27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different [...] [...more]
27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji
I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”
Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)
So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.
The point is that the problems with the news business bear surprising resemblance to the problems of society as a whole. We've tied our fate to the unfettered free-market economic forces, without really taking notice of the fact that there are a few industries, at least, that are not prepackaged Cheetos. Where diluting quality and streamlining production schedules and all the other tricks of modern corporate management may work in the short term ... but in the long term are not only killing the industry, but harming ... well, basically Western Civilization. [...more]
The good folks at CNN asked me to appear on Backstory” to talk about the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal.
I tried to oblige them with some insights onto why this kind of scandal keeps happening, and why. You can see the results of the interview in the segment below:
More on why the news business keeps getting hit with privacy scandals like this, and why it won’t stop after the jump…
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building. On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there [...] [...more]
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building.
On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there is a marked resemblance there to C.J Craig of the late, lamented Bartlett administration.
Anyway, this is a bit of an intro to what the conditions are like for the media, and what the big forces shaping the future are going to look like.
The Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers used to represent the sinewy, beating heart of American journalism. Then they got run into the ground, bought up by Tribune dorks who were more interested in playing out their boyhood “I wanna play right field for the Cubs!” fantasies, and then sold to the “grave dancer,” Sam Zell. Zell’s [...] [...more]
Now that the Tribune creditors seem to have grown a pair, and are starting to openly murmur about where all their money might have gone – in stark contrast to so many investors who have complacently plodded through the zigzagging pens of modern American Capitalism towards where the Bernie Madoffs, Angelo Mozilos & Magnetars of this world wield their blood-soaked financial sledgehammers – the word is out that Zell has reached the end of the plank.
So now what?
The villagers gathered around the moat look at each other blankly, their torches sputtering, pitchforks starting to droop. There is muttering in the ranks, a strange sense of deflation. What to do now that the monster has abandoned them?
Perhaps some new savior will arise. One who can lead them out of the bottomless cycle of self-asphyxiation and learned helplessness. A man who has “vision,” and who (with just the right sort of spinelessboot-lickingunderstanding board of directors) can restore the kingdom to its past glory. Maybe … maybe … yes. Yes! That’s it!
This shall be the image of serious news-gathering and investigative reporting in America.
The situation bears a strong resemblance to the newspaper industry, and the reason papers are in the same place as the auto industry. Let's take a look at the places where the news industry and the auto industry screwed the pooch: [...more]
GM’s NUMMI plant in Fremont was the solution to their crisis. So why did they ignore its lessons?
They don't make 'em like this any more. Even so, the rear bumper had to be reattached.
It’s about how the U.S. auto industry could have saved itself by actually paying attention to the way its business was eroding, and listening to the people who came back from Japan and transformed the Fremont plant from a place that was “like a prison … with sex, drugs and alcohol freely indulged in during the working day … where the workers maliciously sabotaged cars, and the managers didn’t care, as long as they got their bonuses for churning out pure numbers…”
The situation bears a strong resemblance to the newspaper industry, and the reason papers are in the same place as the auto industry. Let’s take a look at the places where the news industry and the auto industry screwed the pooch:
1. Starting in the 80s and going through the 90s, sales declined, as customers were turned off by the shoddy quality of the product
In the auto industry: anyone who drove a U.S.-made car in the 80s knows what I’m talking about. Everything about the cars sucked. The seats were uncomfortable to sit in, the controls made no sense and were hard to deal with. I drove a lot of rental cars in that era, and I can’t tell you how many times the A/C control knob came off in my hand. Or the windshield wiper knob was installed upside-down. In one case, the bolt holding the steering column up on a Chevy Cavalier came loose and the steering wheel dropped into my lap. Which is minor, compared to the engines seizing and misfiring, the electrical system shorting out, the windows not rolling up (or down), the doors sagging on their hinges…
In the newspaper industry: the buyouts and mergers started by the relaxation of the cross-ownership rule, caused many papers to skeletonize their staffs, and run big colorful graphics in the papers. And lots more wire copy. I worked at the Arizona Republic during this era, and I saw what they were doing on “Zone Editions.” We had the same cruddy stories for Mesa, as we did Tempe, as we did Scottsdale. They were feature stories about things like a guy with a trained parrot that would whistle and dance. We’d run it one week in the Mesa zone, and then the next week, I’d see it in the queue again for Scottsdale. Mostly, the Zone Editions were there to snarf up the advertisers in those areas, and make sure that no competition sprang up to challenge the big paper. “It doesn’t pay NOT to advertise,” was the slogan, and it was true, because of the package deals the Republic was able to offer, sucking the oxygen out of the local markets. Most papers had a monopoly position in their markets, and could pretty much be assured of making a profit, no matter what they did. Meanwhile, the readers were starting to notice that their newspapers were lacking … how shall we say this … news.
