subscription also will allow you to interact with the site and its staff, and participate in discussions, daily chats and comment threads; free readers won’t have their voices heard. (I have to say, this is not a bad idea. Many popular newspaper Web sites have comment threads that are out of control and populated largely, it sometimes seems, by idiots who drown out the sane and smart voices. Charging to be part of the conversation is one way to create more rational, intelligent and useful discussions — albeit smaller — between journalists and readers, and readers and other readers.)
Arianna Huffington, along with NYU professor Jay Rosen and others, are causing a buzz today with their announcement of a new HuffFund to support investigative journalism with $1.75 million in contributions from The Huffington Post (HuffPo) and multi-billion-wielding The Atlantic Philanthropies. “This nonprofit Fund will produce a wide-range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers,” HuffPo chief Arianna Huffington writes. She writes, further, that this is an attempt to preserve investigative journalism and the crucial role it plays in democracy “during this transitional period for the media.”
It’s good she puts it that way - that the support is during a transitional period. It’s easy to fear that going hand-out to foundations becomes the way those working in the field come to think of as the natural way of things. Others have laid out some of the dangers: Foundations want control; they have specific missions that may be in conflict with the purity of purpose required of investigative journalism; they can be quasi-governmental, slow-moving and bureaucratic. Yet, one could raise equally challenging views of investigative journalism that’s sponsored by commercial interests. It’s hard to find any really good investigative pieces about real estate in any newspaper, reliant as they are on real estate advertising. It’s easy to find reporters and editors who will tell of pieces being tempered for reasons they believe have to do with the need to not offend a sponsor (a.k.a. funder). The ability to continue great journalistic work has relied largely on the strength of character of those doing that work, and their bosses -- anyone from executives of TV networks to the families that run great newspapers. Today, perhaps, that will include the Arianna Huffingtons, Atlantic Philanthropies and Knight Foundations of the world. (An aside: I haven’t seen much discussion of the Medicis and other benefactors who have facilitated creation of some of the great art of our civilizations. Perhaps there’s an analogy there.)
Within the foundation-supported model, the most powerful news organizations will be one(s) that move toward self-sustainability. Mixed revenue models-- without the need to call on the generosity of benefactors -- are surely the best for a number of reasons I won’t get into deeply here, but include everything from creating offsetting revenue streams that bring in different types of cash flows (advertising, subscription, products, events, etc.) to not relying on any one benefactor, so that even if one or the other revenue stream dries up or drops out the core project(s) can continue. Jeff Jarvis writes that what can make this work is the one-percent rule that works in a “gift economy”: If one percent of consumers will support a project, the project can be sustained, as for NPR and Wikipedia. If the one-percent can, ultimately, sustain the journalism without foundation input or control, great. But it doesn’t have to be a gift economy. I’d argue that the one-percent rule is analogous to marketing -- one percent or fewer of people who see a marketing message will take action that justifies the marketing spend. And in this instance the product, itself, is its own marketing message. There is not a need for a separate marketing budget or PR spend (see Fred Wilson's recent Tweet on Twitter and Etsy getting on CBS TV without PR agencies).
And just as the need for short-term profit should not drive a company to destroy its core businesses, the need for ad revenue should not allow a journalistic enterprise to gut its ventures. The effects of that kind of thinking and acting is evident today. We’ve seen weather and sports and tech news blown out while simple coverage of community school boards and local politicians languishes.
The structure of newspapers has not been born of editorial need or service to the communities that consume them but rather commercial convenience. While separate sections for Local, National, International and Opinion may be driven by news decision and interest, one could equally imagine a newspaper where clearly delineated opinion about any given topic appears next to the relevant news story (much as is done with links and feeds digitally) or in which car news and financial news appears on the same page, rather than in separate ‘auto” and “personal finance” sections that serve advertisers of those types of content. Sections have been created and blossomed in those way to support advertisers in each of those verticals. In re-imagining the news business, let’s also free our thinking, as Rosen has done, from the need to have news be created solely by “professionals,” and also from the need to structure news sections and pages according to preconceived notions of what a reader is interested in.
In a “search economy,” people will find and assemble what they want on their Facebook and DailyMe and Netvibes and Instapaper and whatever other pages according to their interests. Those interests create a powerful profile, and “opt-ins” that give clues as to what those folks might be willing to support through contributions, purchases, ad viewing and more. That can then support the journalism they want and need, and, for those willing to tap it while serving them, make the news self-sustaining.
It was striking at the Media Summit in New York today how definitive the people on the future of advertising panel seemed compared to the more unsettled tone of the one on the future of news. The news people, from Vanity Fair writer and Newser.com co-founder Michael Wolff (“We just don’t know how to fashion our product” for the new market of news consumers) to Michael Oreskes of AP and ex- of The New York Times (he said there’s a debate about whether there’s even such a thing as journalism) to Dick Meyer of NPR ex of CBS News (who quoted Clay Shirky’s recent essay on disruption of the newspaper business and said we "don’t have a clue" what’s next), were all candid about their grasp for a business model, let alone an editorial process and structure that works to produce news and satisfy an audience today. (Related thoughts on the disruption being much further than for news, here.)
Meanwhile, the advertising and marketing panelists sounded like they knew the solution -- engage consumers in a conversation, be part of a discussion, don’t just bombard them with ad messages -- and were convinced they simply have to lead others in the industry (product managers, marketers, media buyers) to think on their scale and not be locked into old methodologies. Bob Jeffrey of JWT said it doesn’t matter how much is spent on a campaign, what matters is how much it can engage an audience. Carl Fremont of Digitas called for more “active listening," then a “proactive, reactive strategy" of messaging back to consumers by joining in conversations they are having (presumably in places like social networks). He said old models of pushing ads at people weren’t going to work, and that there would be more development of social applications that provide real value and get consumers to opt in. The panelists all agreed on convergence, and also seemed to think TV would make a comeback as it became more addressable through digital technologies.
A later conversation I had with IBM researcher Bill Battino, who moderated the ad panel, said that the clients -- the companies buying the advertising -- were often leading the charge, had combined what were formally separate and segmented advertising and marketing budgets into a more unified whole from which they could then address the challenge of reaching audience through a holistic rather than silo’d media view (display ads, here, direct marketing over there...).
Whatever the state of play between clients and agencies, there was general agreement on the need for entering the “conversation” with consumers, rather than hitting them with messages, to get people to engage, to use technologies to know more about audiences, and to be genuine in messages, seemed to get general nods of agreement. One would think the same might hold for news ; after all, what better way to get at what a news consumers want than to ask them and have them contribute? I’m loathe, hesitant to say the advertising people are farther along in understanding the ways out of the current morass more than those producing news. But I can say I’ve seen it happen before, where the advertisers adapt and adopt a technology (behavioral targeting comes to mind) well before it’s talked about as a way of delivering content.
Nathan Richardson, CEO of ContentNext, writes that newspapers, with old thinking, could learn something from Silicon Valley, and their attitude of sharing both ideas and information. Well written, and a little inside peak at when he was at the Wall Street Journal. But one part of it gave me pause:
Finally had a chance to read and consider this piece. Nicely written and reasoned, and even has some smiles. One portion gives me pause:
“Portals should agree to show search results only for the original sources of news content, as opposed to outlets that have repurposed that content.”
That kind of restrictive thinking seems fair at first glance -- after all, shouldn’t the one creating the content be the one who reaps the benefit? -- but it goes against the grain of the way it’s been done not just for the past 10 years of Web journalism, but for the past 40-50 years, with broadcasters and others picking up information, and, if fairly, attributing it to the original source.
Today’s model calls more for incentive than restriction. Perhaps we could allow for some kind of prioritization in the search algorithm for the originator of the content. And some sort of additional revenue to the creator, where there is a shared revenue scheme.
But by highlighting only the creator (which will often mean the large player), Google and the other search engines would be alienating a significant chunk of their constituency, favoring one business over another, and potentially violating tenets of free speech. For example, commentary on a piece of journalism or even pickup of a small portion of it might be fair use, and thus deserve to the be linked to from the search -- and something the searcher would want to see. If the algorithm excludes those results, because they weren’t from the originator of the content, it might be a disservice all around. (Not to mention that the original’s SEO ranking would suffer because of fewer links and accesses to it.)
A final thought: Where would PaidContent be had the system of excluding repurposed content been in place?
At the Digiday Social conference today, Alan Brody of iBreakfast conjectured that we’re moving into a “relationship economy” that’s replacing the current “knowledge economy.” (Made me think of Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage -- his thesis, in a nutshell, that using relationships and “leveraging” their power is now beating the concept of “financial leverage.”) Brody talked of how relationships -- built up over years, with special people who can hire, do favors, etc. -- cannot be outsourced to faceless people overseas, while knowledge work can. He said there are MBAs and college-educated people walking around India and Zimbabwe with every bit of useful knowledge of the people with multiple degrees in the U.S. who used to be able to use that knowledge they’d acquired to make sure they’d “never have to dig a ditch.”
Still, even in a relationship economy, the technology speeds things up, adds leverage, power. Companies like Social Vibe, whose CEO Joe Marchese was also at the conference, have shortened the timeline for creating relationships from years to months. Its passionate users select ads to place on their social network pages (such as on Facebook and MySpace) and then designate charities to receive any funds they earn. Those users are passionate, and feel a tremendous connection -- a relationship, if you will -- with SocialVibe.
Still, unlike a purely transactional commercial relationship, this one, because it runs deeper is more easy for Social Vibe to violate. The company will have to treat their passionate users with extreme care and nurturing. The company, venture-funded, seeking profit, and having arrived at their current model more by accident than by grand plan, must trust its backers to not push for fast cash above all. Marchese assured me in a previous discussion (for the We Media conference), that the backers -- including VCs JAFCO and Redpoint -- won’t subjugate the need to develop and care for users to the need to turn a profit. At We Media conference there seemed something of a consensus that, in fact, by doing social good many now believe profits will be stronger over time.
(Note that both iBreakfast and We Media have been media partners of our show, Naked Media.)
I fell asleep the other night watching Twitter CEO Ev Williams on Charlie Rose (not his fault, I was tired), so am relying on PaidContent’s synopsis of what he said. He was apparently vague on how Twitter plans to make money. Co-founder Biz Stone was less so in a conversation he and I had for the We Media Game Changer awards.
Biz indicated they’re hoping to forego traditional advertising and instead quiz their power corporate users to find out what kinds of services or features they might pay for -- a way, for example, to officially verify that a Twitter account is actually from who it claims to be. From the Game Changer essay (PDF Format):
They plan to start creating revenues this year, moving up from their original plan of 2010, asking businesses like Whole Foods, Jet Blue and Comcast -- who use Twitter feeds to stay in touch with customers -- what new features and services they might pay for. He doesn’t, he says, expect you’ll see traditional Web advertising.
Biz said they don’t know what the services would be but is confident the companies they ask will have ideas that Twitter can then turn into something that will be paid for and help create a sustainable business. He said he wants it to be an easy-to-use tool (not one-off consulting). Another idea he hinted at was helping companies monitor mentions of their names, and turn that into a commercial service.
With Twitter’s open API, though, and thousands of mashups and applications, with more every week, I can’t help but wonder if ideas like what Biz is proposing will already be developed by someone else before Twitter gets to it. What’s to prevent a third party from making a powerful way for companies to scrape and find mentions of their name? Others have already tried to integrate ads. (Twittads is one example.) StockTwits is building a business off the Twitter platform. Dell has sold $1 million of equipment, it says, off its feed. So, if there is a way for Twitter to help Dell double, or quintuple that, sure, there could be a business. But will Twitter, itself, get there first? One of the very things that has made them so powerfully successful, their openness and ability of others to use and re-use the tool, may also be a challenge. On the other hand, pundits at first said Google had to way to make money.
Investors here at the AlwaysOn media conference have been confirming in private discussions and on stage what angel investor David Rose said recently: that their money is having to stretch farther, that others are reluctant to come into the rounds as early.
One venture capital investor also told me he’s seeing “A Series pricing” for B and C rounds, meaning that people investing even later in a company’s life cycle are able to, for their money, get a larger share of the equity. For example, instead of getting 15 percent of the company, they’re able to get a fifth of it, he said.
But in a sign of optimism, another, based in Silicon Valley, said that funds of money that were raised 1-2 years ago are still uninvested, so they will need soon to find something to invest in in the next few months.
Later, on a panel about later-stage venture capital investment, Alan Spoon, Managing General Partner of Polaris Venture Partners, said he was seeing more funds looking to others for liquidity, trying to shore up balance sheets and less interested in such calculations as ROI (return on investment -- which in the financial world is a more specific ratio than often gets thrown around in advertising) and IRR, another ratio that figures out the internal rate of return -- how much a company is supposed to be able to earn from the money it has.
The pressures on the markets are making hedge funds and mutual funds get out of the venture game, the panelists also said, and money is being lent and companies being valued at much lower valuations than before the bust.
A NY Times Op Ed today suggests newspapers should move to a foundation-supported model and become 501(c)3 not-for-profits. Through that model, with its tax advantages, the newspaper business can survive, the authors write.
Their piece starts by quoting Thomas Jefferson, who said he’d prefer a country with newspapers and no government to the inverse. But I don’t know that Jefferson would have anticipated the rise of everything from public radio to the BBC, from Pajamas Media to The Huffington Post to hyper-local news websites. Many people have come to think of newspapers as the catch-alls of community information, with hard news in one section, opinion in another and service in yet other pages. They have been constructed that way, in large part, because of the business model. Advertisers were assured that news would be presented without slant so as to offend no potential customers, while in other sections relevant ads could appear next to relevant content -- food ads next to recipes, electronics in the tech section, car ads near car articles and so on. Of course, the biggest economic decline for newspapers comes from the classifieds, which for newspapers were like printing money.* Today, the newspapers’ cost structures -- everything from huge printing operations to sales staff and organizational hierarchies -- are in place to support such a business model, built up over decades in which their medium had near-monopoly status. Newspaper chains had achieved such levels of profitability that they competed with oil companies for investors' hearts on stock exchanges. Those investors were interested in whopping financial returns rather than any journalism the papers produced, or even seeing that the papers survived.
Yes, as Dave Morgan, Jeff Jarvis, my colleagues on Rebuilding Media, I and others have written, there are ways to use the newspapers’ cost structures to better effect. Sure, there’s a place for the foundation, or at least the not-for-profit contributory model. NPR is one example. The Knight Foundation is experimenting, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, with endowing various news ventures to see what can survive and thrive. In a recent interview conducted for the We Media Game Changer awards, Knight president Alberto Ibarguen said the best measure of success for the funded projects would be whether those in the local communities used them for news and information, correcting himself when I challenged an earlier assertion he made that success would be spelled when mainstream news organizations used the nascent products. That kind of flexible thinking is unusual in the news business, and it came from a man who once ran the Miami Herald.
Just because the newspaper business as practiced isn’t feasible, that doesn’t mean news will die or that there is no model to support it. Many smaller blogs are serving their local communities and covering their costs -- without large staffs or printing presses, and minimal costs for infrastructure, distribution and sales. I’ve been told that certain free dailies, such as my hometown’s amNY, are profitable, even if their operations are taken as a standalone entity. Blogs and free newspapers run on a shoestring are not the only possible for-profit business models, either. News cannot always be expected to make a profit, on its own. Network news shows were, according to books I've read, originally seen as public service loss leaders, attracting viewers to entertainment shows that in turn funded the news programming. The news shows also helped the networks keep in the good graces of the FCC. (TV news shows apparently became profit machines only after producers in the Roone Arledge era showed that TV news magazines, morning shows and their ilk could bring the kinds of sponsor-pleasing audiences that would earn many millions of dollars.) Other news operations are also supported by separate operations. The Advocate, a leading voice of news for and about the gay and lesbian community, is funded at least in part by an entertainment company that produces movies and other fare. The news operations of Thomson Reuters are a fraction of the operational cost and income of the financial information parts of the company. Other news organizations are supported by events, custom or other paid media, syndication and other outlets.