2. The workers felt ignored and belittled, so they began to act out, and a “give a shit” attitude took over
In the auto industry: the line workers had no power to offer suggestions, and indeed, were punished for speaking up. All that mattered was churning out enough cars to meet the quotas, no matter how shitty the quality. Resentfulness led to workers intentionally sabotaging cars, which led to even greater expense down the line, when the shitty cars had to be fixed by workers who really didn’t understand what was wrong with them, and just used the “bigger hammer” method to make cross-threaded bolts hold, or quarterpanels stick onto the chassis.
This is a strategy that is also being pursued in New York by NY Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who has invested more than he would like to admit to (millions? hundreds of millions?) into high-tech printing presses, capable of churning out massive print runs with razor-sharp color. The 15-tower, triple-width ultra-compact Commander CT press looks a lot like the last-generation Nikon F6 film camera. It was the apex of film technology, what many analysts recognized at the time as "the perfect camera" -- but that alas, was rolled out just as every working professional made the move to use digital. [...more]
Print die-hards claimed that all that was needed to reverse the audience migration to the internet was to make newspapers more “lively” in appearance. Early verdict: looks pretty, but the advertising still isn’t there, and that sound you heard was Mort Zuckerman puking and weeping over in the corner.
I’ve been in the Bay Area for a convention of “[fill in blank] for Dummies” authors and various business meetings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to scope out what the San Francisco Chronicle has been doing with its much-ballyhooed investment in glossy magazine-style paper for the front pages of its sections, and the use of high-quality color images.
This week's debate is not as acrimonious as in the past (although there are exceptions to that, of course), and in the wake of the biz models released by the Aspen conference, some people are taking building new revenue streams seriously. At least, they say they are. It turns out that a lot of what has been reported in this paid content debate is a little like Microsoft software releases: trial balloon "vaporware." [...more]
This week’s debate is not as acrimonious as in the past (although there are exceptions to that, of course), and in the wake of the biz models released by the Aspen conference, some people are taking building new revenue streams seriously. At least, they say they are. It turns out that a lot of what has been reported in this paid content debate is a little like Microsoft software releases: trial balloon “vaporware.”
Page design at Rue89.com looks a little like what splatters on the side of the carny Tilt-a-Whirl after you load it up with a buncha 10-years olds who've spent the day eating cotton candy and mystery meat hotdogs. I think the boxes up & down the sides are supposed to be clickable ads, but they were inert when I tried them... (click for larger)
The illustration here is of a new French news site that is apparently taking off at Rue89; I can’t decide whether the chaotic design is totally off-putting, or intriguing because it basically violates every rule of page design. Also, I can’t hear the word “Rue” in a title without flashing to “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Or some B-movie villain twirling a moustache and chortling, “You’ll rue the day, Rex Manly!”
As a bonus, this week I’ve broadened the focus a bit to include some big-picture thinking from some of the unusual suspects; Doc Searls has a post wherein it is posited that what we think of right now as the internet is just a finger pointing in the direction of what this thing is actually going to grow into. Which should fuel a couple of late-night dorm-room debates, if nothing else…
In which I get very "Meta" and write a blog post that aggregates other blog posts that were written about aggregation. The discussion in all cases gets heated very quickly. Insults are thrown around, fisking takes place in the comment threads, but a few actual new ideas & fact-based analyses sneak in here and there. The fact that some very smart entrepreneurs are actually interested enough to toss in some innovative thinking is rather heartening, actually. [...more]
In which I get very “Meta” and write a blog post that aggregates other blog posts that were written about aggregation.
I am also posting this over on the AIM Group blog, as part of what I think might become a regular feature, “This week in the paid content debate.” The best of the bunch is the back-and-forth between billionaire Mark Cuban, and the bete noire of many print publishers, Michael Wolff, who runs the Newser.com content-aggregation site. Cuban actually suggests something that shows that he’s put more thinking into the issue than the kneejerk “Up with the paywalls!” bunch. I note below the flaw in his plans – my ex-roommate used to describe for me in detail how impossible it was at Time-Warner-AOL to get the jealous VPs of Home Video, say, to play nice with the guys from HBO and pay-per-view. Why make someone else’s P&L sheets look good? That just means they are going to get the Exec VP slot faster than you…
This is an example of a newspaper that has developed multiple, reliable, alternative revenue streams. UOL in Brazil is doing quite well, thank you. They planned ahead, unlike so many complacent U.S. papers.(Click for larger)
Anyway, the discussion in all cases gets heated very quickly. Insults are thrown around, fisking takes place in the comment threads, but a few actual new ideas & fact-based analyses sneak in here and there. The fact that some very smart entrepreneurs are actually interested enough to toss in some innovative thinking is rather heartening, actually.
Mark Cuban gives some free advice to fellow billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch: http://blogmaverick.com/2009/08/08/my-advice-to-fox-myspace-on-selling-content-yes-you-can/ Basically, he advances the idea that to get consumers to pay for news, you have to bundle it up with other goods, services and content that exist within giant organizations such as Fox or Time-Warner. A “Newsjunkie” subscription would come with access to special sections of Fox News, a couple of books from HarperCollins, magazine subscriptions and DVDs of 20th Century Fox movies. Commenters point out that such “synergies” remain elusive in these big media conglomerates, as each of the divisions is still in its own silo, with its own P&L, jealously guarding its own turf. Cuban paid special attention to aggregators, suggesting that newspapers ban links from aggregators such as Michael Wolff’s Newser.com.
…leading to Mark Cuban responding with a schoolyard-taunt opus: I’m Rubber, You’re Glue http://blogmaverick.com/2009/08/12/to-michael-wolf-im-rubber-youre-glue/ Not sure what it means when the discussion over paywalls degenerates so quickly, even amongst intelligent and successful publishers. Apparently, Cuban takes umbrage to Wolff calling him a “big fat idiot,” and in turn, taunts Wolff by criticizing his “outdated model” of a site.
The fallacy of the Link economy: http://paidcontent.org/article/419-the-fallacy-of-the-link-economy/ This is another assault on the value of inbound links from Google and other news aggregation sites. Arnon Mishkin says that even sites that publish a headline and short description of a news story appearing on another site are destructive, because readers mostly skim stories, and therefore get the news content they need without having to click through. No word from him on what he thinks newspapers should do on newsstands – perhaps they should be like old-school porn magazines, in plain brown wrappers.
Ken Ellis responds on NP-Harder: http://npharder.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/the-fallacies-of-arnon-mishkin/He picks apart some of the assumptions as to what constitutes value from links, and concludes, “All that being said, I still agree in principle with his final three points. However reclaiming value from aggregators isn’t going to help publishers much. They need subscribers and a pay wall. Not an iron curtain, but a permeable pay wall along the lines of the Wall Street Journal. There’s no save-my-business-model pot of gold out there in the hands of aggregators to help you pay for all that good journalism.”
TechCrunch proclaims “The Media Bundle is Dead,” http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/08/16/the-media-bundle-is-dead-long-live-the-news-aggregators/ Erick Schonfeld addresses paid content by claiming that back when newspapers still enjoyed local monopolies on news, “80 percent of the stories in the paper sucked,” but that the audience was still forced to buy the paper because there was no alternative. Kind of like the argument that the music industry has failed because people are no longer willing to pay $15 for a CD that contains one song they like, and 9 others that are crummy.