I'm not saying foundation support of the news business is a bad idea, inasmuch as news is a public trust. They could be a healthy part of the mix. The foundation-supported news product could even feed the for-profit ventures, much like News 21 and Pro Publica are trying to do.
I don’t know in what fashion(s) the news business will survive, but I do have a very clear picture of how to make individual news operations work cost-effectively -- whether funded by benefactors, investors' capital or simply readers and ads. The ramp-up to profitability takes awhile but much less time than the five or more years it typically takes in the print world. Everything from GigaOm to PaidContent to Gawker Media to The Poliico, from MarketWatch to some very targeted products I’ve worked on under non-disclosure agreements are run as real businesses. Whatever you think of their journalism, they’re no less reliable, journalistically, than a panoply of so-called mainstream newspapers and tabloids I could cite.
There are for-profit models there, and great journalism can survive. Just maybe not in the newspaper business the way it’s been run.
* Classified ads were almost literally printing money. Every square inch of the page represented income, and profit. That was so much profit per square inch, in fact, that newspapers for years were in the very top in profitability -- up there competing with oil companies for the highest profit margins. And the list continues, with auto ads, real estate ads, coupons and other forms of informational advertising to a highly interested buying public that has been rendered, if not useless, at least much less cost-effective by a much more efficient Web, delivered online or on mobile devices.
Call me a pollyanna, but I’m hopeful. Hopeful that the Web may actually have been a force that’s raising the level of political discourse in America, making us smarter and better at understanding what’s going on. I’m hopeful because before the election I heard people talking, sometimes in Red states (the “real” America, not my beloved Manhattan’s Upper West Side) picking through divisive and unintelligent arguments being made by politicians and the political campaigns.
I do think the American public ultimately gets it right, but that often it’s frighteningly slow to do so (think how long it took for a majority to decide the Iraq war is horribly mismanaged). But I heard an intelligent skepticism from voters this time, examining arguments, asking whether the things being said in political ads were right, wondering whether one candidate’s policies are better for the economy. I also saw a lot of discussion and uptake throughout the Web shooting down personal attacks (William Ayers, Muslim terrorism, etc.). I note that the attempts to Swift Boat the now president elect didn't take hold.
It was a real, intelligent level of discourse that makes me happy to hear. Sure, the economy is in crisis, and the mainstream media is telling us what’s wrong in Iraq and elsewhere. But the more intricate unweaving is going on online, not only in blog discourse but in the ability, for example, of many people who wouldn’t have seen Palin or Biden or McCain or Obama speeches and interviews to see them, rewind, look at them at their leisure, to observe charts and graphs comparing policies and opinions, expert and not, to watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report at our leisure and decide what to or not to laugh about or examine further. To, crucially, watch the Katie Couric, Sarah Palin interview segments and compare them with the Tina Fey impressions. We didn’t have to rely on reports of what Palin said, but instead after hearing about it (perhaps in the mainstream) could go see it and decide for ourselves as never before.
Neil Postman might have thought we were prone to nothing but amusing ourselves to death with our media, but maybe the kind of media we have now (and that the new White House might help us employ) is helping us to think about whether we want change and what that change really means.
Finally, a term for what happens in the real MediaVerse: The Pinball Effect. That’s what Nielsen CMO John Burbank used to talk about the way online and TV interrelate to spur consumption of the other. His example: The Katie Couric-Sarah Palin intterview gets six million viewers. That’s cut into clips, each of which is viewed three million times. Viewership of Saturday Night LIve (with their parody of the interview) spikes to 9.5 million viewers and 25 million people watch the skits on the Web and THEN a record 70 million people on 11 TV networks watch the vice presidential debate. That, Burbank said at the Media and Money Conference that concluded today in New York is how audiences build over time due to the effect, on “word of mouth.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone’s making money on it, a point Burbank also raised.
Oddly, though, he said there has been “little impact” of citizen journalism, no breakout viral video clips from a cellphone, despite the many opportunities of Joe Biden speaking many places every day. (I might counter that there’s a lot of influential blog and Twitter discussion, and that any Swift Boating might occur online, especially via email. Video is not the only place to look for influence. Not to mention Obama’s in-game ads.)
I heard Jeff Jarvis on the radio this week say he wanted someone to, in easy link-and-click fashion, explain what’s going on, what the current financial crisis is about. And I suppose he's right (while hoping he’s wrong) that that easy click and see doesn’t exist. (He did on his site say he likes this explanation.)
And, in so complaining, he put his finger on a major problem with journalism as it’s practiced. Amid all the tit-for-tat accusations, running around trying to dig up, follow the latest, get the scoops, journalists too often forget to explain to those who desperately want it what the story at its deepest levels is really about -- which also would serve to tell the reading/listening/viewing public why they should care. That kind of depth, of course, doesn’t get the quick pageviews, nor is it the kind of investigative journalism that tends to win Pulitzers and other prizes. In a business sense, it’s not the kind of journalism that will pay for the resources it takes create it. But it is a big public service that can accrue pageviews (on pages carrying ads) over time. And there are ways to “monetize” it beyond the pageview-ad formulation. (partnerships, re-branding, syndication, books, new sections ... that would be another blog post.)
Not that it’s easy to explain something like this crisis. A lot of people tasked with explaining what’s going on probably themselves don’t understand, and good journalists are trained not to let their grasp exceed their reach. Heck, some of the smartest professors I had in business school seem at a loss to completely explain what’s happening in the economy right now. (One wrote an email about the opposing views of who’s to blame, without answering a question I asked about whether models he taught us projecting increased value as debt is taken on were still valid, or formulations for calculating risk should be changed). And, the ones who can explain it all to us -- smart MBAs who do financial modeling -- are, after all, ones who helped get us into this, with the very financial models they created or followed. They’re likely to earn a lot more than the ink- and pixel-stained wretches working in newsrooms. Then, again, there’s a few of those folk who have a bit of free time at the moment. Maybe they could write a little something for the papers, even help come up with some graphics and videos to explain it all.
Even without the business justifications, though, the explanation would be worthwhile and a public service.
Earlier, I saw the AP having trouble if a group of Ohio papers didn't use it. Now, Jay Rosen points us to to a Wired pickup that links to this story from the MinnPost about Minneapolis Star Tribune sending the AP the requisite two-year notice that it intends to cancel. This after five other papers did so. Now, this doesn't mean that the Strib will necessarily drop AP. Sending notice ahead of a deadline is a common tactic. In fact, some lawyers routinely send out cancellation notices as a matter of course, to they can cancel in the event they do actually wish to cancel. And, Rosen also notes, The Spokesman Review is challenging the two-year cancellation notice requirement.
Nevertheless, it has for decades been a "given" that a U.S. newspaper would take the AP as a core component or important supplement of its news coverage. The MinnPost writer, David Brauer, talks of the damage to the area's news gathering if the AP loses the Star Tribune's participation (and fees). But he also notes that papers could use that money to pay for more of their own reporting:
If AP gets less cash and copy from the Strib and cuts its local presence, Minnesota’s news ecosystem could take a big hit. The wire service’s copy fleshes out local papers big and small; a diminished AP weakens a key line of defense for cash-strapped newsrooms.
Then again, non-metro editors around the nation were among the first to give AP notice; most said they’d rather save the coin for their own staffers (even as their publishers were thinking cash flow)
A Newsweek editor once quipped in an editorial meeting that "if we have two examples, it's a trend, three, a cover story." Well, now we have at least a half-dozen.
... That's what Google Trends says. Like I've said, sometimes when you're poking around for other work, you find curious stats. Like, today, if you search "NYTimes.com" in Google Trends, it shows that more visits come from California than New York.
Sure, Alex Rodriguez is a star, and it's a big deal in advertising and entertainment circles that he's signed with a given talent agency. But why exactly is this worth interrupting us on Monday evening (I'm signed up for general Wall Street Journal alerts, not every last smidgeon of entertainment or sports news).
WSJ.com Editors to DORIAN
show details 7:40 PM (1 hour ago)
from The Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2008
New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez has signed on with the William Morris Agency. William Morris, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based talent representation company, has a client list that includes some of the biggest names in entertainment, sports and the corporate world. For Mr. Rodriguez, the move marks the latest turn in his relationship with Scott Boras, one of baseball's most successful and controversial agents. Mr. Boras, who has represented Mr. Rodriguez throughout his career, said he will continue to represent Mr. Rodriguez in any baseball-related negotiations.
Mediabistro blog FishbowlNY’s swipe at the valuation of Rafat Ali’s ContentNext, sold for a reported $30 million (including an earn-out over time based on performance) to the Guardian Media Group, smells at least a little bit of tit-for-tat over something Rafat wrote after mediabistro’s sale to Jupiter Media. Fishbowl says Content Next revenues in 2007 were $3 million, which it calls a “10+” valuation (I think they mean 10x), and ignores a few factors. Just as people during the mediabistro sale for $20 million plus a $3 million earn-out over two years quoted its revenues of a year earlier and ignored the 30-40 percent yearly growth as well as the inherent value of some of mediabistro’s assets (such as its list of more than 700,000 registered users, more than 10,000 of whom were paying members).
But even if CN’s valuation is lower than FishbowlNY is saying (they should, I think, subtract the earn-out to get a base value for the deal, which may be lower than $30 million) there are many reasons for it be high. One, as HighBeam and Newser.com CEO Patrick Spain noted to me on the phone yesterday, is the value of the core ContentNext audience -- media executives, decision makers with budgetary control. It also has a budding and growing group of conferences for which attendees pay hundreds of dollars admission to see even higher-profile execs speak (Murdoch, Cavuto...), a strong list of email recipients, high-profile business and financial advertisers it has cultivated and maintained for years, successful media properties in the U.S., U.K. and India (India!), a growing research component, and ContentNext Dex, a listing of media-tech stocks it has created and which serves as a technological bit of value. The participation of high-profile investor Alan Patricof, former WSJ.com GM Nathan Richardson as CEO, and, of course, editorial co-chief Staci Kramer, as well as a cadre of strong, international journalists who’ve stuck with the company for years, and a growing and successful sales team all adds up to value as well. The Guardian group, I’d say, bought the management as much as the company’s book assets, and I’d wager that the earn-out is larger than mb’s. Add, too, the U.K.-based Guardian group’s professed desire to go more international, the synergies with its other properties, the fact that it is a trust able to think and act more long-term than a typical public company, and there’s a lot of value to be wrung from its purchase of ContentNext beyond a typical times-revenue or even more cumbersome financial calculations, such as WACC. (I doubt there’s much if any debt on the CN’s books, and also doubt that capital structure played much of a role in the decision to buy it.)
I love mediabistro, where I’m proud to have serves as editorial director before the sale, and ContentNext, where I’ve helped in a couple different ways, and for the record my analysis here of both properties is from publicly available reports and discloses no private details. Mediabistro’s audience of media professionals is and was, like CN’s, worth a lot more than an average consumer audience. Rafat duly noted in his interview with Kara Swisher after his company’s sale that it does cost quite a penny to produce their brand of journalism: “We’re a news media business on the Internet, but we’re not a consumer Internet company. We will never be.”
While it’s impressive that he got $30 million for the company so soon after Patricof invested, and in the midst of looking for a second round of funding, one eyebrow raiser from the Swisher interview is the speed with which the deal took place: “It all came to be in three weeks,” Rafat says, something he repeats on ScribeMedia.org, which is, full disclosure, a partner in Naked Media.
For the upcoming episode of Naked Media, I’ll be speaking with Patrick Spain and Michael Wolff, co-founders of Newser.com. Preparing one of the “fun” segments of the show, we went out on the street this morning and asked about a dozen people of all ilks where they get their news. Once again (as with our segment on Twitter), I’m reminded that we in the biz need to remind ourselves that “normal” people don’t focus on a lot of the things that obsess us. A number of folks who looked to be in their twenties and thirties said they didn’t bother with the Internet, and instead go for free newspapers or TV. Or perhaps check NYTimes.com and nothing else. Most didn’t know, whether they were looking at the Web or TV, what “brand” of news they were consuming, though some did refer to a specific TV channel by number (‘I watch channel 5”) or just “my email” or “The Internet” or, perhaps, “AOL.” No one in our non-car culture here in New York mentioned radio.
No one talked about the “experience” and only one guy (a ringer from Scribe Media who was happening by) talked about RSS feeds or doing any personalized aggregation, or using any new technologies. None seemed terribly able to say why they watched one channel or Web site over another. It all seemed rather random and haphazard, that folks just happened upon a channel, whether TV or Web, and stuck with whatever they were fed. Few expressed a strong preference for any news or information brand.
You can write and shoot and brand and produce your heart out. But whether your stuff gets seen might all come down to whether your bizdev folk got the headline on the AOL or Yahoo homepages.
In spite of all the new ability to measure. digital media also present new challenges in figuring out what works. This thought gelled for me during a Naked Media discussion with Erin Byrne and Ben Ezrick, both leading digital strategists, he for Ogilvy, she for Burson-Marsteller. We watched the Bronze Lion-winning but fake JC Penney ad that has finally been removed from YouTube after getting hundreds of thousands of views. The commercial was since withdrawn from the awards, apparently.
The video shows two teenagers "Speed Dressing," timing themselves as they put on their clothes after undressing to "get away with it" in the girl's basement -- a message a Penney marketing manager has said the company would never condone. But the company has also gotten a lot of notice for the ad, which, as The Wall Street Journalpoints out , may curry favor with more urban teens, especially on the coasts. So, for a mass brand like Penney, they condemn the ad. But they, perhaps, reap the benefits of the branding in a measurable way -- hundreds of thousand saw the video before it was pulled, and it's now available on other sites. Ezrick, in the Naked Media segment, points out that neither Penney nor its ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, have yet completely explained how the ad got to be entered in the Cannes awards contest, nor exactly how people affiliated with them were involved in producing the video.
Both Ezrick and Byrne point out that Penney can't have it both ways: If they genuinely don't condone the video, they need to investigate and reveal how it came to be to the best of their knowledge. If they had something to do with it, they must say so, and, if need be, apologize honestly for any discomfort or harm they may have caused. But what they can't do is reap the benefits of the video going viral and also be upset while they gain brand awareness. You also can't, in a digital age, segment audiences as you could in a previous era, showing one ad to the coasts, say, and another to "Middle America." Perhaps digital media means everything is outed, eventually. And that means we have to be more honest, or at least more consistent.
My colleagues will forgive me for going a little off-topic (unless one thinks in the larger sense):
George Carlin is one of my heroes. Not for the routine that made him most famous -- the seven (later 10) dirty words you can’t say on TV -- but for so much of his work that, while making us laugh, also made us look at ourselves and was really social criticism: his poem about his hair and its length (“wear it to there or to there or to there if you dare!”) and the goofy news guy (“In Baltimore it’s 6:43, now for the 11 o’clock report!) making fun of the supercilious seriousness with which so many newscasters intoned to us, decades before The Daily Show.
Comedy is one of the few ways (along with music) in the U.S. to do social criticism and gain mass appeal, fame and fortune, and sneak it under the radar. Early on, and a little bit still, I did comedy, and may do more of it. I can well appreciate the courage Carlin had, the the strength of will and energy. It's bad enough to be standing in front of a hostile audience that doesn't give a damn and is ignoring you through a drunken haze at 2 a.m., or working to fill the pockets of a sleazy club owner who pays you $15 and a drink, if that. But to stand up by yourself on stage in those conditions night after night for years, and build up an audience, and then continue to take risks, not play it safe, get arrested as Carlin was but be unrepentant. Carlin finally got the attention of the establishment, including Congress, for his list of dirty words. I have to think he knew what he was doing, that he knew he wouldn't be sneaking under the radar with those. I noticed in the NPR obit quoting Carlin today that when asked his regrets, he mentions his and his wife's drug use, not because of any edict or strictures, but because of how he felt it harmed his daughter.
My wife gave me a box set of Carlin CDs as a present a few years back, and while I seldom listen, I do cherish them. I'm not a big collector of DVDs or books or spoken CDs -- who has all that shelf space, and how many would you really want to read or watch or listen to more than once or twice? But Carlin's work is an oeuvre that to me goes far beyond comedic laughs. I saw Carlin live, once, at a circle theater in the New York area, and marveled at his mastery, his timing, physical prowess, voice control, microphone technique. A video of a 2003 HBO special under the writer credit says: George Carlin. Not only was he a master performer with impeccable skills, but he also wrote his own stuff. I don't know if others ever wrote for Carlin, but I do know that a great number of top comedians, especially later on in a career, will have others contribute a lot.
Words. Carlin believed in them, in their power, forever playing around with meaning and hidden meaning, while slipping in the social critique. (One of his chosen oxymorons: Military Intelligence.) Today, I admire Carlin's seven dirty words routine more than I did when it first gained fame. I see it for the boundary pushing bit it was, following in the footsteps of Lenny Bruce before him. And society in some ways has caught up to the man who was visionary in his own goofy ways: there are plenty of farts on TV now (watch the routine posted on Silicon Alley Insider, to see what I mean), and Jon Stewart says a barely bleeped "shit" on his show about every 5 minutes. (Granted, it's cable, but that means it's in, what, 85 percent of American homes?)
I was told today by a well-known comedian and satirist that Carlin last year at a show seemed old and tired, not on his game. I've seen a news report that he was performing to get out of tax debt. Both may be true. But neither can remove the wealth of humor and wisdom he left us.
A few weeks back the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on "On the Media" talked about how newspapers in Ohio were reaping great benefits trading material, and linking and cross linking. More importantly, she said she was no longer reliant on The Associated Press for her stories from the region but instead was getting the original versions direct from the other sources around the state rather than paying “a big chunk” of her budget, about $1 million for rewritten AP stories. Picking up directly, on the Web, and putting other papers’ stories directly in the newspaper was also better quality, she said, and readers were noticing:
“I mean, we've always had access to news from all over the state. It was just, you know, it went through the AP mill. I frankly think we're getting better, more distinctively written stories because they're not going through the AP mill.”
If local papers skip the AP, that means the core constituency is in revolt. That will potentially be more corrosive than the fight with the blogosphere over fair use. "As long as there are are two papers to trade articles, the AP will exist," one rake at the wire service -- where I worked for seven years on the international desk and as a foreign correspondent -- quipped to me once. But what if the members form their own cooperatives and cut out the AP as middleman?
I’m not saying this will happen immediately. AP, whose core business is the not-for-profit cooperative dues of member newspapers, has offered to cut its rates starting next year. Newspapers, despite ad and circulation declines for decades, have been notoriously slow moving, and many will be reluctant to pick up content from papers they might think of as competitors; the AP has given them the cover they sought to do so less blatantly. But the economic pressures are only increasing as revenues and readership decline more precipitously, and any success in Ohio could be the thin edge of a wedge. “We've set up this little cooperative,” said the Plain Dealer editor, Susan Goldberg. “I don't know how it'll work in the future, but right now it's working really well.”
Add to that AP’s deal to have its direct results placed higher in Google than member papers, further pissing them off, and newspapers will look harder at the Ohio example. We're talking months or perhaps years, certainly not decades. The example could spread nationally or internationally.
CEO Tom Curley has been leading the AP into a future in which an increasing share of its revenues comes from sources other than member dues, such as direct photo revenues, Web content services and broadcast fees. But the transformation may not be fast enough. AP doesn't have the luxury of Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters in which news gathering can be supported by financial terminals that really bring in the bucks.
AP should own the Web. It has its roots in the trading and sharing of information. It gets a significant chunk of revenue from providing the backbone through which others pass content. It coded and tagged and parsed content with everything from category codes to prioritization markings, and ways to match text and photos decades before those practices became fashionable for everyone. But culture and old habits are very hard to change, and I fear for the company's viability hope it can work out a more creative win-win solution for all.
= = = = =
Spend almost any time with people in the mobile (meaning mobile phone) content, advertising or applications industry, and you’ll surely hear something about how the cell phone carriers are making life more difficult for them. At the Mobile Marketing Forum in New York today:
Rene Rodriguez of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.: “We still often don’t even know who our users are ... Targeting our users in arena, our fans, and I have no access to that information” because the carriers refuse to share it.
Gene Keenan, VP, Mobile Strategies, Isobar (ad agency holding company): “In some instances we can’t target as well on the mobile phone as online [because demographic information such as age] is held pretty closely” by the carriers. And, he says, he isn’t allowed to give content away, even though many brands want to, as part of a marketing or branding campaign.
Tom Daly, Group Manager, Strategy & Planning, Global Interactive Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company: Carriers are making it tough to bring content to consumers for free (because they see it as competition to premium content. “We created 20,000 songs, 15,000 artists in Europe ... We created a great platform for everybody ... You share it with us, we’ll share with the world. The artist wins, the consumer wins. We hope some of that love wears off on Coca Cola.” But it’s not easily done.
And on and on, like at a recent iBreakfast where Randy Haldeman of Apptera says that mobile so far is about 99% spam free, because the carriers block it, but they’re responsible for whatever spam there is.
The arguments I’ve heard in favor of the carriers are:
*They can’t just enable everything on their networks, make it an Internet-like free-for-all, because they need to protect the golden goose: voice communication. They can’t let a bazillion people sending rich ads and video and pictures clog or freeze the network and endanger their biggest most important task. They’ve invested a lot to build their networks, which are not government-initiated with multiple agnostic redundancies, as is/was the Internet, and also have to recoup that investment.
* When I said content creators are complaining about the amount carriers charge for their content, one carrier exec said to me that there is no real reason content makers should be able to charge for the same content multiple times on different platforms. Not sure I understand the argument, but it is what he said.
Regardless of the arguments, though, the tide is, I think, turning away from the restrictive nature of carriers, their locked phones and their plans. Not only is Google Android coming, which will create open standards for cellphones on new network bandwidth (if I understand correctly), but the Supreme Court has allowed a case to go through that will challenge restrictions on unlocking phones. Add all the voices of the Mobile Marketing Association and friends, and you’ve got quite a clamor for more openness and fewer restrictions. Government policy here in the U.S. allowed cellphone networks to develop as competitive fiefdoms, rather than a blanket network with a single standard, and we’re paying the price for that today, with all the restrictiveness, confusion (quick, tell me the rules of your mobile plan, in detail), plethora of mismatched services and devices, and the U.S. lag in many ways behind other countries.
There's a discussion on a listserv (remember those?) some of us here are on as well as some Internet discussion about Microsoft leader Steve Ballmer's remarks that paper media will go away in 10 years. Only he doesn't say that, exactly. He says it's immaterial whether it's 8 or 10 or 14 years. The exact timing isn't his point.
He also doesn't literally mean, I would guess, that all ink on paper production will cease in toto, full stop. Horse and buggy still exists, as do books made by hand, despite the invention of the press and moveable type. But his point in a larger strategic sense is, I think, well-founded. That the lion's share of media -- media that matters in a larger, societal and business sense -- will be delivered over an IP network, at least in the industrialized world. Who can refute that, honestly? Newsprint and fuel costs rise, we're choking on garbage and need to recycle, our forests are becoming denuded. Meanwhile, the technology of the next next next generation Kindle and Sony reader and iPhone and e-paper and tablet computer will all be better better better, and eventually get good enough that people will be comfortable opening their flexible, reaable (and listenable and watchable and networked) thin, bendable screen (or goggles or mini-projector or who-all knows what?) as they do a newspaper or book today.
People love books and magazines and newspapers not because they're ink on paper, but because they're right now the best technology around: quick, easy, never need rebooting, easy to fold, put in a bag, read in nearly all conditions, don't need power, etc, etc. If the IP device technology approaches those attributes, it will be immaterial on what surface people read, and the cost- and other pressures I mention above will move folks to digital (or IP, if you prefer).
Sure, some glossy magazines will still give a "luxury" experience that won't be well-approximated by the screens. And some may get news on paper -- those at the bottom rung who can't afford digital or at the very top who CAN afford good paper -- but the mass will probably be digital. So, yes you'd win the bet if you said there will be print around in 10 years. But if it's 14 or more, you might lose if you say it will have primacy above digital.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter, recently. (Twitter, in case you’re not in the thumbs-of-steel set, is a technology that allows people to send short bursts of text under a unique logon about anything they want.) Sometimes, it’s journalism -- an executive just said “this!” Other times, it’s banal musings about what someone -- even journalists from The New York Times -- are doing with their day: laundry, eating dinner, riding a bus.
A commenter on this blog poo-pooh’d Twitter, saying the audience was miniscule compared to blogs. Others have said Twitter won’t be around in a few years because there's no business model. I don’t think it matters if Twitter, itself, survives, what the business model is. What Twitter represents, though, will survive. There’s an information cloud forming. What if in the stadium when the Pope was talking, if you could have a few hundred or a few thousand people Twittering their observations on what was happening, and then somehow assemble them into a cohesive whole. You could get a more meaningful and perhaps more accurate read of what the crowd felt or the “mood” than any single journalist could provide, whether with camera, microphone or by writing.
In the earlier post, I suggested that If you’re going to Twitter for the benefit of others, you should do it intelligently, consider Twitter a medium, figure out how to do it intelligently, not waste their time. But maybe that’s not necessary. Blogs have lots of good information and tons of drek. The good comes through. As this cloud of micro-bursts of information forms, and more people link to and reply to the other bursts, ways to sort and sift and retrieve will -- I hope -- form. Useful information will start to coalesce around a whole. Artificial intelligence will -- again, I hope -- get better, good enough to sort and sift for me, and keep me from having to go through it all myself (but still allow me to do so when I want to spend a serendipitous 20 minutes or so).
There’s not only Twitter, but all the offshoots of Twitter or things that interrelate to it and all other kinds of information feeds -- FriendFeed, and Twirhl and Twitpic and Tumblr and Twitterfeed and more I’m forgetting -- all applications that let you decide what to read from whom and assemble them in one place and perhaps intercorrelate them, distribute or aggregate them as you wish.
In one way or another this all will survive, and inform how we relate and interrelate and handle information and relationships with each other, and commerce and information.
Shelly Palmer asks at JackMyers.com today how one can make money from content in a copyright free zone like China. He’s in Shenzen, the town that’s literally a subway ride a way from Hong Kong, and has gone from a pig- and farm town with dirt streets to a bustling metropolis in less than two decades. (I saw the tail end of the pig days. If you think New York changes quickly and has constant construction, you ain’t seen nothing; the changes are stunning.)
Here’s an answer: The content becomes an upsell for something else. Hard to justify making millions of dollars of material as a marketing play, but it’s done very successfully in multiple venues. Bloomberg, for example, almost gives away its news product -- and did, literally do so for years -- to help sell its proprietary stock and bond market terminals and information. Reuters, now part of Thomson, also gets a minority of its budget from news, which it sells on its own but also feed its proprietary terminals. For mediabistro.com, the editorial product gets paid membership and attracts ads, but it also helps attract users to the big kahunas: jobs and classes.
What, though, if you produce entertainment, TV shows or movies and the like? How can you make money from a drama that’s cost millions to make, and you want to sell, if everyone gets illicit digital copies? That’s a tougher one to answer. Perhaps, if ads are embedded, the ads are paid for even if the program is copied and distributed free. If you give the programming away, or make it tremendously cheap, the counterfeiters can’t outsell you. You can take a brand you’ve created and launch ancillary “products,” as Disney’s done with the Miley Cyrus concert tours (no way to counterfeit a live concert). Add enough value to a the paid experience through a controlled distribution channel that people will want to pay for those additions.
CBS buying CNET might make sense financially and the chart they released (see bottom of post) showing the various properties makes a good case for "synergies" of adding unduplicated audience in various verticals. CBS Chief Les Moonves, in PaidContent interview, makes a good case for the assets and how they all fit.
It's the operational part -- integrating the two -- that will be a challenge. Very different cultures, even if CNET is one of the more traditional-style companies in its space.
What do you think are/should be the rules of Twitter journalism?
A few folks have been using Twitter as a kind of live-blogging mechanism, so folks following a Twitter feed can read what a reporter has to say about an event or news scene as he/she types it in a handheld device. That can be perfectly valid, but it’s important -- as with any medium -- to consider the audience, and how they’re likely consuming what’s being provided.
A lot of the Twittering I’ve seen reads as if you have to be at the event to understand what was said -- you have to be so much an insider that you’re already on the inside. If that’s the case, what’s the point? To be pedantic about it, some questions:
Do your readers need more information? Should you give a full name of whom you’re talking about?
Shouldn’t you say specifics rather than just allude?
Can you sum up, or should you quote?
Yes, it’s only 140 characters, but as Mark Twain might have said: I wrote a full article because I didn’t have time to Twitter. Writing intelligently in 140-character bursts is a hard thing to do.
I’ve said (and perhaps blogged — who can remember) that while I find Twittering for its own sake inane, from a societal perspective utility will come when enough people Tweet that a cloud is created to monitor the zeitgeist. So, let’s say a few hundred, or thousand, people give their thoughts on the Pope from inside his talk at Yankee Stadium. Or a bunch of people from a disaster zone (this is not them asking for help — which is also valid — but rather getting an idea of the general tenor of a situation): panicked; need help; all’s fine; more food. And so on. Amalgamate them and we can start to get a sense of what folks think or feel, at least feel enough to Tweet.
Today, BuzzMachine pointed to Twisorti, which parses for emotive words like “love” or “believe” or “wish”. It’s a start of the kinds of intelligence that will become the semantic Web. Imagine if the application were smart enough to not only search for specific words, but look at Tweets in general, and see what trends and thoughts are emerging, in general. Cross-reference that with search or SMS messages … well, you get it; it becomes a read on “society” — or at least the society that’s using the technology. (And of course, if we want to put our marketing hats on, a way for brands to monitor messages, at some point.) Even better is if and when the cloud can include not just Tweets, but all the bursts from everywhere. Like, whatever becomes the main competitor to Twitter. (Because, as we noted earlier, Twitter has a problem that may hinder its survival.)
There’s been a debate on a Poynter Institute journalism discussion group about how to increase pageviews, bring in new traffic to news websites, to increase ad views, when newspapers are struggling to bring in digital revenues, and that inventory is topping out. My friend and mentor Vin Crosbie points out how numbers from the Newspaper Association of America show that even for the best of the best newspapers, users are coming only an average of once per week, and spending only five minutes per session. Newspapers, he says, are general interest publications.
Meanwhile, another participant, Amy Gahran, has asked why newspaper execs are limiting their vision to commoditized pageviews on websites. Shouldn’t they be thinking more about how to add ad revenues to feeds, mobile distribution, RSS, widgets and the like?
And I’ll add a third thought: Newspapers aren’t really a single general-interest publication, but rather -- in a digital age -- an amalgam of targeted niches. Sure, in print, it’s one branded publication that you hold in your hands and flip through as you’re interested. But on the Web, it’s a local sports “vertical,” a local business “vertical” and so on. While the general interest local news areas of the site will probably remain commoditized, the more targeted areas with a high interest and usership should be sold separately and at a higher CPM. If the frequency is as low as Vin says, that can be made a strength, by asking advertisers to understand they’re buying engaged targeted readership, not frequency or reach.