A post drawing an interesting parallel between Microsoft’s dilemma on how to compete with Google’s free Open Office product, while still maintaining its huge profits from its own MS Office suite http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2009/08/future-of-local-news-about-more-than-paid-content225.html
From “Scooping the News” a post entitled: Newspaper Access Fees Destined for Failure: http://www.scoopingthenews.com/2009/08/newspaper-access-fees-destined-for.html He compares the paywall solutions to pop-up ads. He lists five points that he claims explain why access fees will not generate that much revenue. Basically, the argument against boils down to the “internet readers are used to getting information for free, and they have lots of alternatives, so they’ll never pony up when newspapers start slamming down the paywalls.”
Another quick hit, this one courtesy of an article in AdAge about how the free-fall in the ad industry has at least stopped, but what’s emerging out of the wreckage is that things will never go back to the way they were. “This current economy has stimulated a new marketing consciousness,” said Laurence Boschetto, president-CEO, [...] [...more]
“This current economy has stimulated a new marketing consciousness,” said Laurence Boschetto, president-CEO, DraftFCB. “Clients are saying they want accountability for every dollar they spend, and they want cause and effect. Clients will continue to rally behind ideas that build business, and we as an industry have to accept that things will never revert back to the pre-recession mind-set that wasn’t totally focused on accountability.”
At every conference I’ve attended this year, especially OMMA and Digital Hollywood, I’ve sat in the room with media planners and ad buyers (AKA the guys in expensive suits who write the multi-million dollar checks to buy 30-second spots on American Idol), and listened to them piss & moan about their jobs.
“The goddam clients are calling me every day and screaming in my ear,” groused a Tums-chomping buyer for a major food company. “All they talk about is ‘The Board,’ and how everyone is shit-scared of winding up on the front page of the New York Times for blowing millions while we’re in a Depression.
“The orders have come down from on high that every nickel they spend has to be tracked, assessed, spreadsheeted and connected to a dollar in sales. Well, it all rolls downhill to me. I have to show results for everything, and when it comes to print and broadcast, that’s getting harder and harder to justify.
“Even if the scale and the reach aren’t there yet, when I’ve got a Google Analytics spreadsheet tracking the ad buy, at least I can walk into the client meeting with more than my dick in my hand.
“I’ve got a $300 million budget for the next year. Zero point zero zero is going to print. Nada. Nothing. I can’t justify it anymore. And broadcast TV is next.”
This came to me via the Media Giraffe project at UMass (and a very special h/t to Janine Warner, currently filming a video for Microsoft up in Seattle), and I was inspired to write a long comment in response to it. Basically, Circulate is the creation of a team at the Donald Reynolds Journalism Institute [...] [...more]
This came to me via the Media Giraffe project at UMass (and a very special h/t to Janine Warner, currently filming a video for Microsoft up in Seattle), and I was inspired to write a long comment in response to it.
Basically, Circulate is the creation of a team at the Donald Reynolds Journalism Institute that includes Martin Langeveld, who blogs for the Nieman Journalism Lab. Langeveld made the announcement of its existence on the “News After Newspapers” blog, and I was initially somewhat blase about it, due to these early grafs:
Circulate is a holistic, user-centric solution aimed broadly at sustaining journalism in a digital world, with specific relevance to the ongoing exploration of paid-content models for newspaper Web sites. Circulate enables experimentation with subscription and per-item user charges, but as a user-centric content discovery tool, Circulate goes well beyond the announced features of other systems that have been proposed in that space.
Circulate will be rolled out in phases. Initially, it will be a browser add-on that you can have always handy as you move around the Web. Circulate will function on multiple platforms to allow full portability: a mobile application is planned, possibly first as an iPhone application, along with user start page and e-mail notification options.
DIGRESSION ALERT: When the subject comes up, and the cranky content publishers insist that charging for content is the only way to survive, my response is that yes, you can and probably should charge for content. But you can’t charge online for the same old stuff you’ve been selling offline. The audience doesn’t want it, won’t pay for it, and can find the same ol’-same ‘ol in a lot of different places. If you really want to change your news organization to charge people for content, that content has to be something that people perceive enough value in to be willing to type in the credit card numbers/click PayPal.