Similarly, AP announced its test of a mobile initiative to give more content and ad outlets for digital distribution. . That should make some folks in that discussion happy.
Former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz’ inaugural commentary for the paper today repeats a fair amount of what he told the Chicago School of Business last month : that James Rothschild was annoyed over how the telegraph leveled the information playing field (and that we tend to overestimate technology’s effect in the short-run, and underestimate it long-run. (Witness the initial hype over the Web at first, and how it’s now part of daily life with little fanfare.)
But a lot of what he said at the CSB speech -- a thoughtful analysis of today’s media landscape -- wasn’t in the column and bears repeating. One crucial point he made was that B2B information applications now often lag behind consumer ones. Consumer-focused products tend to have better interfaces and applications than the high-priced business and financial services ones. He calls this a “real challenge for the B2B industry, which has so far been less affected by the digital age than B2C.”
“Much of the innovation is based on the broad consumer market,” B2C rather than the B2B market, he says. This is a see change. It’s been a given that people pay handsomely for business-oriented information, and get real value from it. But Crovitz notes that financial professionals with high-priced terminals at their desks today will often turned to Yahoo Finance. This movement has big implications for B2B information providers.
Other points he makes:
* Subscription plus ad revenue “works very well” as a revenue model. (In other words, the WSJ is smart to have subscriptions and ads; new owners News Corp., of course, considered doing away with them.
* Software and information are more powerful together than separate. “Information and software are more closely linked and mutually dependent than ever before. Changes in each affect the other. “The great changes in computing power” have shifted the information industry, changes in information have affected software..
* Neither content nor distribution is king: the consumer is.
At the Brian Storm (of MediaStorm.org) Hearst Foundation New Media Lecture at Columbia J. school. Brian talks about the fallacy of objectivity, or at leas the fallacy of being unwilling to be an advocate, pointing to Darfur, and that it was extremely hard to produce a piece for the non-advocacy Council on Foreign Relations about what’s happening there. “I think Bashir is a bad person,” and should go, he says of the Sudanese leader.
“If you’re a journalist and you don’t have an agenda, you don’t have a pulse,” Brian says much later. Sometimes you have to push hard to get [an audience] to give a shit on the things they should care about,” whether its the Sudan, Rwanda, post-Katrina New Orleans or danger to elephants.
Fascinating to hear him toe this line, which must be anathema to many in these hallowed journalistic halls. Brian notes how when working at MSNBC he was not allowed, for example, to put music in documentary work -- something he does regularly now (and a question about which sparked the discussion).
“Ethics, I do have them,” he says, implicitly arguing that advocacy is actually a more ethical position.
Objectivity, I would argue, is damn near impossible. Where you point the camera, even how you frame the shot, let alone the quotes you choose or the point you make when writing, or what-not, are all choices. With a genuflection to Nanda Kumar of Baruch College (where I just guest lectured in his class) I ask: Is Google an objective search engine? No. Choices are made in how to write its algorithm.
Fairness is possible, and disclosure of ones’ biases helps achieve that aim. But objectivity? Ever seen Rashomon?
Time Inc’s attempt to launch MagHound, a “Netflix of magazines,” in September is a great idea, and on the face of it something that should succeed. What’s better than getting to choose the magazines you want every month, rather than being stuck with multiple subscriptions to mags that will sometimes be dogs, and sometimes have a story or two you’re really interested in? (I know I’m not the only one who’s subscribed to a magazine after figuring that it’s cheaper than buying three copies at the newsstand. I know I’m also not the only one who’ll forego subscriptions to avoid not having the 8 or 10 “dog” issues of a monthly pile up.) I have in the past tried to get friends to participate in a "magazine trading" circle, where we all subscribe to 1 or 2 mags, then swap and share, but it never worked.
So, on the surface, it seems a great idea to charge $4.95 for three on up to $9.95 for seven magazines per month. But there are a few of reasons MagHound won’t work upon launch -- and they have largely to do with how this isn’t like Netflix:
* MagHound won’t have all the most desirable magazines. At least one major publishing house hasn’t signed up, nor have a few of the lesser that nevertheless have desirable titles.
* Unlike Netflix, fulfillment won’t be in 1 or 2 days. It’s more likely weeks. And even longer when fulfillment is from a house other than Time. One reason to subscribe to something like this is because, say, you hear about a hot story in Vanity Fair or Foreign Policy, and you want to get the mag shipped to you pronto to read it. But those magazines may not be available, and the won’t get there while you still remember why you wanted them.
* For Time, it’s not as winning a model as for Netflix, because it doesn’t buy the magazine once and then get to use it time and again for the price of two stamps, plus logistics and handling. Plus, postage for a magazine is horribly expensive compared to the sublimely engineered DVD packages Netflix devised.
If people wanted digital editions or a Web site, mobile edition, whatever-- which Time might consider offering at a discount, or they would offer some other digital access -- for an all-you-can-eat price, it might make more sense. (Oh, wait, that was called AOL.) Or if print-on-demand could be handled on a mass-customization level, where magazines were printed and bound quickly (and I mean like TODAY) as they’re ordered... but helas.
In theory, I love the concept. Get any magazine I want, for one subscription price. I’d of course prefer even more to get whatever I want at the Chris Anderson price of “$0”. Or at least the immediate gratification of click and BLAM, it’s here. (Even Amazon doesn’t take a week.) I hope MagHound refines its model before September and gets closer to what people really want in 2008.
NPR’s On the Media in its show before the most recent episode brought up the issue of paying sources and brought back some poignant thoughts about whether and why sources should or shouldn’t be paid. Sure, there are all the usual arguments about polluting the system, encouraging untruths, and starting a slippery slope of checkbook journalism. But, “I've always just questioned that taboo on talking about money,” says guest Robert Boynton, an NYU journalism professor.
I’ve been asked more than once, “Why should I help you?” Some folks I’ve interviewed have even pointed out that I’m being paid to report, that the organization I’m working for (whether a newspaper or TV show) is money-making, even for profit, and so why should we reporters feel sanguine about asking or requiring that the grist for our work be provided for free? It’s a hard question to answer, when you can’t say “for publicity that will help your business,” or if someone isn’t buying the argument that getting the word out may help others in other situations or that simply getting it off their chest will be liberating.
In Japan, it’s common to pay sources, especially when they’re experts -- and, yes, they also get the advantage of publicity. There is, in giving over a token amount of cash, a display of gratitude, and acknowledgement that value has been given. I had one uncomfortable interview in Tokyo while working for Newsweek, when an expert in the construction and maintenance of the Bullet Train gave me some inside information about troubles the line had had in its earlier days. I wondered why he was telling me such info so frankly. At the end, he expected -- as he had come to expect from journalists -- a gratuity, and it was left to a Japanese co-worker to explain to him, with both in considerable discomfort, that American organizations didn’t do that. I was uncomfortable, too.
As OTM co-host Bob Garfield and guest Robert Boynton point out in the radio piece, even when no money is exchanged there is a currency of those who give their time and information in exchange for exposure, perhaps the chance to flog their point of view. Some journalists talk of disinterest in how money is made by the organization they work for, which I find a little odd. Is there another such for-profit industry, where the folks steeped in producing the product are willfully ignorant of how it's sold and makes money? There is certainly a coin of the realm, and one in which journalists spin and get spun, journalists and sources use each other in various ways. Boynton says it would be OK to pay, if it were disclosed that someone had done so. That would be an open and honest way of doing it. Let the consumer make his or her own decisions. And it would be more open than the hidden agendas the public sometimes can’t see.
Who owns you? This is part of the battle brewing over social networks, and networking applications like Facebook. Robert Scoble, the Scobelizer, complains that when he tried to run a “script” on his profile on Facebook, Facebook detected it and kicked him off. He’s appealing the decision. He won’t say what the script is -- says he’s under a non-disclosure agreement with the company that wrote the bit of code that will somehow do something to Scoble’s Facebook profile -- but it seems to be something that would somehow take the info on Facebook, and run some other application on it.
A clue comes from a comment Scoble writes in response to someone who says that in a “walled garden,” the point is that it is walled. “We fundementally (sic) DON’T want someone wholeheartedly using our graphs. Especially not a friend, who we trust to not do that,” writes the commenter. Scoble replies: “What about info you’ve made public? Like, your name? And other stuff that’s on your public profile on Facebook? Are you saying that no one has the right to use that? How about this? Can I write down your email address and put it in my address book? Or, how about your birthday?
“So, why am I allowed to write down your phone number or email address, but my computer can’t take it out of Facebook and put it into Outlook for me? Or another program or service I’m using?
“How about something that actually ads value, like something that’d see that you’re on both Facebook and Twitter and Flickr and could mash those three together?”
So, Scoble is implying that what he wants to do is use publicly available information for private uses that he’d have permission to regardless of technology. This, I would guess, would be legal -- putting aside the Terms of Service issue -- in the same way that making copies of material for purely personal use are also legal.
He also alludes to a holy grail of social networking I think we’ll see more of this year: the social network mashup, applications that allow use of networking and profiles across platforms. Google’s Open Social is a step in this direction, though one that’s more push out than inbound in the way Scoble describes. Media companies and publishers are signing on with Google’s scheme so they can, say, write a widget once and have it spread across myriad platforms, rather than having to write or tweak new code for each. (And then they’re still having to write for Facebook, if they want to reach its millions of users. MySpace is a whole ‘nother issue.) I would expect to see a bunch of such apps come out this year, many with funding, and a few to catch on.
We’ll see, too, continued battle over closed vs. open that’s been part of the conversation since the earliest days of AOL and Prodigy vs. Netscape and Mozilla (and Internet Explorer, which provides the enticement of openness AND the control of digital rights management).
In a way, Scoble is arguing both sides of the coin. He owns the right to scrape his own profile, his own information -- though in joining Facebook, he signed terms of service that said he couldn’t run such applications on the closed network. Facebook, too, is trying to have it both ways. When they were exclusive to the academic community, they had a closed system that, while potentially very large, was limited to people with some similarity in mindset and orientation, at least in the broadest sense, and, probably, less likely to use the system for certain kinds of commercial behavior. By now allowing anyone from any background to register and use Facebook, and open up the API to all developers, the company is trying to reap the benefits of openness, but still with a closed system.
Facebook now has many millions of users. But how long will those millions remain when they are a) hit with an increasing number of unwanted marketing messages, un-needed invitations from non-”friends,” ever more mass messages, fewer directly relevant personal messages, b) finding it increasing difficulty to manage it all, and c) Open Social is on the way? We’ll see shakeouts this year among social networking applications, and an increasing number of profiles lay fallow. Facebook won’t die, and they’re smart enough that they may come up with a graceful solution that leads to more openness and integration with other platforms. The apology they gave due to the controversy that broke out over their Beacon system proves they are a company that’s able to hear complaints and try to adjust. But they will having a tough time overcoming the tension between walled garden and open access.
Mark Glaser calls the entrepreneurial acumen of journalists into question, but most start-ups fail, in any industry. He and others in comments give examples of those who’ve succeeded. This on the heels of Jeff Jarvis’ entrepreneurial journalism contest, which, if it works, will help seed a new generation of journalists not encumbered by the need to have a “job”. I’ve taken a fairly traditional route, myself, getting an MBA before becoming truly entrepreneurial. But then, I’m 1 or 2 generations away from most of the folks proposing projects to Jarvis’ contest.
There are a few advantages they have over some of the older folks like Dan Gilmor or Bill Scoble that Glaser sites as having failed, chiefly that they may not be as wedded to older ideas of what a journalist is or can be. They probably don’t think of “entrepreneurial journalism” as an oxymoron. Some may say that true journalism can’t be entrepreneurial, because a journalist should not have commercial concerns. (If you worry about whether to put an ad on your site, or where, that will affect how you display the content, for example.) And the anxiety of being laid off can be debilitating, while the sense of charting one’s own destiny and earning money from folks who are actually consuming the product, rather than an in-between entity, can be liberating.
There is something else that can be a challenge for many journalists: I’ve found successful entrepreneurs to be relentless optimists, skilled socially (at least when necessary), willing to make hard choices even when it’s not fair, and not being stopped by unfairness directed at them. Journalists, but contrast, are often a bit negatively oriented, and gripe about things that haven’t gone well -- newsrooms are full of, if not malcontents, certainly half-contents. Then, again, so are many workplaces. There is a such thing as a postive-minded journalist, and I hope entrepreneurial journalism isn’t an oxymoron.
Just now, minutes after the WSJ sent out an alert about the George Mitchell baseball drug report, someone put up a list of the players names on Wikipedia. I saw it on public Twitter while randomly visiting the public page there.
Wow. How can a newspaper hope to compete with that? And why wouldn't a newspaper, to save effort, simply -- assuming the list is accurate -- link to it? Journalistically, I can see the rationale of wanting to control the accuracy and therefore keep it on the newspaper's site. There will be tons of lists in tons of publications (hats off to any that add value). ... But, the speed of the list by what seemed to be a private individual, and on Wikipedia to allow other fervent folks to correct it - that's something that proves the power of community and individuals. (And one more caveat: I'll bet you that some Web editors -- you know who you are! -- will copy and paste that list without saying they did so.)
When I first saw on Jeff Jarvis’ Facebook page that he was assembling the jury for his “entrepreneurial journalism” contest, I quipped that what used to be an oxymoron is now worthy of a prize. Wonderful, isn’t it, that students in J-school now can ask for a few thousand bucks to start their own publishing businesses. Jarvis points to a post by NYTimes’ Saul Hansell, one of the judges, who says that no one starting out in journalism should ask advice of anyone who’s been in the business more than five years.
Fair enough. The ideas Hansell mentions -- a hyper-local site for Brooklyn's perennially troubled Bed-Sty neighborhood, a magazine for Muslim women, etc. -- are great niche ideas. I do find myself wondering where the business model for supporting deep, investigative journalism comes from. Perhaps, from the same place it comes from now: Other "verticals" like business, tech -- and perhaps a bunch of ad-supported hyper-local blogs and community apps -- that make enough profit to pay the expensive journalistic productions.
(Finally) Getting around to posting some info I compiled on tough times for business magazines. Late October, for a panel on magazines at the Future of Business Media conference, I prepared some figures and charts about business magazines, based on the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB) data for the first three quarters of this year compared to the same period in '06. Looking at the visuals, they show some trends. (Click on the pictures to see them more clearly.)
For one thing, in dollar terms, most of the "majors" are down in ad dollars, save Forbes, which went up in ad dollars. (See below for a note on PIB's methodology that casts some doubt on these figures.) Forbes, interestingly, has for years had the "free Web" philosophy, and now puts material dating back years up for free, and makes the (disputed) claim that it's the number one destination for business news.
It's also worth noting for business mags that while dollars in aggregate are down 2.7 percent, ad pages were down 6.8 percent, which means page rates were increased. For how long can ad rates continue to go up in the category as competition for ad dollars increases. Also, while Inc. and Fast Company are up, that's against years of previous losses. So it's a relative thing.
Conde Nast Portfolio isn't on the chart I prepared because it's new, and therefore the $13 million-plus it's gotten this year is compared to zero for last. Nevertheless, that’s quite a feat that, if annualized, would put Portfolio in the top four. But while those dollars would seem to be coming from the other business magazines – taking a significant slice of a shrinking pie – executives at the mag point out that it has also gotten a lot of its revenue from luxury brands very familiar to the Conde sales force but not so used to many of the other business magazines. So, they're reaching into a different pie for a significant chunk of their wealth.
Finally, I came across some figures that showed that business magazines, until a few years ago the unparalleled leaders in ad pages and for a while in ad dollars, too, have declined heavily next to celebrity mags.