And – here’s the real core – producing, marketing, updating & charging for that kind of information is going to require just as wrenching a philosophical change as any of the other so-called “pie in the sky” digital triumphalist schemes that invoke the “information wants to be free” mantra. I’ve worked for publications – currently still do, as a matter of fact – that survive by charging for content, rather than via ad support. It’s a different way of thinking – far more intense, in some ways, than what newspapers have become acclimated to accepting as their regular content strategy.
What made me see this as more than a rehash was these three grafs:
As a Circulate user, you’ll be able to have an account with a home-base publisher, like the local paper, and optionally profile yourself. Then the Circulate system will go to work and discover and present to you information that’s really relevant to your interests. You’ll be able to set alerts if you want, but you don’t have to. Circulate won’t start out carrying advertising, but eventually when it does, you’ll see advertising that matters to you, not blindly-aimed mass-market ads. And it sets up the possibility that you could optionally subscribe, through your home-base publisher, to valuable information at hundreds and eventually thousands of news and other websites, all at a low monthly blanket rate.
Circulate will feature social functionality, so that you can share and discuss content (but its content recommendations are not sourced through “collaborative filtering”). Over time, you will be able to select additional features on Circulate as they are developed.
Importantly, a core, fundamental value at CircLabs is user privacy. While Circulate will work best when the user shares information, that will happen with the user’s explicit permission, not by virtue of obscure language buried in user agreements no one reads.
That’s the key: to successfully sell something, whatever that thing is, if it’s information, it has to be information that isn’t available anywhere else. If your audience is saying, “Aw, I heard/saw/know that already,” then you’re screwed.
The book “The Return of the Player” ends with the anti-hero making billions by making the concept of a “Find Engine” work; maybe I’ll excerpt a couple of grafs from the book to illustrate what the vision was of this as of 2004 or so. At the time, reading it, I thought it might have something of a core of value, but that the online marketplace was not ready for it yet. Maybe it is now.
Anyway – here’s what I wrote in response:
Interesting concept, guys – although I have to admit that reading through the first few graphs, my stomach sank when I read “charging for online content.” Way too many collective clock cycles are being devoted to coming up with arcane ways to try to extract some kind of revenue stream from online readers. Most tend to be veneers over the failed strategy of erecting paywalls over existing content, without really given a thought to how the core product has to be radically different for the consumer to be willing to yank out the wallet.
Reading further, it became evident that what you’re doing is a variation on the “Find Engine” concept – that is, that the app/site/widget/whatever will take over for the Almighty Google, and serve you up the information that you need, when, where & how you need it.
OK, that’s interesting.
You also addressed the core problem with a Find Engine – that is, if the app/whatever knows enough about you to be able to accurately (and if it isn’t accurate, what use would it be?) know what you want, then isn’t that a treasure trove of information about you that could be hacked/exploited/sold? Well, yeah. We all start to feel a bit creepy about the thought that something in the machine knows us & is ratting us out. Despite the fact that it happens all the time …
Well, to a certain extent, it does. Big online ad agencies get quiet & change the subject when people bring up the idea of a “Universal Cookie.” Which would be far easier to implement if Circulate takes off.
Anyway – one suggestion. You talk about mobile, and indicate that one of the first moves might be to develop an iPhone app. While I applaud your willingness to engage with this new platform, you might want to check the numbers. At a recent Online News Association event I helped organize, Nick Montes of Viva Vision laid out the numbers involved with selling content – I’m posting the video and a description in the next day or so.
Briefly: the iPhone has market penetration of 9M handsets in a US market of 250M+ handsets. Nice, but not staggering.
But the real eye-opener was that Verizon makes about $20 billion a year from selling/licensing/streaming content. The much-touted iPhone App Store is likely to make Apple about $300 million.
Basically, you’d be pouring sweat equity into constructing something for a platform that comprises about 1.5% of the money on the table…
Anyway – I look forward to seeing what Circulate looks & feels like. At least you’re trying.