Business magazines faced similar issues before. In the 1980s, when certain kinds of business-to-business advertising declined, business mags rejuvenated themselves by pitching to new classes of advertising, such as cars and liquor. This time, they may want to do the same thing, but it's harder to think of a major ad category that’s both underserved and appropriate. Pharmaceuticals? Everyone's going after those dollars; and would they be the right fit? Tech? That territory's well-trodden and going aggressively to the Web. Speaking of the Web, that didn't exist in the '80s, nor were there cable business channels competing for the dollars. Not to mention financial portals like Yahoo and Google finance and CNNMoney, which is relaunching with more video this winter.
A few caveats: PIB figures are based on rate cards, which are notoriously inaccurate and always subject to discounts of 20 percent or more, especially for the best clients. Over here is a spreadsheet with business magazines sifted from the PIB figures, on which the above two charts were based, along with an aggregated chart of all the biz mags.
That question, raised indirectly last night at the Hearst-funded new media discussion at Columbia J-school, sent a chill down my spine. Iranian born blogger and iconoclast Hossein "Hoder" Derakhshan, talked a lot in ways that took shots at conventional wisdom. He talked about "the tyranny of the popular," how in a world of Digg and Delicious and other "most e-mailed" and other popularity features, we find ourselves under constant pressure to get on those lists to get our stuff viewed. (Wikipedia book Author Andrew Lih countered that he sometimes searches Digg in a way that helps him find the least popular to get emerging or unheralded info about the online crowd-sourced encyclopedia). He talked about corporate censorship in journalism, how someone reporting for a mainstream news org can have a perfectly valid journalistic idea kyboshed for reasons having nothing to do with the validity of the idea, but rather because it may not conform to pre-conceived notions or myriad other issue.
An audience member, at the microphone, asked if there were government bloggers. I think he meant to ask if there were government bloggers in Iran. But he could equally have been asking about the U.S. Are there government bloggers? What's to say there aren't? We've seen reports of government employees staging press conferences, pretending to be things they weren't, putting out video news releases as if they were news reports. So who's to say there aren't bloggers claiming to be independent who are in fact working for the government? Some would say that government bloggers could be a good thing, if they're open about it. Why not? If government people blog in ways that shows their viewpoints, and those viewpoints can be picked up – or picked apart – by others, that only adds to the conversation. It's just a more modern equivalent of the press release or press conference or other attempts to influence news coverage or the conversation. Inevitably, something delicious would find its way to a government blog.
At a time when companies are increasingly going direct to consumers with their media, circumventing traditional media and the need for conventional coverage or conventional ad buys, it seems only logical the government will do so as well. (If there is some sort of Justice or Defense or State department blogger or bloggers I'm not aware of, by all means, chime in.) Companies that have tried to do Web media without disclosing that they were from a company have been burned. Government should heed the same lesson.
In a sign the universes of marketing and journalism are converging, Hilary Schneider, EVP of Yahoo's Local Markets and Commerce Division and the Yahoo publisher network gave a list of attributes (she wasn't completely clear but I think she meant) that journalistic content has to follow. She was speaking at the Online News Association Conference. And, surprising, the New York Times' International Herald Tribune's Michael Oreskes, giving the second-day keynote, stole her slides and showed them again. With some paraphrasing:
1. Obligation to the truth
2. Loyalty to citizens
3. Disclosure and verification
4. Maintaining independence (her slide actually said "an independence" but I'll trust that was a typo
5. Independent monitor of power
6. Forum for public criticism and compromise
7. Make the significant interesting and relevant
8. Keep news competitive and proportional
9. Exercise personal conscience
It as a bit surrealistic. Schneider spent some time talking about brands and marketing, and Oreskes was all about democracy and free speech.
You've probably heard that for its album "In Rainbows" released today, British band Radiohead is taking what industry watchers are calling a revolutionary step: letting fans determine the price they'll pay for it. But it isn't so revolutionary, if you've been watching media and business trends. It's not just that other, less famous bands have tried the same thing before or the half-failed attempt by Prince in 1998, when fans complained they didn't get his disc for months after ordering it direct from the artist.
What's happening to the industry is monopolistic advantages created either by regulation or severe limits on distribution are being shaken up by the new distribution platforms. If someone charges too much, a lot of the audience will get the music or programming for free – laws be damned. Marc Cuban quipped at a conference that he doesn't bother paying to put copy protection on DVDs of movies he funds that any six year old can crack. TiVo, YouTube, BitTorrent, Kazaa – the names are legion, and will be endless. iTunes was perceived as offering a fair price and great model, until NBC said recently they wanted flexible pricing for differentiation.
We're often taught that competition is great, but in fact capitalism can't function with perfect competition. If every piece of content, every ad spot, every song, every product is up for auction, and the disruptive technology of the Web flattens all profits, margins will be cut razor-thin, ad space become commoditized, and the ad industry loses -- except for those few breakout creative pieces that people will really be willing to pay for to show appreciation, or because that creative distinction is a differentiator that allows charging of a higher price. So much today is up for a "pay-what-you-want" or auction model. Auctions on eBay and competitors, keywords on Google and others, brokers who sell ad remnant inventory and the like.
What Radiohead, a highly acclaimed if not superstar band, is doing is not only using the technology to reach out to their core, not only using the new technologies to end-run the recording industry, but also working on new models for making music and making money. It's been pointed out that we're in a new music industry model, one in which, rather than making money off CDs, artists make money through add-ons and concerts. Concerts can take in hundreds of millions of dollars at $100 per ticket. Radiohead's site, through a very simple interface, says "It's up to you" what to pay, and later get a download code. They're offering the music for free, but offering upsells for more: a package with the CDs in a special box, another disc of songs, two vinyl records, lyrics, artwork and so on costs 40 pounds (about $80) that will be available in December. The latest Prince concert, gave away CDs, and took considerable flak for giving yet more away as a newspaper insert.
Radiohead's site crashed last week after they couldn't handle the demand. Their initiative is seen primarily as promotion. Within 36 hours after the announcement, Radiohead had reached #3 on Billboard's "Buzz 100" list of most blogged bands. But it's more: The band gets names and contact info of people who subscribe, all of which have a lifetime value. And they get marketing information: How much will fans actually pay for an album? And releasing the album this way doesn't preclude negotiating a conventional record deal later; that deal could be more lucrative once they've proven the music's popularity beforehand. (CDs still account for about 80 percent of music sales.)
How long, too, before sites like Radiohead's are seen as place to show ads? And there we begin to create yet another long tail disruption. If everyone who can aggregate an audience, especially an audience with a specific bent or demographic profile, begins to serve ads, begins to offer itself to advertisers, we'll start to see all these niche sites (perhaps in Radiohead's case it should be called a "mass niche") that get ad dollars in addition to all the other revenue streams. We'll also see if marketing budgets can sustain so much mainstream media that appeals to less targeted mass audiences.
Jeff Jarvis is asking for newspapers' "iPod moment" without fully describing what it is. Here's my response:
The iPod moment for newspapers will be when truly functional ePaper hits... color, touchscreen, wireless Internet built in, agnostic to standard, plays video, can work and read when not connected. A cross of the functionality of the iPhone, today's browsers and the TimesReader. It will be even more of a moment if that ePaper can also allow data entry for tagging and blogging, VOIP and so on. I dunno how many years.
Remember, people from MIT Media Lab and elsewhere imagined such a paper for the movie Minority Report. It was shown as USA Today in one scene on the train.
I agree with others, though, that it's coming incrementally. I can, today, do many of these things on my smartphone, and certainly on a laptop I carry most places.
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.
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.
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.
New York Times tech writer/videographer/blogger and general wise guy man David Pogue has created an avid following for his tech videos on NYTimes.com. It's not uncommon to hear someone at a conference or gathering ask if you've seen the latest one – whether a goofy review of the iPhone, some rant done around his town at his Connecticut home, or other ways of amusingly imparting his judgments about what's good and not so about the latest devices, doo-dads, and services. And, as he notes in the interview below, he's landed a show on the Discovery Channel.
His videos, by Internet standards, are pretty high quality – crisply shot, nicely edited, easy and clear to view and understand. And that has little to do with technology. He uses a Mac and an "old" Sony camera and just recently got an intern to help. He also puts in many hours, creatively conceives and crafts his pieces, and lets his personality show.
And therein lies a lesson. A lot of people (me included sometimes) spend time fretting about what technology to use and how to assemble the bits and pieces and get creative to garner an audience. Of course, being on NYTimes.com doesn't hurt. But what makes the videos work is the effort Pogue puts in. While the technology enables that, makes it so one guy can do it all, it isn't what made the videos successful. Pogue just does it. Here's the interview, done via e-mail, with minor editing.
How did you go from being a print guy to a video guy? Did you always want such an outlet?
Nope. I always thought I'd be a Broadway composer. From the time I was a teenager, I was playing piano and writing songs. I went to Yale, was a music major, wrote a musical per year. Then I went to New York and worked on Broadway for about ten years as an arranger/conductor!
The transition to tech was slow and sneaky. I bought a Mac in 1985 to run sheet-music software on. For years, I wrote about software and gave personal computer lessons while doing Broadway at night.... Finally, the balance sort of tipped, and I found my teaching skills in more demand than my musical ones!
Of course, the Pogue-trackers have noticed that my musical career has lately been sneaking back into my tech career (see my iPhone "musical" on YouTube,for example)...
How did you arrive at the persona? What made you feel you had the freedom to> let it out like that? (NYTimes is generally thought of as a "serious" place?)
The persona!? That's no persona-- that's the way I am!
I don't know -- I've always just been sort of a goofy guy who likes to be the class clown. I don't think the Times ever had a problem with it. They've never, EVER suggested that I tone it down. The humor is part of why the Times hired me to begin with --and that's also why I love the Times!
The Times reporters aren't a very funny bunch when it comes to news reporting. But you can find some really funny writers in opinion columns and reviews!
How do you get such high production values? Do you have a videographer, producer, editor? Who does all the work we don't see (lighting, shooting,> editing, etc.?)
HAH!! You call those high production values!? You're kiddin' me, right?
There are NO production values!
I just shoot with an old Sony camcorder, and dump it into iMovie for editing. (I'm trying to learn Final Cut Pro.) When I need to film myself, I stick the camcorder on a tripod. I also have a video light for use when I'm shooting at night.
This summer, I have a 17-year-old intern who operates the camcorder, which makes the whole thing go a lot faster. Ordinarily, though, I just do the whole thing myself.
How long does it take to produce each video? What's the process you go through?
It usually takes 5 to 10 hours. Maybe 45 minutes to film (if I've done the preparation, like plotting out the shots) and the rest to edit and compile.
The Times has a wonderful stock-music library they've made available to me, and that's where I get the background music.
I really wish the videos didn't take so long. I'm actually trying to make them a little simpler these days...
How has appearing on video changed your professional life?
Well, I've been very surprised. To me, they're not really a big deal—nobody even noticed them the first couple of years--but now they've won awards, they occasionally rise to the top 10 on YouTube, and they have a HUGE following of fans (plus the vindictive hatred of a few humorless bloggers!).
They also led to my Discovery TV series, "It's All Geek to Me," which just finished airing, as well as to some other TV opportunities that are coming up.
And, finally: Do you spend most of your time at home? Your videos look suspiciously suburban so much of the time.
Correctamundo! The videos are almost entirely shot at home, or around town here in Connecticut. :)
There's been some good discussion of whether the Wall Street Journal should go free since the original post here. I have to admit I was thinking tactically, rather than long-term strategically, and may have been in the mindset of the old Journal, not the new Murdoch. WSJ publisher Gordon Crovitz said there'll be a mixed model -- so for now it's a moot question. I can see how longer term it can make sense for the Journal to go free -- IF they are willing to bear the cost for a few years; bearing costs for years is something Murdoch has shown himself willing to do in New York, Boston, London, Australia and elsewhere.
First, here are some clarifications of the original post:
1. Subscription revenue is damn hard to come by on the Internet and getting a million paid subs at $79 each for nothing but content is an incredible feat. That's tough to give up for any company. I've been asked to analyze that in the past, and it's the classic difficult position for a business. Will you forego, say, three-five years of revenue -- bust up your own successful business -- to make more revenue farther out. Are you willing to eat your own lunch? Sometimes it's wise, but it's tough to try -- even if you are thinking big. ... but thinking big is something Murdoch does, and can afford to do.
2. Subscription revenue can be better income than ad revenue. It's more reliable through economic downturns, the cash comes earlier and revenue is realized as cash at a higher percentage than for ads (which can be canceled at almost a moment's notice and can be difficult to collect on). Subscriptions can be lower cost maintenance than advertising (which comes with client handling, managing multiple creatives, serving costs, and so on). Yes, there's churn. But once you get a subscriber, they have a "lifetime value," of whatever revenue you'll make from them. Replacing subscription dollars with ad dollars is not a 1-to-1 replacement.
3. I purposely did not include Marketwatch, video and other items that are already free on the WSJ site because those things are already free and have advertising, and I'm not sure making WSJ.com free will raise those other boats significantly. OK, with a big and strong strategic push that really integrates them all, and uses the force of Dow Jones I could see it. But it'll take time
4. The assumptions I made were just that. Assumptions. As Henry Blodget points out, you can make different assumptions and come up with different numbers. My numbers were educated guesses based on what I know of the market, and I took Murdoch's words at face value. To really assess the situation would require an actual look at the WSJ books and experience, and maybe some experimenting. I assume that Lehman Bros. have better numbers than I do. They estimated $115 million overall revenue for WSJ.com. I said $137 million. I also had subscriptions at 58% of the revenue, while they put ads on top at 54%. Either way, we're making assumptions.
Jeff Jarvis suggests not only going free but also having the Journal prepare to leave the print realm, other than some sort of specialized, analytical product. Certainly, the Journal audience is the kind of high-income adopters that will be a good test case for giving the content on every device imaginable. And if you're going to go free, distributed content to every device imaginable (all ad-supported, of course, with various upsells) is certainly the way. As one competing example, Forbes launched widgets this summer -- they've even managed to line up Visa as a sponsor, and the ad is served, which means it's also tracked and can be swapped in and out. (The company that made the widget for Forbes even claims the ads can be different sizes).
In other words: Sure, by all means, go free. Think big. Watch it grow over time. Grab mainstream news readers from the NYTimes and elsewhere. It's a difficult, but do-able formula. News is commoditized. But financial may give the Journal that extra "oomph" even as a free product to charge a higher than usual ad rate. If the Journal goes free, it should be done in a considered, coordinated way, using the distributed media Jarvis suggests, stronger linkage with Marketwatch, increased use of video, multimedia and social aspects, and improved personal finance capabilities (here's an idea: open it up to widgetizing, just like Facebook, and give prices for the best financial widgets or other gizmos, apps, etc.). Would the journal consider taking the even bolder step Jarvis suggests and I concur with of opening up its API to developers, for all kinds of mashups, further data, and what not? Not likely near term, but that would be big.
In the last paragraph of one of the many stories in today's Wall Street Journal about the purchase of parent Dow Jones, Rupert Murdoch is quoted as saying if the paper went completely free it would be a "wash" financially. It would certainly be a huge step to go free (and one I'd be perfectly happy with, paying as I now do.) Let's explore whether Murdoch's assertion is really likely to be true.
First a few assumptions:
- The soon-to-be 1 million paid subscribers referred to in another piece in WSJ are paying full price, $79.
- There are seven million unique visitors and 90 million monthly pageviews, as WSJ claims. (That's almost 13 pageviews per unique.)
- The two display ads per page (large rectangle, narrow skyscraper) run at an average CPMs of $35 and $20 (reasonably possible rates for a targeted, subscription audience in a financial/business publication). The performance based ads at the bottom are together worth an effective CPM of $12. (I know that may be high, but there are a lot of them, and it's the Journal.)
- 80% sellout on average in all ad spots (some spots will be without paid ads in some instances, there has to be some room for ad serving and so on).
- Each pageview is equally valuable.
So, we've got, yearly:
- 1 million subscribers * $79 = $79 million from subscription
- 90,000,000/1000*.8 * (35 + 20 + 12) = $4.8 million monthly in advertising * 12 = $58 million in ads
Grand total: $137 million revenue from subscription and ads.
Murdoch predicts in the piece that a free site would have 10 times as many visitors and five times as much advertising. But the number of pageviews per unique would drop significantly, because a lot of the traffic – especially new traffic – would be inbound single hits or quick dips from blogs, search engines and so on. The ad rates would also drop because advertisers could not be convinced they were buying as exclusive a subscription audience. Let's take Murdoch's assertions as true and assume:
- Pageviews per unique will drop to a more normal news industry standard of 4 per unique. (We'll also assume that by "visitors" Murdoch means "uniques".)
- Ad rates will drop to 60% of their previous levels
- A lower level of sellout on pages (as Murdoch acknowledges in saying ads won't go up as much as visitors will).
So we have:
- 70 million unique visitors at 4 pageviews per = 280 million pageviews per month.
- Five times as many ads and 60 percent sellout.
Which in my estimation comes out to a total of about $67.5 million.
At 80 percent sellout it's $90 million. Even at the same number of advertisers, that's still only $108 million.
Now, maybe to Murdoch the difference between $137 million and $108 million is so small as to be pocket change and therefore "a wash." Or maybe my assumptions or math are way off (if you want a spreadsheet with my calculations, just ask and I'll send it.) But that's still a lot of newsroom jobs for that extra $29 million, or more under the poorer ad scenario
Plus, subscriptions are pre-revenue, cash collected up front that can then be spent over time. They're great for cashflow and provide a "float." Ads on the other hand are typically paid months after they're billed, and can be a real problem for cashflow. Subscriptions also tend to be more stable in down times than advertising, which can be canceled with little notice. Subscriptions are a more stable business and take less overhead to maintain.
I don't see that making a successful subscription product like the Journal free makes economic sense. Tell me what's wrong with my thinking.
I know the forces of impudent American prudishness are hijacking the whole Hillary/cleavage "issue", but the point of the original Washington Post fashion writer's article, if you read it, was not that Hil's gone mad, flopping her orbs around wantonly or that her slight V-neck somehow caused a mistaken exposure – both of which were implied in the stark-raving coverage, blown up and bounced, and rebounced around again.
Rather, the credentialed fashionista was writing that this most managed of stage-managed candidates (running since she was in high school, perhaps) chose to tweak her carefully chosen and usually bland uniform in favor of a slight hint of sexuality. Her choice is, perhaps, akin to Al Gore's attempts at being environmentally friendly (or just friendly, period) in his earth-toned clothes, or, worse, Dukakis' attempts to look manly in a helmet atop a tank. But her choice certainly bears observing, just as Jon Stewart (or was it just my imagination) noted the crotch-hugging manliness of the commander-in-chief when he stepped aboard that aircraft carrier to declare victory in Iraq. (I know, it wasn't literally victory, but let's not niggle. That's what he clearly meant us to think.)
Sure, we might not have made such a big deal if it were Obama wearing a slightly sexier than usual T-shirt – then again, we might have. And if Hillary was trying to soften her image a bit, or dress in a way that amounted to a fashion trial balloon, then we're allowed to examine her motives (Al Gore's calls for civil discourse notwithstanding). But enough, please, about the cleavage or Clinton's body. That really wasn't the point. The woman's body is what it is. Her image, though, is carefully managed, and any change bears watching. Read the WashPost piece, and I think you'll see what I mean.
Two makes a trend. Meredith publishing president Jack Griffin this morning said editors are now not just editors, but rather "content managers." That echoes remarks Hearst president Cathy Black's been making to the same effect, in private conversations and at a previous Magazine Publishers of America "Breakfast with a Leader" at the same podium.
Jack and Cathy say there's never been more of a need for editors, people who can sift through the clutter. But I guess you'd better also have your multi-platform boots strapped on if you want to work for them managing "content."
Griffin delivered a speech about the multi-pronged "360" publishing and marketing initiatives of Merdith. 360, pardon the pun, seems to be the new black. Bravo networks last week talked about their 360 marketing strategy at the Promax/BDA television promotion show, and everyone's drawing circles with arrows pointing at each other into their PowerPoint presentations these days.
Not that Griffin's wrong. He showed an impressive mix of content targeted at women, participation by them, editorial products, ad opportunities and more. He's clearly a strategic thinker. He said the Meredith list of names, consumers who can be marketed to, at 85 million strong, is the best in America.
Griffin also emphasized that magazine advertising is up (he didn't mention that it's limited to a few categories of magaiznes), distinguishing magazines from print, in general. He wondered aloud why newspaper companies, including USA Today, are talking about getting into the magazine business.
"In the online video syndication space, the largest video owners will not be the broadcasters. It's going to be the newspapers." That prediction from Critical Mention CEO Sean Morgan at this morning's NYMIEG breakfast (full disclosure: I'll be moderating a breakfast June 20 on career change in media for NYMIEG). Morgan mentioned how a local TV station in San Jose produces, maybe, five or six videos a day, but the San Jose Mercury newspaper produces 60.
"When we see these newspapers turn the corner by adopting new technologies that allow them to put a braodcast voice on their text news, the market is going to erupt."
Takes the "get ready for a video ad explosion led by the the NY Times" idea a big step further. And quite a prediction from a guy whose bread and butter today is from the broadcast affiliates -- putting their conent up behind a paid wall that others pay to access, search (via closed captioning), tag, organize, import, etc. (It's basically a video clip and syndication service much like the older one that employs people watching hours of video and transcribing it, then shipping it around the country).
Morgan also took the wraps off a free version of Critical Mention called Clip Syndicate that he said will offer clips for free that the stations (and others?) want to distribute without the wall in front if it. It won't, he said, eat Critical Mention's lunch. He made an analogy to Google vs. LexisNexis. Nexis, he noted after the event, has more sophisticated search and manipulation and organization tools.
I sometimes feel like an unpopular proselyte in arguing that today's digital journalists – at least at a senior editorial level – need to understand the business imperatives while also understanding the usual journalistic ones (double sourcing, verifiable accuracy, fairness, disclosure, etc).
WSJ.com managing editor Bill Grueskin seems to feel the same way, and has kindly sent me a list of things that today's editors in digital media must keep in their head, along with all the usual editorial duties.
In no particular order here they are. My additions in parens:
- Differentials in online/print ad rates
- Paid vs. free models (ie, subscription or micropayment vs. ad-supported)
- Role of search engines in driving traffic and revenue (SEO /SEM)
- (Corollary of above:) Tailoring content to appeal to search and other third party sites
- Tailoring content to maximize page views and thus ad impressions
Sree Sreenivasan of Columbia U frequently points out that journalists at The New York Times compete to get on the Most Read/Most Emailed/Most Blogged page, which also shows the most common search terms on the NYTimes.com site.
I say the NYTimes.com (and any) editors should also be aware of what the most-searched terms are on Google and Yahoo, and what those searches show on those sites, and what pages people land on after doing those searches and clicking through on the results.
From there they can get into funnel- and path-analysis, and more deep metrics. It becomes an organizational issue of who delves how much, into what; the bigger shops, like the journal, have the luxury of having someone(s) who does nothing but Web analytics – often a marketing team function, sometimes part of the technology department.
But today's top editor needs to know at least the basic, global issues Bill, Sree and I have stated just as much as a newspaper managing editor had better know the details of the print run.
I thought I'd coined the term "every company is a media company," meaning that the accessibility of the tools and the imperative to touch customers directly makes every company -- whether Wal-Mart or HP or Sun Microsystems or GM or Caldwell Banker or the local New York ice cream shop with a website – a company that produces media for its customers, or "constituents," if you prefer.
Then I found out at Streaming Media East that The FeedRoom CEO Bart Feder has been going around saying the same thing. And he tells me Streaming Media honcho Dan Rayburn's been saying it, too. FeedRoom handles video in one form or another for all the companies mentioned above, and a bevy of others. FeedRoom's revenues from Enterprise clients has gone up 80% this year, compared to last, while their business from media clients is essentially flat, Feder said. And those companies are embracing many of the practices that some traditional media companies have been slow to adopt: encouraging consumer-generated content, trying viral video, reaching out directly to people over the heads of any mediators, creating communities of excited brand-loyal consumers, and using customers' input as marketing intelligence.
Feder also, in an interview, talked about "direct to constituent" video, meaning that companies reach out to their dealer networks, managers, consumers, the press, and so on, and target each of them separately, having either open or closed networks, with various levels of control. When someone at a panel Feder was on said companies were having trouble creating enough content, Feder suggested that every company should give its 250 smartest and most loyal employees video cameras, and get them each to produce one video. Voila, enough content to run one video a day for a year of business days. Cheap, too. (And, of course, more for The FeedRoom to run through its system, and charge for.)
Jeff Jarvis, who moderated a panel today, likes that there's no arguing at this conference about whether the way things are is right or wrong, that the way media is now is treated as a given. So doesSteve Safran of LostRemote. (I was a fly on the wall -- well, a guy standing in the aisle - -when Safran was speaking to Jarvis.) Jarvis argued earlier that media companies should encourage consumers to distribute their media, stop worrying about how to control it and instead start worrying how to get it into consumers' eyes and ears.
He pointed out in a conversation at the conference today that perhaps the reason corporate America is so happy to use media in all its flexible ways is that for them, it's a cost. Or, as I would put it, it's not what they make – it's just what they do, that they're happy to give away, or take a short-term "loss" on producing the media to get people to pay for whatever it is that they really do. And the better the cost-effectiveness, the better for them. They're certainly not worried about making people pay for subscriptions, or making ad revenue on whatever media they produce. And in that they have a luxury that the traditional media companies don't.
Am blogging more on the show over at MediaFlect.com. My personal media blog.
Google's got a looming issue over privacy, because of all the data it collects on people -- from Gmail to Blogger to Google Ads and Analytics -- and it had better be out front on this issue, or it could pay a high price in the long run.
I wrote about this for Jack Myers Media Business Report and it now is on Jack's Media Village Web site.
The search engine will, if you let it, track not only all your Google searches, but if you download a toolbar, ALL your Internet surfing activity, and spit it back to you. I've allowed it to see only my Google searchess, and it's an intriguing peak at what I've used Google for in recent days (wow, do I use it a lot!). It's also a little creepy to think that someone could, some day, take a look and see everything I looked at -- be it business or personal, prurient or pure. I can imagine the picture someone could draw about me, or anyone, and am not sure it's a picture we'd like others to have access to.
If you're an advertiser, though, Google History, is the best thing since, well, there is no "since" because never before has an advertiser been able to potentially know all someone's media activity and target ads based on it.
Imagine the power of being able to target someone based on exactly what sites they've visited -- even to weight the ads after gauging their level of interest, based on the sites they visited, how much they surfed each one, even which pages they went to within those sites -- perhaps even how many links they clicked or what they did.
Here's a little look at my Google History for one short period of time.
I looked up some software plugins, a New York media group, and Niagara Falls (my wife wants to visit the region this summer). Already, you know a lot more about me than you did, and if you wanted to target me with an ad you'd have some darn good ideas of what might work.
There were other snapshots I could have put above but didn't -- they were too personal. I wouldn't want people to see what I'd looked for or at -- and that's only the Google searches.
Sorry couldn't resist the pun, but have some actual thoughts. Vin has complained on this blog that the "We Media" conference is really more a "they" media and that it tends to be people of stature talking down to the assembled masses. I don't necessarily agree that it's as dire as that, but did have a few thoughts about how the conference might better achieve its aims of being inclusive and using all the newish tools to allow a sort of participation not common at such confabs. They include:
Participation via low-end tech. The live satellite hookups were very impressive, and so was Jeffrey Sachs via Web cam. How about, following their concept of regional "We" sessions, have "booths" for conversation with people in the various regions hooked up to, say, chat to and from African and Arab and Asian countries. Maybe Internet cafes or other areas. Kind of a constant, live, video chat or video conference. People across regions should be able to connect, too. We can patch those in during the conference -- add to the "we-jay" concept the organizers used of having bloggers give a first-run impressionistic take on what they saw, by having we-jays from other regions.
How about, on large live screens, have the IRC or whatever chat mechanism scrolling live behind folks, and people at the conference can see the conversation multi-dimensionally?
Experiment with seating arrangements. Mostly, it was stage there, audience here. As always. How about having the presenters/discussers, the panels, in the middle, surrounded, or inter-mingled with the audience. Have them come sit at tables, and hear from audience members what's going on. Frame the discussion and start with questions. Allow for more of an intellectual melee (which might conversely have the effect of tamping down on folks who were shouting out at the assembled when not called on for questions). The smart panelists will relish the chance to hear more of what folks in the audience think.
Have folks from governments speaking on behalf of those governments, in translation if necessary. When people are taking the piss out of the Chinese, have a Chinese official answer (if that's do-able).
Allow questions from outside the room -- not just via the we-jays, but, say, via Skype or other audio or even video hookup.
Both through social structure and technology, we can make it an even richer experience, push the envelope, use the media themselves to show what "we media" can be and do.
Lots of talk here at the We Media conference in London at BBC about "blogs vs. mainstream media." It's an artificial divide. Any journalist worth his salt reads the blogs on his beat and those inform the coverage, at least, and are quoted by name if he's honest. And the bloggers repay the favor, giving the journalist more voice by commenting, linking, and taking it further. It's more of a feedback loop than a divide.
Interesting idea: a blog about just a single story, in this case a Financial Times piece on blogging. Can't help but wonder if writer Trevor Butterworth did it this way to go outside whatever constraints FT placed.
Can you imagine any other medium having a story about one company (in this case Prosper, a would-be peer-to-peer loan network, an "eBay" for people to lend each other money), that on the same page, has a comment from a competitor? (Moral equivalent on TV: someone jumps in front of Lou Dobbs or Jim Cramer to mention a competitor when they mention some company.)
Nickname: Dave Nicholson
Review: Dave from Zopa here. Great to see all the positive comments from people. We're planning on a U.S. launch in Q2 this year, and we'll be going head to head with Prosper.
Date reviewed: Feb 14, 2006 1:38 PM
Yahoo's going to give (sell, really) advertisers an application that lets them compare the effectiveness of their ad buys online vs. offline media. I imagine they believe the model will show how much more effective online advertising is. And that the "apples-to-apples" comparison of ad spends in different arenas another kick in the teeth for offline advertising.
I was at the Digital Magazine Forum yesterday, which is basically for print magazine publishers trying to figure out how to make a go of it – or a better go of it – in the digital world. A lot of the discussion was about how to put the print version of a magazine online – or whether that's the best model.
The magazine publishers are very worried about any declines in audited circulation, and prefer to have digital readers counted, so they can keep up their advertising rate base. The auditing firms allow circulation to be counted if you provide a PDF or other replica of the print publication – similar layout, similar content – and only allow access under similar terms as for the print version. For example, if the magazine is paid circulation, you don't give the publication away online, but rather put it behind a subscription wall (or at least the PDF version behind the wall). For controlled circ, you have to make sure that people have to register for a controlled circ version in a similar way as for print.
Some, like panelist Bob Carrigan, president of tech publishing powerhouse IDG (PC World, MacWorld among others), are arguing that shoveling a magazine online may really be doing advertisers and users a disservice, though IDG does provide PDFs for those who want it. He notes that his readers for PC World, for example, are very engaged with the Web site, which is not a replication of the print publication, and that as much as 10%-20% of traffic comes from community pages, like forums, which is readers engaging each other rather than anything magazine editors provide.
Carrigan gets it, I think, he's figured out how to make online users worth more than print, through not only high-CPM ad serving, and expensive lead generation for marketers, but also RSS and other technologies that let him reach his rarified audience. Of course, he does have that luxury of having a rarified tech magazine audience that cash-heavy advertisers want to reach.
Still, if magazine publishers think of the Web in terms of purely selling print subscriptions, and are overly worried about protecting print rather than getting as much from digital media as possible, they’re ultimately protecting a flank when their frontline troops are facing a juggernaut.
Newspapers have seen their classified ad revenue decline some $2 billion since jobs and cars and other classified sites came along, and Web sites are now getting traction in the kinds of mainstream consumer ads the magazines survive on. Eventually those products’ marketers, too, will start to demand the kinds of performance and metrics and reach and frequency and leads the Web can provide, rather than relying on ad exec promises of GRP. Those who have the right audience in the digital sphere, and can get the message of marketers out to them, will be in a better position to survive.
The old new way of looking at a Web site used to be that the homepage wasn't king, that every page was now the homepage. Meaning, with Google and Yahoo and a lot of other ways to get someone to look at your content on your site, you had to be mindful that someone could come in on any page, and every page had to have the things you wanted folks to see – and navigate to. Maybe top stories, or "best-of" or the latest Special Report or e-commerce applications. Whatever.
Now, a newer way of looking at the world is that folks will be viewing your content without even having to come to your site. Syndication technologies, most notably RSS –which sends some chunk of your material out to whoever takes the feed – mean folks essentially scrape a portion of your site into their reader and may or may not click back in. The good news is that you get your stuff in front of them. The difficult part for traditional media operators to swallow is that your content could appear in any number of configurations next to any mix of content over which you have no control.
Try to control it, and in the long run you'll probably lose. Very little content is so compelling time after time that folks will go through hassle to get it over something else that's easier. Or they'll find a way to get it the way they want, anyway (witness TiVO).
And now, the syndication model is, it seems, moving to video, as well. A sizeable chunk of seed money is going for a new video venture called Brightcove, with a lot of big names like Jeremy Allaire and Barry Diller involved. Brightcove plans to let people – most likely independents rather than Hollywood types -- syndicate their content to the many minions, supported by advertising.
This is a little different than JD Lasica's Ourmedia http://ourmedia.org/ , which is providing hosting space in a non-profit forum for people to place their videos online. Maybe there's room for both models.
The Internet is a disruptive technology. Business and lives are being changed by it. It will throw millions out of work, create millions of jobs, and be seen as the push that transformed whatever future historians end up calling this era.
Many newspapers, and to some extent their brethren in other mainstream media, try to ignore it. I am stunned by conversations I have had recently with execs at small-to-medium sized newspapers in which they talk about having to really start paying attention to what's going on in the Web. If they're starting now, they're already behind. And some of these papers belong to larger chains. A top executive at chain that's been in the news recently told me his company has finally gotten religion and realizes change is afoot – that people who didn't know Craigslist six months ago do now. Again, I was shocked they wouldn't have known by last April of the iconic application that is destroying or will destroy their classified revenue streams. Many broadcast companies are trying to squeeze their current model into digital technology – and are hamstrung by the needs of affiliates who complain mightily over anything that even appears to jeopardize a penny of revenue.
Then I look at how Microsoft – a behemoth – deals with this disruption. It doesn't ignore it or try to ignore its validity or pooh-pooh the skills of those rising to challenge its dominance. No, Bill Gates himself writes a memo to his deputies about it, and the company launches Web-based versions of its core products, and other execs go on record with what they think all the change is about for a service company like theirs.
Yes, NY Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger talks of the need to do good journalism while embracing the new technologies. But what leading media execs are talking about the real disruptions they're threatening, the possible competition they face, the ways they're going to be attacked and how they can defend themselves, especially in a business sense?
I think media companies have to acknowledge that while they play a special role under the First Amendment, as businesses they have no guarantee of any longevity. They've had a sweat run as near- or total monopolies but now they have new competition. Can they even deal with it? Those that don't will eventually cease to exist. (Who ever thought RCA or Mutual of Omaha Broadcasting would cease to be household names?) That's disruption.
Lots more buzz about what classified advertising guru Peter Zollman is calling Google's "all-out move" into the classfied advertising space. Seems the non-media media company has filed for a patent to control an application that would tie into other Google functionality, including the recently disclosed Google Base, to give full classified ad-like functionality to listings. For free, I assume?
One managerr of unaffiliated local sites that give listings for locals and tourists told me yesterday he thinks newspapers are going to start folding in five years, maybe ten. Wonder if he was reading this news.
Jeff Jarvis has loudly taken it to Dell, and Dell probably should have listened. Now it looks like IBM is going to offer a solution to help companies learn what's being said about them. Hope it works, and that the humans reading the resutls can interpret them to good effect for the companies. Human intelligence is the ultimate soft ware.
Now NBC and CBS are making shows available for 99 cents, and Disney's put a few into iTunes for $1.99. One stop closer to where it should be: Pay to watch what you want, when you want. Unfortunately, for NBC and CBS I still have to subscribe to another service for the privilege of giving them another $.99 per episode. C''mon guys, let's do it for real. Real "on-demand" for an on-demand (computer) world -- not just to subscribers, or people with certain types of DVRs. How about some better package pricing? (The whole season for a steep discount -- just like music albums discount from the per-song fee.)
Amazon is going to be selling access to porttions of books online, as well as the whole thing. How about per-article or per-video pricing for news sites? How can we slice and dice the content for more incremental revenue -- without killing subscription fees or ad revenue? For some, it's already being done in the archives.
We here have evidence people will pay for content on the Internet, but not news. Well, yes, but what about WSJ.com? Maybe it's not news people won't pay for, but rather news they don't absolutely need. And maybe, then, there has to be another way to pay for what news organizations produce (whcih is the strategy of sites like MSNBC and CBS, which are going for advertising support.)
NY Times wants to "build a site that can sustain that level of journalism" that supports a $250 million budget and 1,200 journalists, says publisher Arthur Sulzberger, answering a question at the Online News Association about whether the Times plans to distribute its info or try to get people to the site.
It's about "building the NY Times site," which means, I guess, ads and other revenues that accrue from clicks, and not a more wire service model.
Information "does not yearn to be free. Opinion, quality opinion does not yearn to be free," he says a little later..
Walking over to the Hilton Hotel for the 2005 Online News Association conference in New York today, I grabbed my copies of free tabloids "AM New York" and "metro." It occurred to me that I pay more for my digital media than print.
And that makes sense: The online versions are worth more – I can see today's and yesterday's and weeks-ago news, search headlines or words, email to a friend, easily save stories with a few clicks, sort things into folders, and all without having to stuff a file drawer or two or three. Some sites let me use their functionality to sift and sort and get feeds of what I want, or check how a company's stock price has moved in relation to a story. I can see what people are commenting about related to a story, and set up or access a tag cloud to see what's going on in the blog-sphere. I can get RSS feeds of many of the subject areas I'm interested in, including for paid products. In print, I can't do very much of that at all.
So here's a rough version of the financials of it: I pay $99 per year for The Wall Street Journal online, about $15 for Avantgo, I get subscriptions to Factiva and Thomson and Reuters through business school (which I have paid for if you count the $60,000 exec MBA tuition). I get access to Time-Warner publications for my family's $15 or so monthly AOL subscription, and a few things (including WSJ.com ) through T-Mobile Hotspots and a few others through Verizon's DSL service. In print, I pay for the weekend New York Times, in part because the coupons in there repay that price of about $19/month, and a couple of magazine subscriptions at between $5 and $20/year. One of those magazines, Business2.0, I paid for just to get full access online (though maybe I could've achieved the same thing through AOL).
I almost never buy a single copy of a newspaper or magazine, except maybe 25 or 50 cents for a tabloid or when I'm at an airport.
That's a long, maybe boring, and incomplete litany, but the basic message is that I pay for digital, and not as much for print. I also could desperately use a consolidator, someone who would come to me and say "You can have it all for $25 or $50 or $75 per month." Or even some way of charging me on a per-use basis.
Regardless: Isn't media in a digital format to you, the user, worth more than in ink-on-paper format?
How did Calacanis's network, home to leading tech-blog Engadget, and other blog powerhouses, get so big so fast, so he's able to cash out only two years after creating it? One way is through careful and constant use, care and feeding of Google's Ad Sense ads to maximize revenue. So good, in fact, that Google has done a case study to talk about how Calacanis did it. (Here's a short piece on the study.) Another way, according to this piece, is by "gaming" blog-rating service Technorati by having all the blogs link and cross-link. Look in the lower right column of any of the Weblogs Inc. blogs, like Engadget, to see the list. But if that's a crime, there are a LOT of guilty people, from pornographers to B2B sites and major media. (Perhaps it's more incumbent on the folks writing the blog-crawling algorithms to correct for that, as search engines have corrected as best they can for "keyword packing." It's a constant challenge. But can we blame Weblogs for pointing us to its other properties?)
And, when I met Calacanis at the "We Media" conference a couple weeks ago, he told me the secret to his success, and how he's managed in some instances to leapfrog rival Gawker Media run by Nick Denton: hire good bloggers and keep them. If they do well, and traffic is going up, keep giving them more money, so they'll stay with Weblogs. Meaning, get good people, and treat them well. Comforting to hear a publisher say the way to gain audience that leads to financial success is by finding and rewarding talented journalists.
While we're on the topic of blog networks: By way, Glam.com, a fashion blog network pointed out to me by TopButton.com, which I do work for, is being hailed as a sign that the VC money is back for real: Many are calling it the first "vertical" aggregation -- a group of properties on a single topic area (fashion) -- with serious money behind it since the go-go days.
Since we're taglined "the economics of content" here at Rebuilding Media, here's an interesting tidbit that's a bit arcane but is crucial to valuing the stock of what's one of the world's biggest media companies. (See John Battelle for more on why Google is a media company. It certainly accounts for a lot of traffic that a lot of media companies are counting on.)
You may have noticed that Google reported earnings yesterday that were well above analysts' expectations and made its stock rise 12% to an all-time high of $339. But you may have missed that before yesterday, the search engine giant had been pulling an accounting maneuver that had been driving Wall Street analysts nuts. The unconventional company (remember the "Dutch Auction" ? How about the world-saving lingo http://www.google.com/corporate/ in their statement of principles) decided until yesterday to file their accounting numbers according to strict rules, the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles decreed by the people who mandate these things.
But last week, Google's chief accountant said they would report not only GAAP results on Oct. 20, but also "pro-forma" results, which strip out financials not directly relating to normal operations – things like employee stock options and the tax benefits the company gets from compensating employees that way.
Wall Street analysts like the "pro-forma" results because they are supposed to show how well the company is doing from its real business, its day-to-day operations. Yet, the Wall Streeters pull their own funny maneuver by stripping out the non-operating charges but including the tax benefits that come from them. In the words of Marketwatch's Bambi Francisco they "accentuate the positive."
Google said it would start to play nice, giving the pro-forma earnings, but would be more honest by also NOT including the tax benefits related to stuff it had stripped out. So, while Google did give non-GAAP numbers yesterday that were easier to compare to estimates, it still didn't give numbers in a way that we can easily compare to stock analysts' expectations; they did however specify exactly what was removed to calculate their pro-forma earnings. And what a whopping number it was.
There's a considerable amount of hand-wringing over people trusting the "Daily Show's" Jon Stewart as a reliable news source.
But I think there are reasons for hope. For one thing, people have to have a certain analytical ability to get his jokes. The people who watch Stewart are quite possibly more sophisticated news consumers than the average. I suppose I'm thinking along the "Everything Bad is Good For You" lines ("The junk culture we're so eager to dismiss is in fact making us more intelligent.") but I'm coming at this on my own.
This weekend, NPR's "On the Media" bemoaned a finding that younger adults who are Internet news consumers consider Stewart their most-trusted source. ("In a study of 18- to 29-year-olds done before last year's election, Stewart was voted most trusted news anchor by those who get their news mostly from the Internet," according to co-host Brooke Gladstone.) Well, if those Internet news consumers say Stewart is most trusted among them, maybe that means
a) They already have the headlines and basics and are looking for a little exposition, and some good questions. A significant portion of Stewart's show is devoted to interviews with real newsmakers, and Stewart sometimes asks very good questions in a way that doesn't seem as self-important as mainstream news can.
b) People like getting their news from someone who really does seem skeptical (I was brought up to believe that's a virtue in journalism), and asking the questions that normal people not steeped in the minutiae may be wondering.
c) He's raising real issues that aren't raised elsewhere to as wide an audience.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who has, watching the "Tonight Show" or "Late Show" monologues, or Saturday Night Live's "news," sometimes wondered where the real news ends and the joke begins. Sometimes, I've even been driven to my computer to check ("did President Bush really say that"?). Remember, we used to wring our hands about how many people got their news from the late shows before Stewart came along.
Stewart has often noted that he's a comedian, not a newsman, the implication being that he shouldn't be taken seriously, or perhaps that he shouldn't be held to account. But since the days of the court jester, it's been the joker's role to bring up real issues that couldn't be comfortably addressed through mainstream channels. And if folks are sharp enough to get the joke, and glean the real information, maybe that's a cause for optimism, rather than hand-wringing.
Now, how about a survey to see how much of the news The Daily Show viewers know, and get right, compared to non-viewers?
A bunch of journalists, many from mainstream media, are setting up a new group blog under the name Pajamas Media, to, says the story, get their word out and make some money by aggregating their material and serve ads on it. The piece also points out that there may be a conservative slant, that this may be an answer to a liberal blog ad network, and that they hope to raise the credibility of blogs.
Recently met an OgilvyOne ad agency exec in San Francisco who over drinks told me things that made me think there may be a future for advertising agencies. Some of the common wisdom has been that ad agencies, as intermediaries who have survived by collecting a percentage for placing ads, were doomed to failure with the disintermediation brought by the Internet. In other words, if you can just log on and place the ads you want, why bother going through a costly third party to post them for you?
Furthermore, agencies were all about "creative" and "branding" and not about the kind of strictly measurable performance digital media afford and marketers are now used to demanding. Another nail in the ad agency coffin was that a lot of advertisers have moved the creative portion of the equation in-house, getting their own graphics departments to create banner ads or flash graphics or whatever, and if necessary contracting to a third-party for a specialized portion of the work.
And yet another reason for the doomsaying is that the mainstream left hand part of agencies have not known what the digital right hands were doing. In fact, they're often not only separate operations, but also completely separate divisions with separate headquarters, different management chains, and so on. This had been my experience with Ogilvy's main shop and its digital arm, OgilvyOne.
But this exec, who asked to remain unnamed, claimed that his company's mainstream and digital arms are working hand-in-hand, bringing digital management principles to advertising, and accounting for performance. In other words, instead of claiming "mindshare" or even GRP (gross ratings points percentage of a target audience you reach times frequency with which your message gets to them), they're looking at clickthroughs and other very measurable actions. They're also, he said, synching up the digital and mainstream media campaigns in ways that weren't really done as little as 18 months ago.
The 70-person San Francisco office was set up late last year largely to handle the Yahoo Internet account, which turned over work to Ogilvy that had been handled by a smaller internal operation. So, Yahoo apparently went from believing it could to it all to turning the work over to ad specialists. And an Internet company, that itself is all about disintermediation, has gone for the intermediaries.
Of course, this may work only on the kinds of scale that a Yahoo provides. But I find it interesting that there is, on the face of it, at least one case in which an ad agency can make a case for its survival. And, as a final note, I see that what used to be two Websites, representing Ogilvy and OgilvyOne, is now one and the separate OgilvyOne site has been reitred.
I wish I were allowed to put quotemarks in headlines here because that headline is a quote of the title of the final panel, featuring Craig Newmark, Richard Edelman, Karen Stephenson and Watts Wacker, moderated by Media Center's Peskin.
Newmark, inventor of Criagslists, says the following about being optimistic:
"My amount of optimism is increasing over time, because I do see customer service every day, I do see that the people out there are overwhelmingly good and want to do the right thing. The bad guys are good at seizing power, but when you enable the good guys to get together you enable them to talk to each other (they can correct the bad guys.) "
He's talking about how on Craiglists messages can be flagged for deletion, and if others agree, the messages go "bye-bye."
I hope Craig's right.
And I'll let that be my final comment from the conference for now.
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Despite tags, these posts aren't showing in Technorati. Not sure why.
Attending the "Invest" panel at "We Media," with four venture capitalists talking to the group, and the consensus seems to be that it's about social networks, and software, that there's a dichotomy between software companies (at Web 2.0) and media companies (at We Media). Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures makes the analogy of chocolate and peanut butter – a reference to the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercial in which the two live in, as he said, "parallel universes" until they're brought together in a happy candy. But others, including Craig Forman of Yahoo say there's a new universe of Reese's Pieces, and that the two are having the same conversation.
Yahoo, argued Burnham, "became a media company by accident, and now is the biggest and fastest growing," and that traditional East Coast media companies don't understand the threat. "I don't think Microsoft," he added, "understands the threat of Yahoo or the media companies."
Given "hot off the presses" copy of a new Yahoo! study done with Ipsos Insight whose headline conclusion is that 27 percent of the people use RSS but don't know that they're using it. Four percent use it and know it. (Which leaves more than two thirds who don't use it.) That's another sign the medium is arriving. We all use telephones. Few of us wonder about, or care about, the technology behind it. I can't give you a link to the study, because so far there's only a white paper, in print (no kidding), headlined "RSS – Crossing Into the Mainstream."
Other findings: 12 percent of people are aware of RSS. My Yahoo, Firefox and My MSN are the top three providers of RSS to the "RSS Aware" public. For the "unaware" it's My Yahoo at a whopping 72%, My MSN at 41% and Google's personalized page at 10%. Bloglines is in fourth at 2%.
NOTE: This post corrected from an earlier version that did not clarify that 27 percent was percentage of all users, rather than relative percentage.
"We haven't really figured out how to pay for the individual piece of video yet," says Andy Hayward, president of CBS News, on the current panel. Right. And how does AP or CBS or any traditional media company make a profit in this? I know that Chris Peck, Editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, who is here, is interested in the financials, as is his publisher and all the other 1,400 or so small- and medium-sized U.S. newspapers.
Matt Drudge, running DrudgeReport, or Rafat Ali, running PaidContent, make money with skeleton staffs and plenty of ads. Yahoo and Google are mass media and are able aggregate and target huge audiences and use the cash they garner to try to produce something new and original – especially Yahoo with Hotzones.
Vin and Andy Carvin have a point. This is largely a room of men, mostly white (I'm one), and white women. All of us (by the look of it) over the age of 30. No matter how diverse we want to be, I'm not alone in in wondering who is included in this mass conversation, which mass it is.
Do we have to gather in a big room with white-clothed tables, have a microphone, someone speaking from a lectern? Started off with conversation between Dale Peskin, Andrew Nachison of MediaCenter.org and Chris Willis hypergene.net, then Andy Carvin. It was, essentially, a panel. Intelligent people I enjoyed listening to. But how is this conversation of three or four people leveraging the intelligence of the people in this room who collectively know more than those four possibly could? (Analogy: It's said an airplane is too complex for any one person to know all its details. But they fly.) Just asking.
Nachison did refer to the diversity of perspectives, "the incredible tapestry of perspectives" from Hurricane Katrina, for example, which this medium, these media, afford. For that is true diversity. Often, despite our varied backgrounds, skin colors, religious beliefs, we can find ourselves all speaking, thinking, talking the same way. Large organizations, or groups, can have trouble accepting diversity of perspective more than skin color or ethnic background.
It's heartening in a way to hear the Big Cheeses of AP, CBS and BBC grapple with the issues. They're talking about the challenges, they know we're up against major inflection points, but they haven't reached conclusions. Tom Curley notes that AP is still trying to figure out how to take in masses of info from masses of people and put it out in what he said will remain a B2B model. He did note that it's important to figure out how to compensate people for their work.
Larry Kramer of CBS: "We're trying to treat news more like a loop … stories don't end when we post them, print them in newspapers. People respond, interact more than ever."
Richard Sambrook of BBC: This is a fundamental realignment between big media companies and the public. You're open, accessible and accountable to a degree you've never had to cope with before."
They know there's a challenge. They don't know what the solutions are.
Interesting interview on IWantMedia with John Batelle, most recently of "The Search" fame. (It's a book about how Google, and search in general, has changed our lives). Batelle has a good definition of media: Yahoo is a media company because it makes most of its money from ads. Google is, because it creates "experiences" for consumers. He also says that traditional media is terrified, doesn't know what to make of these companies. While it seems true, he doesn't make much of a case.
Batele, though, is still being a bit cagey about just what his new company is, beyond a network that will aggregate ads across a bunch of blogs. (At the party for "The Search" one of his PR people told me they'd also would add value by using human intelligent to select the blogs in their network.)
Yes, it looks to be a gathering of digital media gliteratti (or at least technoratti), and yes, not everyone can afford the price. But we'll be at the We Media conference tomorrow, blogging away. We hope to not overlap too much with PaidContent's Rafat Ali whom we surmise will take a content-meets-money approach. And we will try to find whatever's most relevant, even if it's whatever Al Gore has to say.
Let's try this Technorati tag for: We Media. We Media is asking for this tag: wemedia. We'll try.
Esquire magazine has created a wiki version of an article about wikis to test whether wiki-fying something actually makes it better. (And -- the sometiems editor writes fearful/jokingly -- put line editors out of a job.)
Ben Compaine of this blog and much erudition elsewhere as well and I have been having a conversation this month about what deserves to be part Rebuilding Media. Certainly not just news sites, and especially not just news sites linked to bigger traditional media. Our discussion centered largely around limiting ourselves to what's "serious," a word he proposed. I'm a joker by nature, but I also believe in the need to not get off track, so I asked Ben what we should consider "serious." Vogue magazine? Movies done purely for entertainment but on which some serious money is spent?
This is not a trivial point, I think. Ben wrote:
There are no bright lines -- I fall back on what pretension the individual properties hold for themselves. By that standard Vogue is certainly a serious purveyor of news and information on fashion and culture; NBC News should be a no brainer, though watching the Today Show sometimes makes Vogue seem like a heavyweight. Video games are often lumped in with media expenditures, but I wouldn't call them part of the news and information media, though there might be some games out there-- like some of the Sims-- that have serious content and one could argue is serious. So, I take my cue from the players. If they think they have a news and information rationale, good enough for me.
I might go even farther, in a world where Jon Stewart imparts a lot of news to a large number of people, when I see some really serious discussion on that show from real opinion leaders and politicians. On a more personal note, I asked my wife today – who works at Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine – if the U.S. was really going to try to get back to the moon by 2018, something I first read in the joke rag The Onion. (Yes, NASA does plan a way station to Mars on the moon by then, she said.) I'm sure I saw a Yahoo! News headline on that, or heard it on NPR or the nightly news, but who can remember all the info we're barraged with? And I certainly could have, instead of asking my beautiful companion, looked online and perhaps avoided making myself look silly here by admitting something I didn't know. But the point I'm making is that even "serious" people seriously considering the media, if we're intellectually honest, have to acknowledge that the media we're providing – whatever they are – exist in a very large and varied ecosystem that has multiple and varied tentacles competing for attention across boundaries that might once have been valid.
That's all serious to me. And fun. Now I think I'll check some headlines, and maybe the recording I made of the Daily Show from a couple days ago.
This blog post, about three users of Treo phones bringing a class-action suit in California over how poorly the phone functions in their eyes is intriguing for two reasons I see:
One, the word Treo, itself, is linked to ads that sell the Treo. Forbes.com notably tried, then dropped the internal linking technique and others have written about the editorial vs. commercial problems with doing so. It could become the equivalent of product placement within journalism and serve to, over time, influence the product in nefarious ways. ("Say, John, could you throw the word Porsche into your story a few more times?") This one is sort of sadly amusing as its whole theme is about how lousy the Treo is, yet you can click to buy one for only $179.
Secondly, I wonder, if this lawsuit gets any traction, what it might mean for technology, in general. If people can legitimately sue technology creators for making overarching promises -- then, r'uh r'oh.
Free tabloid AM-NY today fronts the news about pornography coming to cellphones, and flicks at how that could lead to more adoption of the technology: “Adult entertainment is widely regarded as the first media segment to drive growth of the World Wide Web, and industry experts expect the same for third and fourth-generation mobile phones.”
Exactly. The piece, like most mainstream news pieces about pornography, focuses on the “oh my” aspects. (This story goes into parents’ worries that kids will access porn via phone.) But, creepy as it may feel, it doesn’t hurt to look at how purveyors of sleaze use the technologies, both the innovations and the abuses. (Abuses would include using technologies that lock up computers or put spyware or cause multiple popup windows.)
These folks are nothing if not bottom-line oriented, and they always want to make it easy for someone to find, access and, if necessary pay for and download their material. (It would be a reasonable study to see how many times people give up on porn site video vs. news site video.) They understand how to make people keep clicking through for more, using design that shows off what users presumably want. I would bet they’re avid viewers of Web logs and other analytics to see what is causing the most clickthroughs, and funnel analysis to check on abandonment points and ratio of click-in to purchase.
So if the smut purveyors are hitting hard on cellphones, this may mean good news for handheld devices. Just as erotica is said to have driven sales of everything from paperback books to cable TV to VCRs (and probably DVD players), it could drive adoption of cellphone technology and help solidify standards.
I am not making any moralistic judgments. I am purely talking about technology and commerce. And when as mainstream a newspaper as a local free tabloid puts a topic on their cover, that's probably a harbinger of acceptance to come.
Meanwhile, who is doing any real research or experimentation in the best ways to convey news via cellphone or other handheld device?
Jeff Mignon of 5W-Mignon media makes an interesting case that the success of Wikipedia shows that newspapers' strength is in context, not just information. "I had, on several occasions during focus groups, listened to readers saying that they feel more idiotic at the end of reading their newspaper than at the beginning. Why? Because they are confronted with articles filled with concepts, events, names... that they have forgotten or that they do not know."
Amid circ scandals (see Vin's earlier) and other questions over ads and reporting, we now have the second filing in two years with Interpublic saying its books may have been cooked. Is this indicative of a few bad apples, or an industry on the make?
Google's entering blog search. Great. Technorati's CEO David Sifry -- whom I heard through a reliable source is looking into how to do more with original content, or at least understand journalistic thinking (Sifry has not returned my emails) -- says it's good for all if there's competition. Granted. More blog search is better. So-called natural search is getting better. News search is good, too. So is image search.
But I don't want to have to think of whether Im searching "news' or blogs or images, or "Web sites," or academic documents. I want the search engine to understand what I want and give it to me regardless the source. I'd really like to have -- and I admit I'm greedy -- what I'd call true intelligence. (No sarcastic jokes, please.) To be able, like I do to a human being, to say to someone in any number of ways what I'm looking for, and have them get it. "Find me intelligent commentary on today's John Roberts hearing." "Get me the latest on Paris Hilton in ads." Or if they don't get it, to ask me to clarify. I don't need 25,000 gazillion results. That's not useful. Call it the hardware store analogy: You go into a hardware store, and say, "Have you got one of those rubber things that can plug up a bathtub drain and overlaps into the tub?" They find it for you. You don't know what it's called, but everyone knows what you're talking about. Or even if don't know the word for "lightbulb" but say "a thing that screws into a fixture in the ceiling and gives off light" someone would understand (I know -- did it in France, and it worked. Though they probably thought I was an idiot. No intelligence jokes, please.)
Can anyone remind me what is or was that search engine that had circles of different colors that would expand or contract, and showed links schematically in tree fashion among different related subjects, and rotated arond when you tried to find things? That one had a certain kind of visual intuitiveness to it that borders on intelligence, I think. It's a little like Kartoo, but I don't think that's the one.
OJR's profile of three citizen journalism projects -- Bluffton Today (of course), New West, and NowPublic -- is a nice profile of all three. Intriguing that on NowPublic, "Changes to the site's front page and inside pages are determined by registered members' votes." What I'd like to know more of is the economic model for these guys. (from Dorian)
This won’t get the kind of coverage of an AOL buying Time-Warner, or Yahoo looking to gobble Disney, but I think it’s a small modern example of online buying out meat-space media. Zinio, an expert in, basically, transferring magazines to the Web, has “purchased” online subscription company BlueDolphin . (They call it a merger, but PaidContent, where I contribute and which usually gets it right, says Zinio bought its new partner.)
The magazine industry has moved online in fits and starts, and there are myriad models, from fully free, like Forbes, to nearly fully paid, like many of the Time-Warner titles, to the formerly paid but now mostly free, like Business Week, to the barely online, like Vogue or Vitals , which I used to handle on the Web.
Meanwhile, print magazine companies feel they’re in trouble as they grapple with the new technologies. I find it instructive that the Web technology company would be able to buy the print circulation sales company.
For the record, Texterity and qmags are others who convert magazines to Web distributed formulae.
On NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday," the weekly quiz is one of the most beloved and listened-to segments. Last week, because of hurricane Katrina coverage, the program took the 40-minutes-after-the-hour spot off the air, telling listeners they could go to the NPR Web site to hear the week's Sunday Puzzle and submit their answers for a chance to be on the air. I had wondered whether they'd get anything like a usual level of response. (It seems to range from 400 to 2,000 correct answers each week, depending on the time of year (is it a holiday weekend ...) and difficulty of the problem given.)
Today, host Liane Hansen repoted that they had received "OVER 600 ENTRIES," meaning that a lot of people went to the Web site and submitted their answers even though the quiz was never on air. I think this points to rather strong evidence that certain channels on the Internet are mass media and, done right, there are excellent ways of building cross-pollination between Web and broadcast that benefit both.
Sharon Anstey of Click and Buy, a micropayment company, points me to this paper on how the technology -- allowing for small amounts of money to be transmitted over the Web cost-effectively and securely – has improved and is more likely to succeed in what it defines as Round 2.
Most media models, though, either let someone have the content for free and go completely ad-supported (often to a point that annoys users with the amount of interruption), or requires a subscription. (Sure there are “free” trials, but they require credit card info that converts to paid when you inevitably forget two weeks later to call the 800 number and tell them to cancel.)
This model is convenient for the companies and puts their needs first. Why not, though, more single-use fees? I subscribe to WSJ.com online. Or, I can buy one copy for $1.00 on the newsstand. Ditto any number of other publications. Why, online, am I forced to pay for a subscription, rather than be allowed to buy a single copy, or even a week’s worth, or some other finite amount?
Then there’s registration. Many users don’t like to give up personal info – again something that’s mainly for the convenience of the media company, not the user. Here’s a thought: How about allowing someone to register, and get material for free, or pay for the issue without having to register (and that payment would give useful info in the meantime, with, of course, close adherence to privacy laws)?
Now, let me also thank Vin Crosbie for his generous introduction, say I’m thrilled, and a little intimidated, to be in such good company here on Rebuilding Media and will try to hold forth when I can here, and on my blog, MediaFlect.com.